Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Life, death, and the butterfly effect

The man who has coined the term butterfly effect, Edward Lorenz, has died last week, aged 90. I owe him some positive thoughts regarding my life and what will remain after my death.

As you may know (else read my FAQ), I am convinced that, after my death, all of me, physically and mindwise, will cease to further exist. At the time when I stopped believing in afterlife, I admit that such thoughts have left me depressed, or at least uncomfortable. I used to push them quickly away, and that's why it is difficult for me to analyze them in hindsight. But I think that one of the negative aspects has been the idea of "no traces left" or a future state of the world "as if I never had existed". After the birth of our children, a son and a daughter, such negative thoughts faded away.

An importance booster

The "survival" of the own biological traits in the children is only one aspect, and it does not work in all those without children. Children, of course, are big events in a life. But even less important events make big differences in the outcome, thanks to the butterfly effect.

Lorenz has detected the high sensitivity of the global weather system to small changes of an initial state. Human societies are even more complex than the weather system, therefore small changes may have even more changing power.

Just an example: The world-changing effect of the World Wide Web is due to the small but important decision of Tim Berners-Lee not to patent his idea but to make it freely available.

Think your version of Back to the Future

I think I've seen two parts of the Back to the Future trilogy, and I enjoyed it. I am especially fond of those scenes when photographs or newspaper articles begin to fade away because something has changed back in the past.

I have tried to figure out the parallel world beginning with my hypothetical abortion as a fetus. I never would have been born, and this would have changed the time schedules, plans, behaviours and emotions of hundreds of people up to now, and this in turn would have changed the time schedules, plans, behaviours and emotions of thousands of people connected to these hundreds, and so on and on and on. In all those decades since my birth, hundreds of people would not have been born, but hundreds of others instead of these.


This planet is definitely a different place because I, the author of this blog, and you, the reader of it, have been born and changed it. Yes, we change the world. We do not need to invent the Web, or become President of the United States, or start wars or make billions of dollars. Due to the butterfly effect, every single decision of ours will make a difference, and some of these differences will have really big effects that change the world.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/victoriabush/48704596/

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