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.