Butterfly effect in popular culture

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The butterfly effect is the phenomenon in chaos theory whereby a minor change in circumstances can cause a large change in outcome. The butterfly metaphor was created by Edward Norton Lorenz to emphasize the inherent unpredictable results of small changes in the initial conditions of certain physical systems. The concept was taken up by popular culture, and interpreted to mean that each event could be explained by some small cause, or that small events have a rippling effect that causes much larger events to take place.[1]


The short story "A Sound of Thunder" is often miscredited as the origin of the term "butterfly effect". Ray Bradbury's 1952 concept of how the death of a butterfly in the past could have drastic changes in the future is a representation of the butterfly effect, and used as an example of how to consider chaos theory and the physics of time travel.[2] The story was made into a film of the same name, an episode of the television series Ray Bradbury's Theater, and its influence can be seen in the film The Terminator, the short story "Kamikaze Butterflies", and an episode of the television series The Simpsons.[3][better source needed] The Butterfly Effect was also mentioned in The Amazing World Of Gumball in which a butterfly is let out of a jar which causes a series of events leading to a tornado.[citation needed]

The films The Butterfly Effect (and its sequels The Butterfly Effect 2 and The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations) and Havana mischaracterize the butterfly effect in the typical fashion of its pop-culture understanding, asserting that the butterfly effect can be calculated with certainty, which is the opposite of its meaning in chaos theory about the unpredictability of certain physical systems.[1] Jeff Goldblum's character Dr. Ian Malcolm from the 1993 movie Jurassic Park attempts to explain chaos theory to Laura Dern's character, Dr. Ellie Sattler, specifically using the butterfly effect as an example.[4] Terry Pratchett's novel Interesting Times tells of the magical "Quantum Weather Butterfly", who has the ability to manipulate weather patterns.[5] The 2009 film Mr. Nobody also delves into the concept of smaller choices, that inevitably result in larger changes that alter a person's life.[citation needed]

In Nick Hancock and Chris England's 1997 book What Didn't Happen Next: An Alternative History of Football it is suggested that, had Gordon Banks been fit to play in the 1970 FIFA World Cup quarter-final, there would have been no Thatcherism and the post-war consensus would have continued indefinitely.[6][page needed][better source needed]

The 2014 video game Until Dawn features the butterfly effect as a central plot point, using the term to describe how the player's choices can drastically affect the outcome of the game's events.

Hip-hop artist Travis Scott mentions this phenomenon in his 2017 single Butterfly Effect.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Dizikes, Petyer (8 June 2008). "The meaning of the butterfly". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 8 June 2016.
  2. ^ Flam, Faye (2012-06-15). "The Physics of Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder"". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2015-09-02.
  3. ^ Brake, Scott (December 19, 2000). "Renny Harlin and Pierce Brosnan Hear A Sound of Thunder". IGN. Retrieved June 19, 2016.
  4. ^ Clader, Emily (13 August 2014). "Did chaos cause mayhem in Jurassic Park?". Plus Magazine. Retrieved 8 June 2016.
  5. ^ Stewart, Ian (23 March 2015). "Five Things Discworld Will Teach You About Science". IFL Science. Retrieved 8 June 2016.
  6. ^ Hancock, Nick; England, Chris (1997). What Didn't Happen Next: Nick Hancock's Alternative History of Football. London: Chameleon. ISBN 023399291X.

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