Friday, August 24, 2012

Laughing at the Gilded Butterflies

“It's the essence of Chaos…It simply deals with unpredictability in complex systems.  Its only principle is the Butterfly Effect.  A butterfly can flap its wings in Peking and in Central Park you get rain instead of sunshine.”
-          Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park

The Butterfly Effect has become a very popular trope in fiction writing over the years, so much so that a once esoteric theory of the interconnected nature of complex systems has become a widely-known axiom embedded in our collective conscious.  Posited by meteorologist and mathematician Edward Lorenz in 1969, this mathematical field of study is known by the name Chaos Theory and over the years it has been applied to a set of derivative equations that have included an ever-increasing number of variables to provide a mathematically cohesive model for describing the universe itself.  However, the Butterfly Effect is a poetic description of the model on meteorology based on something Jeff Goldblum never mentions in my favorite film about the hubris of human science. 

When plotted on a graph, solutions for equations utilizing the Lorenz Attractor model actually resemble the wings of a butterfly.  While this may be simple happenstance, if you look at other important mathematical principles, you can see their visual existence in the world around us.  Pythagoras found triangles everywhere he looked.  Pi is the curve of a circle.  The spiral of the Golden Ratio is present in every sea shell you find.  It’s not totally far-fetched to look at the visual similarity of the Lorenz Attractor and your common butterfly and see nature once more affirming the mathematical principles of its foundation.

With that in mind, I’d like to suggest that the term Chaos Theory is an inaccurate description of the function the math is attempting to illustrate.  This theory is not in fact trying to describe chaos.  It is trying to dispel it.  In essence, the theory is saying that when all possible variables in a system are accounted for, chaos does not exist.  It may be utterly impossible for the human mind to predict the outcome of such a vast and complex system, but that doesn’t mean all of the parts within that system are not interacting with each other in just the way they should.  I would say that is exactly what Chaos Theory posits.  In that sense, it would be far more accurate to call it Harmony Theory.

This leads me to my main point today.  Recently, there have been numerous reports of the disturbing mutations that are being observed in the butterflies near Fukushima.  These poor animals have undergone startlingly quick changes in their biology over the course of just the few generations since the disaster.  I find it both tragic and remarkably ironic that the first animal we’ve seen mutate to this degree due to the radiation effects of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl just happens to be the visual representation of harmony.

As we see nature incorporate the end result of humanity’s quest for dominance into its ecosystem, I think it should be obvious what is actually in control of our world.  A natural disaster slammed into the coast of Japan, exposing the flawed human science powering its Babelesque urban infrastructure and released the most dangerous and chaotic energy we have discovered to date across the countryside.  That it happened to the same people to have ever endured the devastation of atomic weaponry is not something to forget, either.  The nation of Japan once invented Godzilla as a warning to us all.  Now they have small Mothras flitting through their trees.

Nature will endure this disaster, have no doubt.  The many variables involved are already spinning the globe into harmony.  But, while we squabble over digital representations of “valuable” paper and resources, the world may be preparing to shrug us off as we would an annoying pest.  As I type this, there is a tropical storm on the verge of a category one hurricane headed straight toward the Republican National Convention.  To paraphrase Dr. Malcolm, a mutated butterfly in Fukushima flaps its wings and in Tampa you get disaster.

We think we’re so smart, and we are.  But we keep marching forward without care to what we are crushing under our feet.  We are literally warping the very fabric of nature around us and we can’t even pause long enough in our warfare, our saber-rattling, our money-making, our constant stream of mind numbing decadence to notice our world is literally falling apart.  This was the warmest summer ever on record.  Ever.  Giant slices of ice are falling off of Greenland.  Sinkholes all over the world are opening up and swallowing things whole.  Electrical disturbances during thunderstorms all over the place are producing some of the greatest and strangest displays of lightning scientists have ever seen.   Nature is pissed, my friends.

Like Celine Dion’s heart, though, the earth will go on.  It will keep orbiting and orbiting and orbiting, as it always has.  An ice age will come.  An ice age will go.  The poles will reverse, and they’ll reverse back.  The planet has been around the block a few times and we are insane if we think anything we do will impact it in the long run.  But, if we don’t treat it right, it will get rid of us, sooner rather than later.  It’s done it before, and unless we stop fighting and do more than get a robot to Mars, it will do it again.

The powers that be give this issue lip service, and then shuffle money around while divvying up oil reserves they don’t even own yet.  They are not focused on the problem, and unless they are made to by imminent threat of survival, I doubt they ever will be.  Of course, more widely regarded scientists, writers and activists than me have made this argument before, with more eloquence and with greater demand.  This is just my two cents to add to the pile.  Call it me flapping my butterfly wings.  As John Lennon once said, I hope someday you’ll join me.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't followed it for a long time, but I think it's generally called complexity theory now. I any case, great entry. Isn't Imagine just a great great song?