I had a dream a few years ago and it was one of the most terrifying things ever. In the dream, I was ironing in the bumper of a car for some reason, and a fire erupted. Rather than put off the fire, I picked up the particular item that had caught fire and tossed it in a bin nearby, still burning. Soon, the bin burnt out and the fire started spreading. It spread far off until it caught up a few cars on the road. Soon, more cars caught fire, and by the time I had walked upstairs to a position where I could see the horizon, cars had collided into themselves causing an explosion so big, it veered upwards and broke the bridge above in two. In an instant, I saw the biggest explosion I had ever seen on earth and in my dreams. The only word that could explain what I saw, was Armageddon. This is Chaos Theory. This is the Butterfly Effect.
In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is defined as “the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.” In other words, it is the significance of minute occurrences and seemingly random events on much larger entities. We are probably all familiar with the cause-and-effect system of life; however, the butterfly effect emphasizes the gravity of the complexities that would arise from even tiny actions. Like how the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Mexico can cause a Typhoon to occur in another country.
If you have also watched animations or movies that have people go back in time, you would have seen that every single time there is a slight alteration of the past, the state of the present changes. Fichte said, “You could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole.” The Butterfly effect also shows that the decisions we make are directly responsible for changing the overall outcome of our lives. So, things that are seemingly unrelated can alter larger wholes. Like me ironing and causing a possible Armageddon.
This concept has been used in different disciplines like Mathematics where the behaviour of dynamic systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions is studied, or in weather forecasting where a minute change in initial conditions used to tell weather forecasts can yield a completely different result. It even comes to play in traffic where a single car breakdown can, not just cause a gridlock, but also cause a pregnant woman in a different country to lose her baby because her husband lost his job because he got stuck in traffic. We see it play out in the stock market too. As postulated by Edward Lorenz, chaos comes to play in cases where the result of certain conditions are determined by measurable and changeable conditions with no random elements involved.
It is the alteration of such conditions, even slightly, that grows and compounds into a result that is completely chaotic. In weather forecasting and other natural phenomena, the butterfly effect poses as a clear challenge to prediction, as initial conditions for a system can never be known with complete accuracy. This in fact is a challenge to the entirety of science since equations and laws are set based on fixed predictions. However, in natural human psyche, this theory can serve as a metaphor for life in a chaotic world where small events can have very large effects. Every single action or inaction matters and can affect seemingly irrelevant events. This is probably the only theoretical way to explain the unpredictability of life.