The butterfly effect: what it is and what it teaches us about the world

A well-known Chinese folk saying goes that “the slight flapping of a butterfly’s wings can be heard on the other side of the planet”.

This refers to the fact that even the smallest things have a huge effect, and over time have been included in many areas, from serving as the main basis for various literary works to being a relevant part of one of the theories. or more controversial and popular scientific paradigms, chaos theory.

And it is that the symbolism which closes this brief finger can be widely applicable to several realities, in what is called the butterfly effect. This is the effect that we will talk about throughout this article.

    Butterfly effect: what is it and what does it tell us?

    This is called a butterfly effect a well-known effect whereby the existence of a certain action or situation can cause a series of successive situations or actions which they end up causing a massive effect that doesn’t seem to correspond to the situation or the element that triggered it.

    This concept is based on the experiments of meteorologist Edward Lorenz, who coined the term in 1973 to explain the inability to make fully reliable long-range weather forecasts due to the accumulation of variables that can alter atmospheric behavior.

    What explains the butterfly effect is that seemingly simple and harmless changes to a variable or action can lead to massive effects, To be the first trigger of a process which in the propagandist acquires more and more force. This is why it is said, in a variation of the popular saying, that the flutter of a butterfly in Hong Kong can cause a hurricane in New York: the slightest alteration of the same process can lead to very different results and even totally unexpected.

    Basic part of chaos theory

    The butterfly effect is a metaphor or analogy that is used as one of the pillars of the so-called chaos theory, also proposed by Lorenz, according to which there are systems in the universe very sensitive to the presence of variations, which can generate very diverse (albeit limited) results in chaotic and unpredictable ways.

    The main model of chaos theory proposes that when faced with two identical worlds or situations for which there is only one almost insignificant variable that differentiates them from each other, over time this small difference can make that the two worlds differ more and more until it has become virtually impossible to determine that they were once the same.

    This way, many disciplines cannot generate a stable model allowing accurate predictions in the long run so that they are completely reliable, as small variables can vary greatly in the results. Even the beat of a butterfly. In this way we have to face the fact that we will always find a certain degree of uncertainty and chaos, being highly unlikely the existence of a completely 100% reliable prediction of what will happen: the facts may escape to the possibility of prediction.

    While its high symbolic weight may seem a product of mysticism, the truth is that we are faced with a branch or paradigm of science based initially on physics and mathematics (in fact Lorenz himself was a meteorologist and mathematician) and that we help explain why predictions that seemed very precise and elaborate can often fail. Likewise, it also allows to escape total determinism and assess which variables are involved in each phenomenon, so that knowledge is not tight but adaptable and fluid.

      Its implications for the human psyche

      While the so-called butterfly effect it was mainly related to fields such as meteorologyThe mechanism or operation he proposes also has applicability in the discipline of psychology. And can the fact that a single beat can cause a hurricane serve as an analogy to what’s going on in human behavior and behavior and the psyche.

      In this sense, the butterfly effect would apply to every decision we make, because as insignificant as an election may seem, it can lead to a course of action and have results that are diametrically different from those involved. .

      It is possible to see this for example in psychopathology: Although a depressed person may not initially notice much improvement due to starting to take care of their daily hygiene after neglecting for months or trying a day out of eating with their family instead of eating alone in his bedroom, this fact can lead to a series of small changes that make it easier for him to come out of the depression that kept him isolated from the world. From there to doing it more often, to deciding to try something else, to leave the house for the first time, to go back to work, to enjoy again and to stay more active …

      The butterfly effect also influences psychology at the time when we realize that each of our actions does not end without moreBut it can have effects both on ourselves and on the environment. A loving or harsh comment, a hug, a critic, a whisper, a compliment, a bad answer … or things seemingly as sterile as greeting someone or even just looking at them have the potential to make a difference. both for us and for others.

      That is why our actions must take this fact into account, so that it may be necessary to assess the effects that our actions or the lack of them may have on ourselves or on others.


      This theory also implies that we cannot fully know the results of our actions, And that the results obtained from them may be different depending on the participation of different variables during the process. This is something that, on the one hand, can spark curiosity and motivation to explore, although for others it can be a source of distress and suffering (which can even be the cause of many troubles).

      Finally, the butterfly effect also helps to explain why there are such disparate reactions to the same situation or stimulation: the conditions from which each of us starts are different both biologically (genetic inheritance) and psychosocial (learning, experiences, lifestyles and adaptation.).).

      Bibliographical references:

      • Lorenz, EN (1996). The essence of chaos. University of Washington Press.

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