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The Real Meaning of the Butterfly Effect
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  • The Butterfly Effect is usually misunderstood, even by people who think they understand complexity and chaos.

    The usual statement associated with the
    Butterfly Effect is something like:

    The butterfly effect is a metaphor that encapsulates the concept of sensitive dependence on initial conditions in chaos theory;

    The Butterfly Effect is nearly always associted with initial conditions and the impact a single butterfly might have on a subsequent event.

    I have a major issue with this simplistic statement

    In any model of a complex system, any deviation from reality whether it be in concept, relationship or data values will introduce errors such that the behaviour of the model will rapidly diverge from that of reality. The butterfy does not cause the tornado, omitting its influence (or that of any other butterfly) renders useless the predictive capability of the model. Similarly, it is not that the model behavuiour is critically dependent on initial conditions, it is critically dependent on every aspect of the model, including the affect of external perturbations.

    This article gives a reasonable overview, although it does not cover ongoing pertubations as much as initial conditions.
    When the Butterfly Effect Took Flight

    Bernard Robertson-Dunn
    June 2014

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