Butterfly Effect

The butterfly effect is a concept suggesting that even the slightest changes that alternate one part of a system can lead to dramatic changes in the system as a whole. Initially, the concept appeared in meteorology and was introduced by Edward Lorenz who determined through an experiment that a minimal change in the atmospheric conditions could trigger sudden weather changes.

There were numerous debates regarding the accuracy of the theory that the slight movement of the butterfly’s wings in one place can subsequently cause a tornado in another. However, it should be stated that a butterfly is a metaphor in this case. Obviously, an insect cannot generate a tornado, but it does influence the system in a certain way. This influence leads to other minor changes that, in a long run, alter the whole event.

Development of the Theory

In 1961, Edward Lorenz made up his mind to repeat one of the previous weather forecasts in order to check a prediction. Instead of entering the full condition value of 0.506127, he subconsciously shortened the number to 0.506. This minimal change resulted in a completely different forecast.

The meteorologist stated: "There is no point in trying to predict the weather in distant future because anything can change the conditions." The following statement challenges the practice of weather forecasting and doubts its accuracy since it uses basic facts and observations to make predictions.

Today, the butterfly effect is not only about the weather. In fact, the concept has become a metaphor that is used in everyday speech and does not have an exclusively scientific connotation.

Criticism of the Butterfly Effect

Another meteorologist who tried to criticize the theory used a sole flap of the seagull’s wings as an example of something that can lead to dramatic changes in the weather conditions. Lorenz decided not to object to that example and even support it, but only after having changed it into a more poetic visualization – butterfly.

Some other scientists also disagreed with the theory by saying that the weather is not that susceptible to minor changes as Lorenz made it seem. The inaccuracy of weather forecasts is likely to be a result of a calculation error and not the slight changes in the weather conditions. Another idea that contradicts the theory is concerned the initial experiment – Stephen Wolfram stated that the process and its result were highly simplified and other factors were not taken into account.


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