The term Butterfly Effect is more than the title of an older Ashton Kutcher movie. However that movie (like this article) is about the meaning behind the terminology and why that knowledge is so important to all of us. The term butterfly effect comes from what is called Chaos Theory.
Chaos Theory is a field of study in mathematics, with applications in several disciplines including meteorology, physics, engineering, economics, biology, and philosophy. The name butterfly effect was coined by a mathematician named Edward Lorenz and describes the sensitive dependency on initial conditions in which a small change at one place in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.
To illustrate the meaning of the butterfly effect, Lorenz used the example of a hurricane being the end result of a chain reaction caused several weeks earlier by a butterfly simply fluttering its wings. This example to describe the effect, helps mere mortals (like yours truly) understand what Lorenz is saying about the power of cause and effect. And as we made reference to earlier, the Ashton Kutcher film by the same title, also attemps to help us understand this principle of Chaos theory in simplistic laymen’s terms.
What seems to be the most important information conveyed through understand the butterfly effect is that everything seems to be connected in some way or another. The knowledge that our actions have ripple effects we may never see or even realize is both wondrous and sobering. The idea that what I do today will have impact on those of tomorrow is confirmed by even the Holy Bible when it presents us with the truth that we are our brother’s keeper.
I wonder what type of virtual citizens we would be if we kept the butterfly effect in mind when we were dealing with matters of the heart. Some people in worlds like SL can feel so little responsibility for how they conduct themselves. A person does not see their actions in a cartoon environment as having actual world consequences but nothing could be further from the truth.
Failure to treat one another the way we want to be treated in First Life is bad enough. However in virtual communities, we can be much worse behind the anonymity of our avatars. How many times have we heard of broken hearts, false identities, money scams and worse, being done-to by people in-world with no thought for what the person being taken advantage of will go through?
Grasping the concept of the butterfly effect has such important meaning when we truly understand the power we each have, the power to heal or hurt one another with that avatar anonymity. I can choose my actions better when I understand their potential for ripple-effect impact for good or bad.
Telling ourselves SL and other virtual connections are just a game and in games no one can really get hurt, is a “in-denial” mentality. Embracing our connectedness can make us much more aware of when we should get involved with the needs of others or in some cases when we should not. Sometimes doing nothing is the best something we can do when we understand that cause and effect is grounds for looking before we leap.
Even now as this article is being prepared, the effect it may have, I can only wonder about. Yet I take some small comfort in knowing that my awareness of our connectedness, at the very least, makes me want to do the best I can for you in presenting this piece.
Maybe someday somewhere someone will be in a position of power and do what’s right because they remembered a little article they read in a magazine. Now that, my friends, would truly be worth making a movie about.