Butterfly effect

idea that small causes can have large effects in complex or nonlinear dynamic systems

The butterfly effect is an idea that is more commonly used in chaos theory. A small change can make much bigger changes happen; one small incident can have a big impact on the future. The idea started from weather prediction. Now the term is used for many things; some are scientific, and some are not.

Experiment showing the butterfly effect with a double pendulum: At first, the movement is the same, but with time, there are differences.

The term butterfly effect comes from an analogy where a butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo and a tornado occurs in Tennessee. Weather is hard to forecast, because small changes like this can have a big impact on the weather.

This term can be used in areas other than weather. Here a small change can also have a large impact. For example, it’s one reason why many people believe time travel to be dangerous. If a small change was made to history, that could have a very bad impact later on. Author Ray Bradbury wrote the short story "A Sound of Thunder" with this idea—time travelers make a very small change in the past that makes a large change in the present.[1]

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  1. Brett M. Rogers; Benjamin Eldon Stevens, eds. (2015). Classical Traditions in Science Fiction. Oxford University Press. Retrieved June 3, 2020. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |1= (help)