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Welcome to Mr. Szuszkowski's Global Classroom » When a Butterfly Flaps its Wings...

When a Butterfly Flaps its Wings...

When a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world it can cause a hurricane  in another part of the world.  

Author Unknown



Students often ask me if this quote is true.  Many of them have heard different variations of this quote and before really giving it much thought they take the quote for face value and really think that if a butterfly flapped its wings in New Jersey a storm might happen in another part of the world.  The "butterfly effect" as the term was originally called was the brainchild of MIT meteorologist Edward Lorenz.  In 1961 while working as an assistant professor in MIT's department of meteorology, Lorenz created an early computer program to simulate weather.  One day he changed one of a dozen numbers representing atmospheric conditions, from .506127 to .506. That tiny alteration utterly transformed his long-term forecast, a point Lorenz wrote about  in his 1972 paper, "Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?"


Lorenz’s meteorological investigations eventually became called the "butterfly effect," the concept that small events can have large, widespread consequences.  Translated into mass culture, the butterfly effect has become a metaphor for the existence of seemingly insignificant moments that alter history and shape destinies.  Typically unrecognized at first, the butterfly effect once recognized shows a cause and effect relationship or creates threads or connections between two or more seemingly unconnected entities. 


This is where the Monarch Butterflies come into play.  At first the Monarch seems like a beautiful yet insignificant insect.  As time passes and we learn about the life cycle of the Monarch, the many obstacles it must overcome in its various stages of metamorphosis from predators, parasites,  loss of habitat, deforestation in its winter Sanctuaries in Mexico, we learn that how we live our everyday lives; the chemical fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides that we use to supposedly make our world a better place to live actually do just the opposite.  The Monarch leads us to investigations about the people to our north in Canada, in its northern most summer breeding grounds as well as the peasant farmers in Mexico and their families that protect the Monarchs' overwintering forests, in spite of the fact that they need the wood from the trees in the region for homes, for firewood and to keep their families safe.  The Monarch turns our focus from Science to Social Issues, Geography and History.  Even the Pre-Hispanic cultures of central Mexico including the Teotihuacanos,  Aztecs and Purepecha people  were aware of the fact that Monarchs came to their region in annual cycles, therefore they were to be honored and revered as the souls of departed loved ones returning on the wings of Monarch Butterflies, a belief still held by many Mexicans even today as they celebrate Dias de los Muertos on November 1st and 2nd every year, traditionally the day the 1st Monarchs return to the Mexican Monarch Sanctuaries, that happens to coincide with current Mexican Catholic religious traditions.


The Monarch Butterfly therefore is a metaphor for the scientific theory that a single occurrence, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, can change the course of the universe forever.  One can also interpret the quote as the theory that everything matters.  If you change the smallest of life's details then you change its outcome.  Just as the tiny insect that we know as the Monarch Butterfly seems insignificant in the whole scheme of life, once we learn about its life, its perseverance, against everything that threatens its everyday survival, we come to love and respect an insect.  That love and respect makes us want to learn more about it and when we do, the connections that we make, will forever change the way that we view the world and those around us  and hopefully open our eyes to begin working towards a better world for the Monarchs, for us, our families, our Canadian and Mexican friends across our borders, Polar Bears in the Arctic suffering effects of global warming and a changing environment, and so many more global issues.


The flapping of a Monarch Butterfly's wings can bring change to the world, but we need to have an open eye  to first see the flapping of those wings and then we need to have an open mind, an open heart and be willing to give the time to want to learn and recognize the connections the Monarch has to North America and the Global Community.


Bob Szuszkowski


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