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The Chaos Theory (Butterfly Effect) Part - 1

Updated on June 19, 2013

A brief peep into the frontiers of Sciences and the hot words seem to be "connectivity" and the concept of the "part being as wholesome as the whole". Welcome to the symmetrical confusion or rather, the confusing symmetry in the world of CHAOS.

The Chaos theory cuts across all traditional scientific disciplines and ties together apparently unrelated kinds of wildness and irregularity, from the turbulence of weather to the complicated rhythms of the human heart, from the design of snowflakes to the whorls of the windswept desert sands. It strongly presents the fact that everything and everyone in this Universe are connected and that they powerfully influence each other.

Let us trace the origins of this theory. That will help us appreciate its implications better.

In 1960 Prof.Edward Lorenz sat at one of the most powerful computers of his time, the Royal McBee LGP-30, in an attempt that would have been considered as playing God - he wanted to determine the weather on a daily, hourly and if possible secondly basis! To most serious meteorologists, forecasting was less than science. It was considered an intuitive and predictive science more akin to palmistry and astrology. But Lorenz's mode of thinking was simple,

"Weather may be vastly complicated. But it must follow some laws."

And so he boiled down weather to its barest skeleton of twelve interdependent parameters - temperature, humidity, wind speed and so on. He felt that these 12 parameters must be able to completely define the weather.

Armed with equations which linked these parameters to one another and his computer, the Royal McBee, he began a simulation of the weather of his own computer world. Though being run only on a computer, line by line, the winds and temperatures of Lorenz's printouts seemed to behave in a recognizably earthly way.

And this matched his cherished intuition that the weather had certain patterns and that it repeated itself over time. (That is how we have predictable seasons.) However there seemed to be some disturbances which refused to make the patterns exactly repetitive.

Predicting the weather has always fascinated man....but how much ever he may try, he never seems to get it right
Predicting the weather has always fascinated man....but how much ever he may try, he never seems to get it right

Wanting to examine the sequences at a greater detail, Lorenz took a road less travelled - and well, borrowing Robert Frost's words - that has "made all the difference" today. What he did was this - instead of typing in the values with which he started off with, he typed in numbers from an earlier printout. The idea was to ensure that the weather would move along the same pattern ( meaning the printout would throw out same numbers as it had done before).

This new run should have exactly duplicated the old. Yet as he stared at his new printout, with a gaping mouth, Lorenz saw that the weather patterns diverged rapidly and widely. In spite of typing in the same numbers, while one printout showed figure denoting a hot, windy day, the other printout showed numbers and figures which indicated rainfall!

The Truth dawned on him and then hit him like a flash of lightning. In the Royal McBee's memory, six decimal places were stored. (0.506127) In the printout however, to save space, just three appeared(0.506).

Lorenz had made a reasonable assumption that the difference, one part in a thousand, was inconsequential. A small numerical error like that meant a small puff where wind speed was concerned and surely, he thought, that the small puffs faded or canceled out each other. Yet, as he discovered with goose bumps of thrill, small changes seem to matter dramatically. A small whiff of wind or a few drops of rain seemed to change the weather quite dramatically as far as the equations were concerned. This is because, the equations do not work in a linear manner but in an exponential one.

That forced him to come up with the famous "Butterfly effect" that has come to symbolize Chaos Theory.

Theoretically this means that a butterfly flapping its wings in,say Puttaparthi, can cause a typhoon off the coast of America. Science has slowly opened its eyes to this startling fact that everything happening in the Universe has its repercussions and that these reactions rarely follow the Newtonian theory of being "equal and opposite." The results are usually tremendously different and the Universe is a very sensitive being!!

In our daily lives too, we see this fact getting amplified when one wrong word at the wrong time seems to spark off a lifetime of anger and sorrow, while a simple "Sorry" at that sensitive moment seems to heal the wounds nursed over years.

Getting up from the wrong side of the bed and the wrong side of our moods seems to spiral into a horrific day while a single happy thought in the morning and the whole day seems to fly like an angel. A small foot pressure on a pedal can halt a truck, a push of the button seems to launch an entire spacecraft, a small right turn can unlock our home - our heaven on earth and a simple prayer from the heart can grant us our greatest dreams and wishes.

It is no wonder then that Swami tells us to always WATCH. Watch our words, our actions, our thoughts, our character and our hearts.

go to Part 2


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      Jothi 6 years ago

      Very Interesting Aravind. Thanks

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      Prem Hessenkamp 6 years ago

      Wonderful! and just as Prof. Lorenz, we seem to consider those decimal points insignificant..after all can one word, thought or action make that big a difference?

      Hah! if big is even a word in comparison!

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      Kamlesh Jagota 6 years ago

      wonderful way to explain WATCH.

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      J.K.gopalratnam 6 years ago

      Sairam ,

      My parents and grand mother used to say ---Never talk bad or use foul language when one looses the composure as there are ASTU DEVATAS in the Atmosphere and they always say "SO BE IT".This synchronises with Swamy's "WATCH' Word .Thanks for opening up this window of scientific perspection.

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      Aarthi 6 years ago

      Interesting article! No wonder Swami gave us 'WATCH' as the 'watchword'. :) Will remember this and try to implement it in my own life.