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The Butterfly Effect

I want to tell you a story. Since this is a real story, we will have to wade through a bit of history first, bear it with me. Jean-François de Galaup, Count of Lapérouse was a French Naval officer from 1756 – 1788. He was an explorer and he even fought in the American Revolutionary war. After the 1783 Treaty of Paris, he was appointed as the Minister of Marine by the then King of France, Louis XVI. As a result he embarked on a scientific expedition around the world.

Jean François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse

Jean François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse

He left France on August 1 1785, he sailed towards Chille, on April 9 1786 he reached the Easter Islands, and then he traveled to the Hawaiian Islands. Then he traveled to Alaska, his men visited with the Tlingit tribe; did not murder them like European sailors used to, then went on to sail towards California and reached San Francisco. Then he crossed the Pacific Ocean in a 100 day journey toward East Asia and reached Macau. He visited Japan, Russia and then Australia on 24 January 1788, exploring and observing the environment throughout his voyage. He wrote that he expected to be back in France by June 1789 but neither he nor any of his crew was ever seen again. Although Swords and Cannon balls from the ship surfaced all around the world from time to time, the actual shipwreck was never found adding to the mystery of Lapérouse.

Among his crew were a Mathematician, an Astronomer, a Botanist, a Geologist, a Physicist, a Naturalist, three illustrators and various other scientists. Even his chaplains were scientifically schooled. The man had a penchant for the scientifically educated, but that is not my point. In total there were 114 members in his crew and everyone liked him.

One of the men who applied for the expedition was a young 16 year old second lieutenant from Paris’s military academy. He was a Corsican and was very much interested in serving in the navy where his proficiency in mathematics and artillery, both valued skills on warships would be put to better use. He made the preliminary list but was ultimately not chosen for the voyage and remained behind in France. His name was Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Napoleon Crossing the Alps

Napoleon Bonaparte is considered to be one of the greatest military generals in history among legends like Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great. He shaped history, from the Napoleonic wars to the Napoleonic Code, which has been a major influence on many civil law jurisdictions worldwide. Imagine a world where there was no Napoleon, it is not quite possible; too many things have changed because of him. His actions will echo throughout the time civilization exists; He is a fixed point in time.

Do you know about chaos theory? Chaos theory is a field of study in mathematics, with applications in several disciplines including physics, engineering, economics, biology, and philosophy. Chaos theory studies the behavior of dynamical systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions, an effect which is popularly referred to as the Butterfly Effect(also a movie starring Ashton Kutcher, exploring the implications of this very same principle). Imagine a source of light, now imagine that you have an object of a definite size in the field of illumination of the source, the size of the shadow the object casts depends on the proximity of the object to the light source. Closer the object  the larger the area that is in the dark. Likewise in chaos theory, a small change in the initial conditions will result in a disruptive change in the end.Lorenz_system_r28_s10_b2-6666

In a deterministic system there is absolutely no randomness. If one such event, as small as, not being selected for a voyage can drastically alter history, there would have been multiple such events. Every single event in history from landing on the moon to the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were set in motion by one such simple and insignificant act. These fixed points in time have created reality as we know it. We all know that the whole universe and time was created from a singularity of infinite energy, The Big Bang. What if it was the first domino and everything else is just a reaction to it? Every single molecule and atom in your body is made up of the same elementary particles found elsewhere in the Universe; just because you are arranged in a seemingly complex manner, you think that you are the one doing what you do, and it cannot and will not happen any other way? Even your defiance is the norm. Every single thing you’ve done, doing and going to do, determined 13.8 billon years ago, can you believe it? Do you think you have free will?


4 thoughts on “The Butterfly Effect

  1. Brilliant! A question I’ve been asking myself for a long time. You should’ve taken Non-Linear Dynamics with me

    Oh, btw, I did get my answer (prolly disappointing to you): Quantum phenomena are *in principle* non-deterministic. That is what Heisenberg said – there’s only probability, and never a certainty

    • Yes; he must have been. The army was actually Napoleon’s Second choice. He wanted to be in the Navy, he thought his expertise in mathematics would help him greatly in warships where he could be the Master of guns.

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