Sensitive dependence on initial conditions — & more

[ by Charles Cameron — on human impact, with a quick glance at Pundita’s wide-angle thinking ]

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The “butterfly effect” identified by meteorologist Edward Lorenz suggests that when you are dealing with highly complex systems such as weather patterns, what eventually happens may be “sensitively dependent on initial conditions”. Very small differences at one moment in such systems may result in very large differences later on. As Lorenz explains in the upper quote above, however, we’re dealing with a myriad of influences simultaneously, and it’s entirely possible that our own meteorological impact exceeds and outweighs that of the butterfly species…

I’ve chosen to post this particular pair of quotes, in fact, because both examples point to severely deleterious effects of human impact on our home environment in the larger sense — “the world we live in” — at a level where human individuals may not feel they have much of an individual impact, but where the cumulative effect is much greater: global warming? devastating storms? loss of rain forest? — narcarchy?

Narcarchy: hereby defined as rule by cartel — see this fascinating news piece, and note in particular the presence of a significant religious thread in the midst of the drug / crime / warfare picture.

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On the question of sensitive dependence on initial conditions, this graphic paints the picture nicely and with nuance, for those who “think in pictures”:

I found it attached to the Wikipedia entry on Lorenz’s Butterfly Effect which may also help if like me you’re a lay reader, mathematically speaking.

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I also wanted to juxtapose the two quotes above because they give me a chance to talk about “wide angle views” and their virtues, and to point you to a recent Pundita post that set me thinking along those lines. The post is Then and Now: Instructive parallels between 9/11/01-Benghazi and Katrina-Sandy storms, and part of my comment read as follows:

…you have an amazing breadth of thought going on here – especially in your paragraph:

It’s as if a new era arrived, with its vast changes in weather patterns and attack patterns, and nobody is yet fully processing the nature of the threats. I guess such an observation is actually old news. But Sandy coming on the heels of Benghazi struck me as a kind of exclamation mark to the fact that civilizations start to fall at the point where they’re no longer able to process the cumulative effects of their past.

Seeing parallels between Benghazi and 9/11, or between Sandy and Katrina, would be one thing – but managing to see parallel changes in both “weather patterns and attack patterns” is quite another — and even though people may want to question and qualify some of the details, the overall scope and view is breathtaking.

We need this kind of wide-angle thinking, it seems to me, and I offer my two quotes here in much the same spirit.

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