The form of the Lorentz Attractor, image credits: Tumblr @falsedawn –
I realized that at the beginning of every year I have a tendency to reflect on my life and how it changed over the time that has gone by. It is obvious that some changes are always to be found, however, the transition from 2021 to 2022 has been different for several reasons.
I promise I’ll try my best to keep this article as far away as possible from all the clichés, yet I simply cannot think of anything else to write about if not on how life changes so quickly and how the smallest decisions you make can turn out to be some of the most important ones. Maybe it’s because I have been reading too many books that deal with personal real-life stories, or maybe because I am now living a life that I could have never imagined a year ago. And yet again, it can maybe be because of my fascination with everything that has to do with the butterfly effect.
The first time I encountered this concept was probably around 2015 when, at the peak of my early teen years, I was watching a gameplay of Life is Strange. For the ones who are not familiar, the graphic adventure video game was developed by Dontnod Entertainment and released in five episodes throughout 2015. The main plot of the game has its focus on Max Caulfield, a photography student who discovers that she has the ability to rewind time at any given moment. The player is responsible for making decisions on what actions Max should perform and later on, those actions will adjust the narrative and reshape it once time travel begins to happen.
That’s the moment when the butterfly effect starts to appear in the game narrative. After a choice is made in Life is Strange, an animated sketch of a butterfly appears with a warning in the top left corner of the screen to remind the player that the decision made will create a butterfly effect and that the results will be seen later on. The symbolism of the butterfly is also seen in the video game since the first meet-up of Max and Chloe, another relevant character in the game, happens only because the protagonist is chasing after a blue butterfly she wants to photograph.
Although I developed my interest in the subject because of the game I never ended up playing it, however many hours were spent watching others play, make the decisions, and finally deal with the consequences. Even though some might think I never played it because I already knew the whole story and alternative endings, this was not the reason. Truly, it was most likely because I knew the decisions I would take while playing would, in some way, have their consequences and the idea of dealing with this “guilt” was not pleasing at all.
After doing a lot of research on where, when, and how this theory was created, I decided to gather the most important information for a little science lesson and contextualization. The butterfly effect is related to the Chaos Theory, a much more complicated interdisciplinary scientific theory that I would never be able to explain, even if I read innumerable books and publications on the topic. However, trying to keep it short and simple, the Chaos theory states that within the apparent randomness of chaotic complex systems, there are underlying patterns and self-organization to be found, but please, keep in mind that this definition does not cover even one percent of the whole study and if you are interested in the topic, I highly suggest you to do more research on it.
Within this theory, an underlying principle was developed by Edward Lorenz: The butterfly effect. This principle, in its turn, describes how a small change in one state of a nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. The most famous metaphor for this behavior is that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas. It is obvious that a single act like the butterfly flapping its wings cannot cause a tornado, nevertheless, small events can serve as stimulants that act on starting conditions.
Over the last decade, popular culture references of the term butterfly effect have risen significantly. From rap songs like “Butterfly Effect” by Travis Scott to over 50 titles with the keyword “Butterfly Effect” to be found on the website of IMDb, this theory is often present in post-modern productions. However, the concept most of the time ends up being misused. As General Stanley McChrystal writes in Team of Teams (2015): “It has become synonymous with “leverage”—the idea of a small thing that has a big impact, with the implication that, like a lever, it can be manipulated to a desired end. This misses the point of Lorenz’s insight. The reality is that small things in a complex system may have no effect or a massive one, and it is virtually impossible to know which will turn out to be the case.” The whole beauty and terror of this theory lies in the lack of predictability and the fact that one can never truly know the consequences of their actions.
Many years have gone by and as stated before, I have always experienced my reflection moments throughout the first couple weeks of January. However, it was not until the second day of this month, after seeing a huge butterfly while sitting at my friend’s porch and talking about what we expected from 2022 that I thought about the butterfly effect again. As stated above, this theory has always been appealing to me but at the same time thinking constantly that every single move I made and breath I took could (or could not) have a significant impact on my future was a big trigger for my 12-year-old self. Therefore, I simply tried my best to ignore this theory, and after a couple of months struggling so hard to not overthink if I should write with black or blue ink during geography class, I finally managed to completely stop thinking about the existence of the butterfly effect. Now, over five years later and hopefully wiser, I managed to look at this principle with different eyes.
For the readers who don’t know me at all, here’s a short summary of what I imagined my life would look like now at different moments of my life:
When 2020 started, I was completely sure that in 2022 I would be living in Germany with my boyfriend at the time, studying something related to engineering and traveling all over Europe whenever I had the time.
The narrative changed a lot by the beginning of 2021: I already knew I certainly did not want to live in Germany, not to mention the fact that I became single, so the now ex-boyfriend was definitely out of the picture. Moreover, if there was one thing, I was sure, it was the fact that doing a Bachelor of Sciences was no option, so bye-bye becoming an engineer. Around this time in 2021, I expected to be living somewhere in the Netherlands, working at a Café, and going to parties every weekend (since in my head, COVID would not be a thing in 2022).
I will stop the oversharing, but I must say that the only right prediction for 2022 was the fact that I live in Amsterdam and yet I am not even in the city while writing this piece. So much has happened in the last twelve months. Things that I could not have dreamt of, even in my wildest dreams. All of the unexpected happened even while I was, in the back of my head and many times unconsciously, trying my best to make decisions that would lead to where my expectations were to be found.
What I am trying to point out here is that even if we try to get somewhere and measure our actions, choices, and decisions upon our goal, the butterfly effect will most likely not work as we desire. During the past year, my life took many unexpected turns and even though the life I am currently living was never imagined by my past self, I could not possibly be happier.
As stated in my blurb, for those of you who remember or bothered to read it, I believe that everything happens for a reason. From big and remarkable situations to what appears to be insignificant moments, the universe is always working towards putting us in situations we need to experience. Every moment should be appreciated, and every situation can teach us something and possibly impact our lives. The little moments can surprisingly turn out to be the most relevant ones.
So, send that risky text, go for a walk in the rain, listen to that one famous sad song, argue with your parents about high school, and you might surprise yourself with the outcome of your actions.
I want to end this article with a fitting quote I once read and encourage you to reflect on it: “Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things, I am tempted to think there are no little things”.
Written by Olivia Lucchesi