What is the “Butterfly” Effect?

What is it – How it works

[By Dr. David E. Marcinko MBA and staff reporters]

The butterfly effect refers to a concept that small causes can have large effects. Initially, it was used with weather prediction but later the term became a metaphor used in and out of science.


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The term, closely associated with the work of Edward Lorenz, is derived from the metaphorical example of the details of a tornado (the exact time of formation, the exact path taken) being influenced by minor perturbations such as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly several weeks earlier. Lorenz discovered the effect when he observed that runs of his weather model with initial condition data that was rounded in a seemingly inconsequential manner would fail to reproduce the results of runs with the unrounded initial condition data. A very small change in initial conditions had created a significantly different outcome.

NOTE: Edward Lorenz is not to be confused with the scientist Max Lorenz: https://medicalexecutivepost.com/2018/01/26/about-the-lorenz-curve/

In Chaos Theory

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.

In Psychology / Psychiatry

Although I first learned about the Butterfly Effect is high school physics class, I also later learned that it relates to psychological/psychiatry in medical school. It seems the effect serves as a metaphor for life in a chaotic world. Specifically, it suggests that small events can have very large psychological / psychiatric effects.

In Insurance and Risk Management

As a health economist, and  former financial advisor, I also know that the Butterfly Effect is related to the insurance and financial service industries; as weill as risk management theory in general.


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