• Yashasvi Swamy

The Butterfly Effect

Yashasvi Swamy

In Jurassic Park, Jeff Goldbum’s character, Dr. Ian Malcom tries to explain. Chaos theory to Laura Dern's character, Dr. Ellie Sattler, by specifically using the Butterfly Effect as an example.

It is not an established study in and of itself but a metaphor for the principle of Chaos Theory.


The butterfly story is the simple understanding that little insignificant events can lead to significant and bigger changes over time.

Chaos Theory however, is the area of mathematical theory which argues that in nonlinear systems that are profoundly affected by their initial conditions, tiny variations can produce complex and unpredictable effects.

As the metaphor goes,

“Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”


Now, this does not mean that the wings directly caused the typhoon but rather the consistent and minor adjustments to products, place, and location can produce the butterfly effect of a metaphorical typhoon.

The reality is that small changes in a complex system may have no effect or a massive one, and depending on the size of the computation, it is nearly impossible to know which will turn out to be the case.

In 1961, Edward Lorenz developed the concept while running a numerical computer model to recalculate a weather prediction.

In 1952, nearly a decade before Lorenz’s computer run, science fiction writer Ray Bradbury published a time travel short story titled- A Sound of Thunder. In this story, a traveller goes back into the Cretaceous period and carelessly steps off a marked trail and crushes a butterfly. When the characters return to the present day, unbeknownst to them the world has been dreadfully altered by the effects of that butterfly’s death.

The 2004 movie, ‘The Butterfly Effect’ is hugely responsible for transforming this scientific term into a pop-culture catch phrase.

The most common way of portraying the effect in cinema has been by using parallel realities that occurred from a single event’s change or inconsistency.

Some movies that have taken inspiration from this effect include ‘Run Lola Run’, ‘Sliding Doors’ and ‘Me, Myself I’.

Most of these movies explore themes of parallel realities of those miniscule changes taking place and put forward the reality that may occur from them.


The Butterfly Effect in Business

For most businesses, small changes are the most effective way to produce the metaphorical typhoon.

Chaos theory in markets is the behavior of strategic moves of competing firms that are highly sensitive to existing market conditions, which triggers the butterfly effect.

Humans try to predict the chances and probabilities of almost everything with neatly packaged data and statistics. Technology is a major factor with the predictions we try to guess or hypothesize the outcomes of different situations. The algorithms may spit out valuable future prospects but that is what the butterfly effect goes up against. No matter how complex the algorithms and models were made, nobody can create a perfect picture of conditions or properly explain the compounding impact of small changes.

The butterfly effect shows that science is less accurate than we assume, as we have no means of making accurate predictions due to the exponential growth of errors. Just as how people believed they could predict and therefore control the weather, they believed they could predict the booms and busts of the economy, it simply cannot be measured or predicted to complete accuracy.


The systems around us are prone to sudden change.

For some kinds of systems, we can try to create favorable starting conditions that might act on those conditions but that’s as far as our power extends.

If we think that we can identify every aspect and control or predict outcomes, we need to align our views in a better perspective or light and accept the fact that maybe there are some things that are bound to escape the eyes of the humankind and the fact that our world operates on chaos, unpredictability and confusion.

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