Returning to work after a week’s vacation and I am inundated by a slew of emails urging me to do something/anything about this or that disaster/dilemma/outrage. Do the authors of these electronic pleas really believe that I can make a difference? Will anyone really notice if I delete a week’s worth of urgent requests for my attention? Will anything really change if I lend my attention to one or two of the more compelling pleas? Paralyzed by the enormity of need, I fixed myself a cup of coffee and went outside to think. I was joined by a butterfly; a red admiral to be precise. Remembering that the ancient Greeks called butterflies “psyche” which was also their word for “soul”, I could help wondering how far this brief little life would take this little soul. Had she travelled here from South America? How far north would she go? I used to have a little six-year-old friend who called them “flutter-bys” and his backwards utterances of delight at their presence brought a smile to my lips that came to me from a time long ago. My reverie was interrupted by what I gather an entomologist would call a “rabble” as more and more butterflies fluttered by. It was then that I remembered the “butterfly effect”.
It seems that back in the sixties there was this mathematician named Edward Lorenz who worked at MIT as a meteorologist. Lorenz was trying to use complicated mathematical formulas to develop models to predict the weather. During the course of his research, Lorenz discovered that his precise mathematical formulas could not process the weather data in a rational way. No matter how many times he ran his models, he could not predict the weather. Apparently, small differences along the way could have huge implications down the road. Lorenz coined the phrase: “Butterfly Effect” to describe the phenomena that he was observing in his laboratory. Nowadays, quantum physicists use the same term in chaos theory to describe what happens when a small change in one place in a system can result in large difference to a later state. Apparently, when a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil it can create a storm in Central Park. The mere flapping of a butterfly wing has a ripple effect that multiplies over time and changes weather patterns thousand of miles away.
Small though our responses may appear when compared to the colossal need in the world, they are not in and of themselves insignificant! Remembering the Christian use of butterflies as a symbol of resurrection, I returned to my office to give those electronic pleas my utmost attention.