The Butterfly Effect


I’m not sure if I’m blessed or cursed to have a fairly large amount of time in my life in which I can spend hours down the rabbit hole of the Internet, researching and following any thread that interests me.

meeting of the mindsI can spend days, even weeks, deep diving into all things esoteric and non. In an ideal world, I would live in a salon, where others of like minds would join me in this intellectual pursuit, and we would solve all of the mysteries of the universe.

Until that day arrives, the world and it’s distractions will continue to impede my potential band of mystery solving superheroes.

The imminent destruction of a small butterfly sanctuary on the American/Mexican border caught my attention recently. While this is by no means as horrific as the sadistic practices trump’s Homeland Security goons wage against refugees and immigrants, it is, nonetheless, notable. 

butterly effectCan small things, matters almost imperceptible in a larger picture, change the world? Can a tiny event, hardly noticeable on the day it happens, serve as a catalyst for a planet’s future?

“some systems … are very sensitive to their starting conditions, so that a tiny difference in the initial ‘push’ you give them causes a big difference in where they end up, and there is feedback, so that what a system does affects its own behavior.John Gribbin, Deep Simplicity

People are funny; some are hypersensitive to changes in systems, while others simply cannot understand long term consequences. For some, it’s willful blindness, but for others, it covers up a truth that might irreparably damage their psyche if faced. Better to not believe one’s own eyes than to have to admit that some small, likely unimportant act – or lack of acting! – might have long term, and horribly dangerous consequences.

for the want of a nail

If we are to believe that our actions have consequences, how do we live with ourselves when we fail to act in proactive and logical ways? if we know that eating certain foods will make us ill, how do we rationalize our actions when our food and beverage intake is reflected in damage to our bodies? If we are made aware that smoking cigarettes damages the lungs of both the smokers and the non-smokers that breathe in those fumes, how do we come to grips with the illness or death of a loved one who passively inhaled what we exhaled?

climate change is not just politicalIf we are told that 97% of climate scientists believe that our disrespect for the planet will cause untold harm to not just those living on this earth, but on the generations to come, how can we not look at the havoc we continue to inflict on the globe, and not feel sick at what our greed and selfishness has wrought?

Many of us vehemently DON’T want to believe that something tiny and barely noticeable could affect our lives … psychologically, that’s called proportionality bias: the inclination to believe that big events must have big causes.

That’s what leads so many to become conspiracy theorists. In any given year, roughly half of all Americans believe in at least one conspiracy theory, according to the University of Chicago‘s political science professors Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood. Without the slightest trace of evidence, 19% of Americans believe the U.S. government planned the 9/11 attacks to start a war in the Middle East, while 24% believed in Trump’s ‘birtherism‘ theory that claimed former president Barack Obama was not born in the United States.9 11 files

Today, 61% of Americans remain convinced that the official Warren Commission report on Lee Harvey Oswald’s part in assassinating President John F. Kennedy, is incorrect – they believe that he could not have acted on his own. And since the 1963 tragedy, the number of disbelievers has never dropped below 50%; proportionality bias tells them that one man, with one bullet, could not have so dramatically changed the course of history all on his own.

“It used to be thought that the events that changed the world were things like big bombs, maniac politicians, huge earthquakes, or vast population movements, but it has now been realized that this is a very old-fashioned view held by people totally out of touch with modern thought. The things that change the world, according to Chaos theory, are the tiny things. A butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazonian jungle, and subsequently a storm ravages half of Europe.”
— from Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

In 1961, chaos theory, or the butterfly effect, was brought to prominence in a work written by mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz. While running a numerical computer model to redo a weather prediction concerning the details of a tornado, he entered the initial condition 0.506 from the printout instead of entering the full precision 0.506127 value.

The tiny change brought about a completely different weather scenario result, and highlighted the sensitive interdependence on conditions that could result in very large differences in expectations, with just a small change in calculation.

The term, ‘butterfly effect‘ was actually the second name given to this phenomena. Lorenz originally used a sea gull’s wings to describe the theory.

” One meteorologist remarked that if the theory were correct, one flap of a sea gull’s wings would be enough to alter the course of the weather forever. The controversy has not yet been settled, but the most recent evidence seems to favor the sea gulls”

butterfly killerColleagues suggested that changing ‘sea gull’ to ‘butterfly’ would be more poetic, but it was not until 1972, when he was wondering how to title a talk he was giving on the subject, that colleague Philip Merilees concocted Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?  as a title.

I can’t help but wonder if those scientists might have been influenced by the 1952 story, The Sound of Thunder, written by Ray Bradbury, in which a time travelling hunter changes the future, by stepping on a butterfly, 65 million years in the past.

In the short story, set in 2055, a man named Eckels travels back in time to shoot and kill a Tyrannosaurus Rex. But he panics at the sight of the beast, and accidentally steps off the path that he has been warned that he must follow. When his hunting party returns to their present, everything has changed, right down to the language that people are speaking, and it is apparent that an evil dictator is now in control of the nation.

 

Bradbury writes: “Eckels felt himself fall into a chair. He fumbled crazily at the thick slime on his boots. He held up a clod of dirt, trembling, “No, it cannot be. Not a little thing like that. No!”

Embedded in the mud, glistening green and gold and black, was a butterfly, very beautiful and very dead.

“Not a little thing like that! Not a butterfly!” cried Eckels.

It fell to the floor, an exquisite thing, a small thing that could upset balances and knock down a line of small dominoes and then big dominoes and then gigantic dominoes, all down the years across Time. Eckels’ mind whirled. It couldn’t change things. Killing one butterfly couldn’t be that important! Could it?”

Ford as Dear LeaderAh, to speculate on all of the apparently insignificant moments that shape destinies and alter our times and history! While we may not recognize them, when they happen, or for what they portend, threads of cause and effect are created.

And in time, those moments can change the course of a human life or of a peoples’, eventually impacting  everything from our fashion to our emotions and our health, from our politics, to our economies and our very planet.

Best to have a little humility in the knowledge that our fates and futures can be sidetracked by something as fragile as a butterfly’s wings, in a time of chaos.

tags: Roxanne Tellier, Butterfly Effect, Internet, Homeland Security, John Gribbin, Barack Obama , Warren Commission , John F. Kennedy, Good Omens, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, chaos theory, Edward Lorenz., The Sound of Thunder, Ray Bradbury

9/11/2001


Most of us remember exactly where we were, and what we were doing, on the morning of 9/11/2001.

I was sitting in my office, doing paperwork, as I geared up for the upcoming, busy, holiday season. There was a lot to get sorted, since my husband and I were also just two days away from leaving on a two week vacation.

Back then, I had a pretty successful eBay business, called RoxanneShops. I had five people working for me, and was doing quite well.

I was sitting at my desk, with Howard Stern’s radio show playing in the background, when I began to sense a change in the tone of the chatter. Like most people, I didn’t realize what I was hearing, at first. Something about a plane behaving oddly?

At 8:46 a.m., I turned on the office television, just in time to watch the first plane strike the World Trade Center,  in real time.

It was surreal. I watched, mouth agape, unable to process what I was seeing. After all, North America has mostly been spared acts of war and terrorism since the attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941. We have seen the boys and girls march off to war, even seen many of them return in body bags, but an actual physical attack on our soil? Unthinkable!

My husband was home, on sabbatical, and still sleeping, so I had no one with whom to share my shock at the attack. And I actually felt a little like I must be still abed myself, still dreaming, since what was happening was so incredibly surreal.

After the second plane struck, I had to wake my husband. I couldn’t handle this on my own. This was all so crazy, so unnatural, so out of the ordinary.  Together we watched the events unfolding, in shock.  The unthinkable had become not only thinkable, but a new reality.

In less than two hours, everything we thought we knew about war and terrorism had turned inside out. Because it had now happened on American soil.

I was gripped with a stomach churning fear and panic. We had no idea what horrors might still be awaiting us, and no idea how many more would die as we looked on, helpless to stop the deaths.

I remember that Howard Stern stayed on the air, long past his regular end time. I think we all sensed that this was a historic moment of time, and that what we felt and did in those moments needed to be memorialized.

Still, life was going on around us. Planes were still flying – I was going to have to steel myself to get on one in two days time, with this new fear added to my usual fear of flying. (And, bless their western hearts, the staff and crew on Westjet‘s flight to Alberta kept us all laughing and sane through that journey.)

All over North America, people were rising to the occasion, showing their true, and often heroic, colours. Firemen, completing a long shift and headed for bed, instead got back on the trucks and sped to the World Trade Center – and that is why there were so many first responders that perished that day.

The musical, Come From Away, tells the true story of the week following the attacks, and of how the 7,000 stranded travelers who had been on 38 planes that landed unexpected in Gander, Newfoundland, were housed and fed by the Gander residents in a wonderful show of Canadian human kindness.

There were many other heroes made that day, and many stories have been written. We all struggle to fully understand what circumstances came together to cause this horrible loss of lives, and, even worse, the depths of the sadness felt by those that were left behind, their loved ones vanished in a moment.

There are days you wish you could unlive, moments you wish you could unsee. When I started writing this, this morning, the memories came to me so bright, so clear.

May we never have to see another day like it. May we never forget the day that it was.

America 9 11 2001 Liberty

From CNN:         September 11, 2001 timeline

 8:46 a.m. ET – American Airlines Flight 11 (traveling from Boston to Los Angeles) strikes the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
– 9:03 a.m. ET – United Airlines Flight 175 (traveling from Boston to Los Angeles) strikes the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
– 9:37 a.m. ET – American Airlines Flight 77 (traveling from Dulles, Virginia, to Los Angeles) strikes the Pentagon Building in Washington.
– 9:59 a.m. ET – South tower of WTC collapses in approximately 10 seconds.
– 10:03 a.m. ET – United Airlines Flight 93 (traveling from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco) crashes in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
– 10:28 a.m. ET – North tower of WTC collapses. The time between the first attack and the collapse of both World Trade Center towers is 102 minutes.

2,753 people were killed when hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 were intentionally crashed into the north and south towers, or as a result of the crashes.
Of those who perished during the initial attacks and the subsequent collapses of the towers, 343 were New York City firefighters, 23 were New York City police officers and 37 were officers at the Port Authority.
The victims ranged in age from two to 85 years. Approximately 75-80% of the victims were men.
At the Pentagon in Washington, 184 people were killed when hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building.
Near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 40 passengers and crew members aboard United Airlines Flight 93 died when the plane crashed into a field. It is believed that the hijackers crashed the plane in that location, rather than their unknown target, after the passengers and crew attempted to retake control of the flight deck.
As of July 2018, 1642 (or 60%) of 2,753 WTC victims’ remains have been positively identified, according to the medical examiner’s office.