Saturday, April 19, 2008

EDWARD LORENZ AND "THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT"

This in from Boston Medical News - White Coat Notes - Boston.com:

Edward Lorenz (left), an MIT meteorologist whose meticulous attempt to predict the weather through an early computer unraveled into a spectacular failure that he turned into the chaos theory, died at his home in Cambridge yesterday. He was 90. At a meeting of scientists in 1972, he gave a talk with a title that captured the essence of his ideas: "Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?" The phrase "butterfly effect" has become part of the lexicon of both pop science and pop culture.

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I first saw news of Lorenz' death in The New York Times this Thursday. I had heard about "the butterfly effect" here and there and never knew that it had specific origins. I like thinking about the idea that the tiniest thing -- a word or a gesture -- could have a huge ripple effect that I couldnever imagine. The idea goes up against the place where I feel insignificant or powerless.

It's reassuring to know that the butterfly effect has its origins in a scientific experiment. It's not just a feel-good phrase; it's got its roots in something deep.
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