[ by Charles Cameron -- deeply uncertain as to how often he should be grateful for narrow escapes from troubles he was utterly unaware of ]
See, the first thing I want to know it: is an oblivious butterfly’s wing-flap roughly equivalent to an oblivious snowboader’s short slide across snow? And the second: is a tornado roughly comparable to an avalanche? I mean, a second’s worth of a living creature’s movement in the one case, and a “natural disaster” of somewhat larger proportions in the other?
Of course, the avalanche was closer to the snowboarder, who wound up “riding” it to safety, than Brazil is to Texas. Is that a difference that makes a difference?
The first quote above is from Laura Zuckerman‘s Reuters report, No charges for snowboarder who triggered killer Montana avalanche, posted yesterday, and the second is the title of a celebrated talk given to the American Association for the Advancement of Science by Edward Lorenz on December 29, 1972.
Although if it had been given just 3 days later (a very mild change in initial conditions) it would have been given not merely on a different day and to a different audience, but in a different month and a different year… and maybe even mentioned first in different editions of Encyclopedia Britannica and the OED!
Well, see, I am also interested because in the paper with that intriguing title, Lorenz also said:
You can fill the lower panel with your own conclusion as to the question of the snowboarder: is there one of them helping us avoid an avalanche for very one that sets one going? Does it all cancel out in the long run?
From Zuckerman’s article again, broadening our scope from one incident in Montana to see the wider picture:
Almost all U.S. avalanches that affect people strike in the backcountry of the mountainous West and are caused by snowmobilers, skiers and snowboarders who inadvertently trigger them. Avalanches have killed 26 people so far this season, records show.
How many avalanches have we already missed this year thanks to other snowmobilers, skiers and snowboarders? And have we expressed our gratitude?
On a somewhat similar tack, I wrote back in 2009:
A deer crossed perhaps twelve feet ahead of my car on the road from Sedona, Arizona to Cottonwood a year or two back. 60 mph is 88 feet per second. A tenth of a second later and the deer and or I would likely have been dead — one full second later, he or she would have crossed sixty feet behind me and I would have seen nothing, known nothing.
There are deer constantly crossing our paths sixty feet behind us — and it’s a normal day at the office, it’s one more day like any other: sunny, then partly cloudy, with a ten percent chance of rain.
Another time, and this was in Southern California, my car skidded out of control on a slick road as I was driving home with son Emlyn (then age 10). We hit the 3′ concrete center divider, jumped it, and flipped over, landing upside down. Emlyn and I climbed out with minor scratches — making sure we could climb out through the squished windows was the main issue. We were unscathed, but the car itself was totalled.
Had I taken that turn three seconds earlier or later, hitting a slicker or drier patch of road, and angling more or less steeply at the center divider — would we have been, in words made famous by wanted posters long before Schrodinger’s cat pondered them: Dead or Alive…
I suspect we have no idea how many close shaves and narrow escapes we have over the course of a lifetime — but the Recording Angel might know, and be in a state of perpetual hysterics over our ability to ignore a dozen near-disasters while getting totally discombobulated over a very minor incident that we happen to notice…
Unless the Recording Angel, too, is subject to Heisenberg‘s uncertainty and Schrodinger’s collapse…