The Butterfly Effect

Did you know that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas?

Ok, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the term “The Butterfly Effect”, coined by American mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz, refers to the scientific theory (chaos theory) that a single occurrence, no matter how small, can change the course of the future, of the universe, forever. Or as I like to call it, the “What If?” theory.

As one delves further and further into the studies of chaos theory, it’s fascinating to ask the question. What if certain events in history had never taken place? How would things be different?

What if the holocaust- the deadliest genocide in history responsible for the death of over six million Jews between 1941-1945- had never happened? What if they had never been viewed as enemies of Germany at the time and therefore the thought of a holocaust was never even considered?

Well that would’ve been great. Just like that, six million souls, including over one and a half million children, would’ve been spared, and who knows what kind of effect the absence of such a tragedy would’ve had on the outcome of WWII? A tragedy that Germany, still to this day, wouldn’t have hanging over its head. A miracle, right?

Maybe not. According to Dr. Jeffrey S. Gurock, “Things could have been much worse had the cataclysm of the Holocaust not happened”, and you can read the discussion here. In his new counterfactual history “The Holocaust Averted”, Gurock explores the suggested alternative, depicting an alternate history where Hitler is assassinated and Roosevelt doesn’t serve a third term and is instead succeeded by Robert A. Taft.

With the Jewish population safe from a holocaust, American Jews never become passionate about Zionism (Jewish movement to develop and protect the Jewish nation which is now Israel), don’t serve in the U.S. military since the U.S. never enters the war in the first place, and therefore never fully enter American society. Dr. Shalom Salomon Wald, author of “Rise and Decline of Civilizations: Lessons for the Jewish People”, even goes as far as to say that the State of Israel would not have ever even been created.

So there we see an example of the Butterfly Effect’s role in the shaping of history and therefore, the future. Let’s try another one.

Let’s say you’re a freshman in college and pretty undecided about your future. As an undecided freshman, you take mostly general classes your first year. Outside of general classes, there aren’t a whole lot that interest you, so in need of one more class to put on your schedule, you choose geology at the last minute. And instantly regret it.

As you stand outside the door to your geology professor’s classroom on the first day, you think about skipping. You don’t know much about the subject, but you know it’s gonna be boring. As the late bell starts to sound, though, you figure “Why not?” and head inside. You hear them talking about paleontology as you find a seat and dread the next hour.

Fast forward five years of rigorous courses and countless hours of research and studying and you’ve got yourself an M.A. in Paleontology, something you never in a million years thought you’d have, and before you know it, you’re in the middle of a desert in Australia discovering a new species of dinosaurs’ fossils. Your discovery prompts investigations around the world until someone finds that the species, thought to have been extinct for thousands of years, is actually still alive in a remote area of a jungle in Asia.

Now what if you would had skipped that class? You would’ve never been a part of that discussion about paleontology, which would’ve never sparked an interest in you to learn more about the field, so you never would’ve gone on to obtain an M.A. in Paleontology, which means you never would’ve gone to Australia and discovered a new species of dinosaurs, and therefore, no one would’ve ever had a reason to explore that area of the jungle and thus, the creatures would’ve never been found.

Those two examples were hypothetical, of course, but real ones can be found throughout the course of human history. The choices we make today, no matter how small and insignificant they might seem, can have far-reaching effects on our futures. The decisions we make today point our lives in a certain direction. They’re not isolated choices, but rather, the beginning of a chain of events. And these choices you make affect not just your life, but affect hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of others in ways you could never imagine.

So if you ever feel that your life doesn’t matter, believe me, it does.


Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay





13 thoughts on “The Butterfly Effect

  1. Hi, Jake. I’m a big believer in the Butterfly Effect, particularly as we can’t possibly know all the outcomes a single act may contribute to. I also find it overwhelming to think of how LITTLE control we have over the eventual results of our actions. To counteract that feeling, I find I mustn’t be paralyzed by the weight of every little decision, but rather strive for awareness. Am I making this decision, or doing this thing because I truly want to? Are my intentions clear, and do they align with who I want to be and what I want to create in the world? If the answer is yes, then I act and let the future be what it must. If not, then I step back and reflect. But even if a good intentioned act goes bad, with awareness and an open mind, we can make a change that corrects course.The Butterfly Effect then feels like an invitation to staying present with my decisions, rather than a threat to my sanity. Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Couldn’t have said it better myself! I know what you mean, the weight our decisions hold is almost incomprehensible, so like you said, often times we have no idea what effect a seemingly small one will have years in the future. With the butterfly effect, I think it’s important to care about the choices we make, but not dwell on their impacts TOO much; I think that could make someone go a little crazy haha. Thanks for reading, glad you enjoyed!


  2. Very well said. It is very true that the choice we make (or don’t make) impact the rest our lives and history as well. For instance, if I had not volunteered in Hawaii three years ago and instead had gone to South Africa like I had originally planned on doing, I would have never met my husband and would certainly not be living in Canada or had the opportunity to work around airplanes! One choice to go has impacted the rest of my life. ๐Ÿ™‚ crazy to think about, hey?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s crazy; think how different your life would be now if you hadn’t! It really adds importance to the decisions we make in life, because what we see as small little choices now come to have large impacts on our future or someone else’s down the road. It seems like your happy with the choice you made, so good for you!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly ๐Ÿ™‚ yes, I am definitely happy with it! This all had me thinking about the choices we make in which we will never know the impact that they have on everything else. There are some we can see, but there are probably many we do not! Crazy.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “The choices you make affect not just your life, but affect hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of others in ways you could never imagine.” Inspiring perspective, it shows that my humble being and my many seemingly insignificant actions matter in this world!
    Well-written, Jake! Great post yet again ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading Andrei, I think the entire theory itself is very inspiring and empowering. Our actions are stones thrown into the huge lake that is life, and the ripple effect we cause is truly amazing.

      Liked by 1 person

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