Posted by Ward on December 31, 2004
In Reply to: Domino/butterfly posted by Lewis on December 30, 2004
: : : S. Winchester writes: 'Given these cascades of disasters past and present [such as an earthquake in Bam followed by an earthquake off Sumatra] one can only wonder: might there be some kind of butterfly effect, latent and deadly, lying out in the seismic world?'
: : : Please give me some help with the phrase 'butterfly effect.' Thanks.
: : "The Butterfly Effect" can also be called "The Domino Effect", but the former is more closely associated with natural elements and chaos theory, while the latter may be politically charged.
: : For a learned discussion of the Butterfly Effect, try this: www.cmp.caltech.edu/ ~mcc/chaos_new/Lorenz.html
: : A sample:
: : The "Butterfly Effect" is often ascribed to [Dr. Edward N.] Lorenz. In a paper in 1963 given to the New York Academy of Sciences he remarks:
: : One meteorologist remarked that if the theory were correct, one flap of a seagull's wings would be enough to alter the course of the weather forever.
: : By the time of his talk at the December 1972 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. the sea gull had evolved into the more poetic butterfly - the title of his talk was* :
: : "Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?"
: there is a considerable distinction between 'the domino effect' and 'the butterfly effect' - the domino version has one disaster triggering a series of equal disasters (all dominoes are heterogeneous) whereas the butterfly effect postulates that a seemingly insignificant far-off event can lead to cataclysmic results - there is a magnification of consequence.
: it is all about quantum theory as it related to the sensitivity of unstable systems.
: quantum theory also gave us 'strange attractors'...
In the butterfly effect you often have effects which follow a 'power law' where the input is magnified many times. A good example of this is an avalanche, where a single bit of snow can start a huge fall of tons of material. When a system is unstable, it often takes but a small external input of energy to start the ball rolling.