Butterfly effect in popular culture
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.
The short story A Sound of Thunder is often miscredited as the origin of the term "butterfly effect". The author's 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. The story was made into 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, according to Scott Brake of IGN.[better reference needed] The films The Butterfly Effect 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. Jeff Goldblum's character Dr. Malcolm from the 1993 movie Jurassic Park attempts to explain chaos theory to Laura Dern's character, Dr. Sattler, specifically using the butterfly effect as an example. Terry Pratchett's novel Interesting Times tells of the magical "Quantum Weather Butterfly", who has the ability to manipulate weather patterns.
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.[self-published source][self-published source] It has also been used as starting point for a rather bleaker counterfactual[self-published source] in which Enoch Powell becomes Prime Minister.
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- The meaning of the butterfly: Why pop culture loves the 'butterfly effect,' and gets it totally wrong, Peter Dizikes, Boston Globe, June 8, 2008