Here is an article that I may or may not have decided to write, but it will affect you in ways over which you have no control.
The “butterfly effect” is an allusion to the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in one country can cause or influence a tornado in another country.
The idea, by Edward Lorenz, refers to a feature of chaos theory, in which a small change in initial conditions can create a large change in later results.
It began this way. Lorenz had been running a computerized weather prediction system:
“At one point I decided to repeat some of the computations. I stopped the computer, typed in a line of numbers that it had printed out a while earlier, and set it running again.
“After the computer had simulated about two months of weather, the numbers being printed were nothing like the old ones.
“The new values at first repeated the old ones, but soon afterward differed by one and then several units in the last decimal place, and then began to differ in the next to the last place and then in the place before that.
“In fact, the differences doubled every four days or so, until all resemblance with the original output disappeared somewhere in the second month.
“What had happened: the numbers that I had typed in were not the exact original numbers, but were the rounded-off values that had appeared in the original printout.
“The initial round-off errors were the culprits; they were steadily amplifying until they dominated the solution.”
Though chaos theory describes small perturbations resulting in large, often unpredictable, changes, the butterfly effect can have an even deeper inference: Philosopher Johann Fichte said:
“In every moment of her duration Nature is one connected whole; in every moment each individual part must be what it is, because all the others are what they are; and you could not remove a single grain of sand from its place, without thereby, although perhaps imperceptibly to you, altering something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole.”
Think of the implications: You are much bigger than a butterfly, so you create greater disruptions to your environment than does a butterfly’s wing or a grain of sand. Everywhere you go and everything you do causes a ripple effect that spreads.
Other philosophies assert that, like a stone dropped into a large pond, the spreading ripples continuously damp down, until they disappear, so that the butterfly doesn’t affect the tornado.
The four laws of thermodynamics would seem to side with Fichte, in that nature is one connected whole and nothing disappears.
The “butterfly’s wings” analogy might seem to be a violation in that the small energy of the flapping wing would have to affect the massive energy of the tornado — unless the tornado had arrived at a tipping point, in which case a minuscule application of energy changed its dynamics.
Anything you touch will react to that touch, and that reaction will touch off another reaction, and the whole effect will spread.
While, like the dampening ripples, the effect may moderate by being repeatedly divided, still it will cause a widening, non-zero effect that never can end.
If, as currently suspected, the “big bang” creation of the universe began with something approximating a singularity, then at that time everything indeed did directly affect everything, and the effect of that “touching” still may be felt.
More to the point of this article, however, is the fact that in human psychology, which is a large part of economics, chaos is everywhere. A mere thought, at the atomic level, can cause a nation to go to war.
Economics, being based on human psychology as well as on all manner of natural occurrences, may be more subject to chaos — more subject to the “butterfly’s wing” than other sciences.
Not only is economic prediction often difficult-to-impossible, but working backward from effect to determine cause, may equally be difficult-to-impossible.
This brings us to an article in the May 26, edition of ScienceNews magazine:
In China, coffee shop habits show cultural differences tied to farming
Even among longtime city folk, legacy of rice versus wheat agriculture affects behavior
BY BRUCE BOWER
How close people sit and whether they dodge or move chairs blocking aisles reveals whether their cultural roots go back to rice farming in southern China or wheat farming in northern China, researchers report.
As many as 9,000 years of neighboring families working together to cultivate rice paddies in southern China has encouraged a lasting focus on others over self, even among that region’s city folk today, say psychologist Thomas Talhelm and colleagues.
That dynamic plays out in coffee shops. Middle-class city dwellers in southern China who have never farmed rice often sit with others and show deference by walking around chairs blocking aisles, Talhelm’s group says.
In northern cities, people more often sit alone and move offending chairs out of the way. A long history of more individualistic wheat and millet farming in the north has promoted a focus on self over others, the scientists propose.
People in a self-oriented culture often try to change a situation to their advantage, whereas people in an others-oriented culture typically change themselves to fit the situation, other research suggests.
Consistent with that pattern, only about 6 percent of Chinese people in southern rice regions moved Starbucks chairs out of the way rather than squeezing through them, versus about 16 percent of the caffeine crowd in northern wheat regions.
Economics is not just the science of money flow. More importantly, economics is a psychology science of attitudes and what people do about money, labor, saving, charity, power, obligations, etc.
A psychologist could create an endless list of attitudes and actions, all related to economics.
If you had asked me to list the specific factors affecting people’s actions and attitudes about squeezing between chairs vs. moving them aside, growing rice vs. growing wheat would not have made the top ten thousand.
Even after reading the article, I have doubts, but there is a more important point to be made. Rice growing is as distant from chair moving as butterflies are from tornadoes. Yet, there can be a logical connection.
And if there truly is a connection between rice growing and chair moving, who is to say there also isn’t a connection between any action and any effect?
The hypothesis of the “big bang” holds that at the very beginning, everything was connected to everything in one infinitesimal, which then exploded and separated into the universe we experience.
If that hypothesis is true, what is there to say that the connections disappeared rather than merely being stretched? Quantum mechanics uses the word “entanglement” to describe two particles connected in a way that an operation on one affects the other, no matter how far apart they are.
Your body is composed of star stuff, material created in numerous supernovas, so there surely could be atoms in you, in your brain, entangled with atoms millions of light years distant.
So, if you have a thought, which changes a property of an atom in your brain, that thought also could change a property of an entangled atom in a star, tipping the star into supernova status.
That would be the ultimate “butterfly/tornado” scenario, in which your mere thought precipitated the destruction of an entire solar system.
If everything is connected, then nothing is unimportant, and everything you do, even everything you think, has consequences. You shake the universe just by existing.
And that, in turn, would mean everything you think is caused by other connections, going all the way back to the big bang.
Drop two bottles, side by side, into the ocean, and they will drift apart, landing at distant shores. Their movements are chaotic but not random. The bottles do not go where they wish to go, but rather drift where the swirling wind and the thrashing water molecules take them.
Your entire body, including your brain, is composed of molecules, down to atoms, down to electrons and quarks, all obeying quantum laws. Your every thought is an arrangement of those molecules, atoms, electrons, and quarks.
Is there a point at which you control those arrangements?
That is, do you have free will, or is the future foreordained? Are you just a grain of sand in a shaking sandbox, being tossed about, or do you think you create your decisions from nothing?
Is it possible to create something from nothing? Or more intuitively, does everything have a precedent, and must that precedent have a precedent?
In summary, if the universe began in the big bang, every motion by every molecule, atom, and quark began. Nothing changes without a changer.
Your thoughts control your actions. But, I can think of no way in which you intentionally, starting from zero, can control the molecules, atoms, and quarks that constitute your thoughts.
Today, you and everything else in the universe is the result of an unbroken chain of events and information that originated with the big bang.
I wrote this, and you are reading it, not because you and I have control, but rather because something happened 13 billion years ago, and the sandbox continues to shake us grains of sand.
Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
Twitter: @rodgermitchell; Search #monetarysovereignty
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