The Butterfly Effect

Is this the life I’m supposed to be living? Or has everything bad that’s ever happened to me been the fault of some stupid butterfly?

The first time I heard about the butterfly effect was in “Issac’s Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History,” by Erik Larson. The book tells the story of the hurricane that decimated Galveston, Texas in 1900. Early on, Larson describes how winds converged in Nigeria, causing a zone of instability, which, several weeks later, traveled across the ocean to affect North America. This section ends, “Somewhere, a butterfly opened its wings.”

The butterfly effect is a term coined by Edward Lorenz, a meteorologist and mathematician. It’s a major part of chaos theory, a branch of mathematics. Simply put, it means that even a small change at the outset can lead to a big change in the outcome.

You can read about it on Wikipedia. Or better yet, you can read it in novel form in Stephen King’s newest release, “11/22/63.”

If you don’t count King’s book “On Writing,” (sort of like taking a writing class from the man himself), this is the first of King’s fiction books I’ve read. I’m not a horror gal, although I’ve read and enjoyed a few things that surprised me over the last couple of years. This book was one of them. And it’s is all about the butterfly effect; in fact, actual butterflies appear throughout the novel.

In this story, the butterfly effect shows that there can be tragic consequences even to noble actions. Sometimes, as horrifying as an event may be, it’s better than the alternative. Perhaps as a result of tragedy, people change, become better people.

That happened in the season finale of my favorite TV show, “Community.” I don’t think any of you would like it, but trust me, it’s #CoolCoolCool.

In the episode titled “Remedial Chaos Theory,” the Greendale gang accidentally created the darkest of all possible timelines for their lives through a game of Yahtzee. So for the rest of the season, they’ve been living from one tragedy to another. But when they get to the season finale, they find that the darkest timeline didn’t end up quite so dark. People changed, became better people.

I don’t pretend to understand chaos theory or the butterfly effect. But these modern stories somehow say more to me than most sermons. They say that I’m right where I need to be — in the proper timeline — butterfly or no butterfly.


  1. Nice.

  2. Man, That show sounds good. I’ve never seen it. Is it sci-fi? If so, then I’m probably the only one who will like it! 🙂

  3. pastordt says

    Wow, Megan. Way to wax philosophical! LOVE this thinking, though I don’t usually love living through the dark, hard stuff. I suppose you could move this idea in the opposite direction, too, by looking at the positive outcomes of tiny things somewhere farther along the line.

    (I’m not a horror kind of gal, either, and have never read King’s stuff – nor am into zombies or vampires. Bores me to tears. :>)

  4. Fascinating way of thinking through cause and effect. Guess I’d best read and learn today about chaos theory and the butterfly effect, though it sounds familiar. Time travel shows bring it up, I think. I like how you’ve pointed out that good can come of the seeming chaos, and though you may not have meant it, to me, that seems to point to a God who sees all and brings good out of it…redemption, that kind of thing.

  5. lschontos says

    I’m just going to say Wow too Megan. Anything that smacks of scientific theory or, heaven forbid, math makes my poor little head ache. But I get this. It’s a little bit like what I wrote today – about God writing the story before we were born and although we’d like to edit it on occasion, it all works for the best.
    I like this!

  6. I always see you as a beautiful butterfly whose wings shift sadness to joy, dark to light, and chaos to harmony.

  7. David @ Red Letter Believers says

    Anyone who has ever lived has seen consequences. Words. Actions. Thoughts. They all have an impact. I just pray that the impact of my stupidity is limited to me — that it doesnt spread to my family or friends or to the innocent.

    Sadly, that’s not always the case.

  8. Love the idea that it is the darkness that changes us… I see it in my work and in my life as well.

    There is a sci-fi movie called the Butterfly Effect as well… it has Aston Kutcher as its star.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

  9. S. Etole says

    I’ll now be a bit more discerning as I watch those fluttering beauties.

  10. I adore butterflies, and I need to read that King novel. Like, now. Thanks for the reminder…about King, and also that we are who we are because of all we’ve lived through. Love and miss you! 🙂