‘Butterfly effect’ brings change, good or bad, in all our lives

  • Saturday, September 21, 2019 1:30am
  • Opinion

“Predictability: Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set a tornado in Texas?” (Scholarpedia.org: “The Butterfly Effect”)

In 1972, American meteorologist Edward N. Lorenz (1917-2008) invented a theory to predict complex weather patterns more accurately. His concept was based on the proposition that small actions can have enormous effects – thus the statement above. This idea has been used not only to examine weather and its complexity, but also other areas and fields of study.

Ben Franklin wrote a poem in the 18th century to highlight this perspective long before Lorenz:

“For want of a nail the shoe was lost,

For want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For want of a horse the rider was lost,

For want of a rider the battle was lost,

For want of a battle the kingdom was lost,

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”

World War I started as a result of actions by a 19-year-old Serbian named Gavrilo Princip. He was a participant in a plot to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the sole heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A previous attempt that day had failed. Afterward, Princip had stopped to buy a sandwich when he saw the archduke and his wife in their touring car, turning around just outside the sandwich shop. They had taken a wrong route. Princip rushed out and shot both fatally. World War I resulted, which brought about World War II and, then, the Cold War. This series of events still affects us today. It all came about as a result of one man’s hunger for a sandwich.

This Butterfly Effect has been used in hindsight to explain the 1986 Challenger explosion: It was the Challenger’s 10th trip into outer space. Temperatures on the morning of the launch dropped below freezing. Some engineers were concerned that the low temperatures would affect the rubber seals (called O-rings) on the rocket boosters. The concern was disregarded and the Challenger rocket was launched. Just 73 seconds later, the Challenger rocket exploded, killing all seven crew members including civilian public school teacher Christa McAuliffe. This disaster forever changed NASA and the space program.

Unfortunately for all of us, we don’t often know which decisions we make in our lives will have long-term consequences until much, much later. Every one of us who is older than 40 can think of an event that has deeply affected our lives. Only upon reflection and analysis can we discover the magnitude of a decision we made without much thought or consideration at the time.

So, what’s the solution? How do we avoid the negative consequences of the Butterfly Effect? How do we use this understanding about the role of chance in our lives to our benefit?

Here are some words of wisdom that might guide us:

• “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” (Will Rogers)

• “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to live with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” (Francis Bacon)

• “Here’s some advice. Stay alive.” (Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games)

• “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” (Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture)

The Butterfly Effect touches all of us. The world is a complex place with many systems which we don’t always understand. We can never entirely avoid the negative effects of our decisions, but we can mitigate them by reflecting on what we do, considering long-term consequences and then changing direction when necessary. One of author Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits” has helped me a great deal: “Plan with the end in mind.”


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@rentonreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.rentonreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Opinion

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Editorial: Stopping COVID is now up to each of us

With a resurgence threatening, we need to take greater responsibility to keep the virus in check.

Armondo Pavone is the Mayor of Renton.
Renton needs a defined timetable for homeless shelter | Guest editorial

By Armondo Pavone and Ruth Pérez, Special to the Renton Reporter The… Continue reading

Back to the wild — a whole new outdoor recreation world | Guest editorial

When enjoying the great outdoors, continue to socially distance and be aware of how else COVID-19 has changed our world.

KCLS is stepping up its commitment to patrons

KCLS has expanding its online resources so patrons can continue to learn, build skills, stay entertained and remain mentally and physically active amid the pandemic.

Ardra Arwin.
‘Let’s not go out and play!’

A poem by Renton resident Ardra Arwin, age 8

How using a face mask to cover my Asian face could put me in danger

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, Asians and Asian Americans have been targeted.

Opinion: Public deserves honest information on sex education

The Washington comprehensive sex education bill passed in the Senate on March 7.

Grocery store staff are working hard to keep the shelves stocked during the COVID-19 pandemic. File photo
Thank you grocery store clerks

Recognizing the sacrifices of our unsung essential workforce.

Catch each other during this fall

How we can use the quarantine to reflect on necessary social changes

To our elected officials: Be bold, be consistent, be honest, be helpful

By Patrick Grubb, Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Governor Jay Inslee has been… Continue reading

Letters to the editor for the week of March 13

Reader worries about the county’s reach Dear editor, The article regarding King… Continue reading

As the deadline nears, state lawmakers face a few challenges

There are four major decisions lawmakers are tackling before the end of this legislative session.