What is the Butterfly Effect?

Butterfly Effect definition

The Butterfly Effect refers to instances where small variations in initial conditions in a system can result in significant changes later down the line.

The Butterfly Effect was originally 'discovered' in simulations of weather prediction. Researchers found that minute changes in the initial pre-conditions would yield extremely different results as the simulation progressed. However, the Butterfly Effect can be seen in simple systems as well as complex systems - the height and position from where a bouncy ball is dropped will have a significant impact on its pattern of movement thereafter.

In a mathematical context, the butterfly effect is an important idea in chaos theory and it is commonly phrased as a 'sensitive dependence on initial'conditions.' Chaotic events are those in which outcomes can't be calculated despite the fact that incremental steps can be predicted and measured.

The Butterfly Effect is named after the most common example, which is the formation of a severe hurricane being dependent on whether a single butterfly had fluttered its wings days or weeks earlier. It was named by American mathematician Edward Norton Lorenz, known as the father of chaos theory.

Also see Hawthorne Effect and Halo Effect.