Saturday, May 23, 2009

Pondering on insignificance . . .

Today is the birthday of Edward Norton Lorenz (May 23, 1917 - April 16, 2008), meteorologist and mathematician, best known as a pioneer in the field of chaos theory.

"In a talk he gave to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1972 entitled: Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set off a Tornado in Texas? he coined the brilliant term 'butterfly effect' to describe elegantly how a very small disturbance, such as the movement of a butterfly’s wings, in one place can give rise to a series of events that induce enormous consequences in another, far distant, place. Put simply, small deviations in a system can result in large and often unsuspected results." direct quote source (1)

Trivia note: "The origin of the now popular phrase 'butterfly effect' is unclear; the contenders include a 1952 story by Ray Bradbury in which the death of a prehistoric butterfly leads to a very different modern world, as well as the butterfly-like shape of the strange attractor – an odd mathematical object which reveals more and more structure when examined closely – now known as the "Lorenz attractor". For Edward Lorenz himself, the move from seagull to butterfly came about when his friend Philip Meriless, unable to reach him as a meeting deadline passed, submitted the title 'Predictability: does the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?' for a talk Lorenz was to give in 1972." direct quote source (1)

Lorenz image source (1)

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