In the 1960s, Edward Lorenz, a meteorology professor who was studying weather patterns at MIT, coined a term popularly known as the butterfly effect.
Butterflies–and their ‘less beautiful’ counterparts the moths–are ubiquitous to many places. Once I started paying closer attention to my environment, I realised how widespread these insects actually are. With their beautiful colours and intricate designs, I couldn’t help but begin noticing how they flutter about.
Lorenz’ research, while named after the butterfly, isn’t actually about the butterfly itself. The premise of his research was to explore whether something as small as a butterfly could dramatically change and alter future events.
“If we could rerun life from the beginning, would it turn out the same?”
To answer this question, we would have to return to the very beginning; which we know is not possible. So the best we can hope for is to simulate the event; add a factor that was not there the first time around and observe if we end up with a different outcome.
Lorenz devised a model that demonstrated that if you compare two starting points indicating current weather that are near each other, they’ll soon begin to drift apart. As time goes on, one area could wind up with severe storms, while the other is completely calm.
During Lorenz’s era, weather statisticians thought that you could predict future weather conditions based on historical records to see what had happened when conditions were the same as they are now.
Lorenz, however, was skeptical. Since he was running a computer program to test various weather simulations, he discovered that even minuscule changes had a dramatic impact on weather predictions in his simulation.
His conclusion was that long-term weather forecasting was virtually impossible. He attributed this due to human inability to accurately and fully measure nature’s incredible complexity.
How, then, may the butterfly effect play into our lives? With the billions of people currently in existence, what impact can just one person have?
No matter how ‘small’ you are; the conclusion would then be: a great deal.
Moths and Butterflies
Insects are one of the most vital creatures in the ecology of the earth. While they are sometimes perceived to be pests, they are also a source of propagation, pollination and beauty.
When we understand the importance that even tiny insects play in the environment, we allow ourselves us to recognise the true value of their presence in our lives.
As I mentioned earlier, while butterflies are renowned for their beauty due to their colouring, moths are not. We associate moths with the concept of wealth that can quickly turn to dust.
The presence of moths, especially in one’s home, is always a source of annoyance and a source of alarm as they feed on food and even clothing. Moth infestations in fabrics is known to cause irreparable damage to clothing. Moths, then, can be a symbol of temporary ownership.
But perhaps it’s not so much the moth or the butterfly, but what each of them is prior to the revelation of their true self that interests me.
Both moths and butterflies go through a caterpillar phase. It is step three in their transformation cycle. The caterpillars of moths, however, are generally–but not always–fuzzy. The caterpillars of butterflies are never hairy.
Caterpillars are an important food source for many species including: amphibians, birds, small mammals as well as bats and birds. A decline in these creatures would have a disastrous ripple effect on the other species that depend on them for food.
Caterpillars also have a great impact on plants by eating their leaves. The transformation from egg to lava to caterpillar to chrysalis is one of the wonders of nature.
Despite their ultimate destination, the moth and the butterfly go through a similar life cycle leading to different goals and results. Life is sometimes like that, isn’t it. We may go through the same journey and end up in different places.
Ah well, I suppose I’ll call it the moth effect.