The Butterfly Effect

The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.  ~Rabindranath Tagore

The butterfly effect is describes the phenomena in chaos theory when a small seemingly insignificant event creates a cascading series of outcomes with a different result than might otherwise have occurred. It goes something like this, a tiny event at one place (the flutter of a butterfly’s wings) in a complex system may contribute to significant effects elsewhere in the ecosystem. A person jogging in Boise, Idaho alters the air current which inevitably causes a hail storm in Bavaria.

A quote sometimes attributed to Margaret Mead says it in a similar way, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

A smile? A cheerful wave? Holding the door for someone? Writing a thank you note?

What is your butterfly effect?

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70 Comments

  1. I needed that.
    I can get out of bed now.
    Thanks!

    Reply
  2. I like starting my day with a thought prompt. Thanks, Tammy, for getting the mind churning!

    Reply
  3. This is just what I needed, thanks.
    My own butterfly effect is a secret sandwich, left where someone hungry will find it while it is still fresh.

    Reply
  4. Lovely thoughts and equally lovely images. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
  5. louis

     /  March 29, 2011

    recently came back from a trip to South America and have idea how difficult is to take decent photo of a butterfly, didnt happen to me :(

    Reply
  6. Oh Tammy! How dare you outdo me on butterfly photos! :-D I’m a bit embarrassed by mine now! I am amazed that you were able to capture one of the sulphur butterflies with open wings! They tend to be closed-wing types, and VERY sksittish, unless this is a variety that I don’t know about! The Tiger Swallowtails were abundant around our yard last year, but by the time I decided to start phoographung them, they looked a bit worse for the wear – tattered wings and such. But no matter, they are so beautiful!

    The quotation is absolutely perfect for me, expecially considering what I and my family are going through right now, so once again, your timing is perfect.

    BTW, I saw my first Tiger Swallowtail of the season just two days ago, but it flitted by me quickly, and I had no camera with me at the time. I think it was a bit confused, because none of its favorite nectar sources have bloomed yet. It probably caught a wind from the South, and ended up here by mistake! At least it gives me hope for the coming season, because I am determined to continue to improve with my photography. The beginning of my second year with the art and craft begins in a couple of weeks, and I’m still in love with it! I’ll start butterfly-hunting soon, because the Spring Azures are due to arrive any day now.

    I’m considering taking a net with me this year, and freezing temporarily some of the closed-wing varieties. I have learned that it is very safe for them, and they recover without injury. I’ll try it once, maybe, to test and see. Have you ever done this?

    Beautiful post, and I so thank you for sharing with all of us out here in the blogosphere.

    Reply
    • Paula,
      I’m embarrassed to tell you that I took these with a blackberry and was surprised at how good they turned out. These are my first photos of butterflies so I have no experience. And I have to tell you that when I selected the quote. I thought of you.

      Reply
      • Good grief, Tammy, don’t be embarrassed! That’s fantastic! My little antique cell-phone takes photos, but nothing like that! I have managed to get viceroy “flutterbys” to land on my hand, but I can’t take photos, since I have to photograph one-handed – which leaves me with “Look Ma! No hands!” :-D

        When I saw that quote, I figured I’ll have to find a way to include it in my blog. I might start requesting “enough” quotes to use as tag-lines occasionally instead of my own! It’s an idea you prompted! Thanks!

        Reply
  7. Tammy,

    This has left me with tears in my eyes … because in a sense we are the butterfly ~ Created so sensitive, sweet, kind, and loving from something so beautiful and tender. Then … thru the chaos of the energy of others who have lost their ‘butterfly’, we strive to continue to be sensitively sweet and unconditional, perhaps reminding them thru our actions.

    My butterfly effect is giving a loving, sincere, soulful massage treatment to my clients. Sometimes they are complete strangers, with whom I do not have a ‘relay’ tionship with and still I touch them like I have known them forever always having had a loving and respectful relationship with them.

    Thank you for reminding me of my ‘butterfly’ effect today … I am honored.

    Luana

    Reply
  8. Bonnie

     /  March 29, 2011

    What a sweet posting Tammy. Love the message and love the photos. Did you take those!

    My favorite butterfly effect is sending cards. I just love writing messages on beautiful cards knowing that the person receiving it will feel cherished.

    Thank you and have a great day!

    Reply
  9. How lovely and how true! The little things we say or do make a difference that we may not detect now or ever, yet a small act of kindness or a spoken phrase initiates its respective wave in the sea of life. How do we know what influence our word or deed, through time and the purpose of God, may begin?

    Thank you for your insightful post. Great butterfly photos! Blessings to you, Tammy…

    Reply
  10. Heather

     /  March 29, 2011

    Tammy, great thought and pictures. They remind me of the butterfly pavilion in Westminster CO. It was my daughters favorite place as a child.
    My Butterfly effect is to always say yes when asked to help.
    Have a beautiful day!

    Reply
    • We have a seasonal pavilion in the SW but I think the one in DC is a regular feature of the Natural History Museum.

      Reply
  11. Gorgeous post, photos, quotes, and sentiment. Thanks, Tammy.

    Reply
  12. What an encouraging message!

    Reply
  13. It’s funny that you post about this – my husband was just talking about the butterfly effect this past weekend. But he was moaning about snow instead of thinking positively!

    I had never thought of the butterfly effect in such a positive way before – I love that slant on it!

    Reply
  14. This post made me smile to myself in my office. Thank you for that.

    Reply
  15. Loving Husband

     /  March 29, 2011

    Reminds me of the time that my connecting flight out of San Francisco to Philadelphia was delayed 15 minutes (an insignificant event?). It was just enough time for you to make the flight, which you would have otherwise missed, and sit next to me. Chaos theory holds true – we got married, bought a house and had three excitable boys. And now life is chaos!

    Happy (significant) Birthday dear Tammy!

    Reply
  16. Too true, Tammy. I can just do it…whatever “it” is needed in front of me.

    Reply
  17. Those are pretty amazing photos – Blackberry should pay you for the demo, lol.

    Along the same lines, I thought this project was really inspiring: http://hipgirlshome.com/blog/2011/2/4/thank-you-letter-mail-mob.html

    I miss personal snail mail…….

    Reply
    • I loved personal snail mail too and can’t think of how long ago it was that I received a hand penned letter. Maybe time to write one! I’ll check out the hip girl.

      Reply
  18. Rings so true, mine is a genuine act of kindness from a total stranger, a question from a friend when I least expect it, a hug just because… and many other things :)

    Oh, and I won’t leave without mentioning how BEAUTIFUL those butterflies are!!!

    Reply
  19. Thanks for the reminder. In fact, you hit on one of the big themes of the novel I’m working on. I so wish more people thought like you Tammy.

    Reply
    • Thanks Ollin. Interesting that the butterfly effect is often portrayed negatively while we can flip it into a very positive light.

      Reply
  20. Beautiful post. Thank you. :)

    Reply
  21. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
    An absolutly beautiful quote for a beautiful post. Thank you for making me smile, I believe this wholeheartedly and hope that this inspires all who read it to change a small part of their world.

    Reply
  22. One of my favorite things about summer are the butterflies. They instantly cheer up a garden the moment you spot them. I love photographing them! You’ve done a beautiful collage….making me long for summer all the more.

    Reply
  23. Nice pictures, Tammy. I wonder sometimes whether the butterfly effect really works with acts of kindness — I think sometimes people take kindness for granted — but it sure works with acts of surliness. Someone’s rude to you, puts you in a bad mood so you’re rude to someone else, and so on and so on.

    Reply
    • Oh Todd! You have to believe it before it works. Clearly the surliness effect works as you have noted but flip it around and take note. I have a friend locally who is doing a program called 21 days of giving and she has been amazed at the compound effect of her gifts. Believe!

      Reply
  24. Wonderful photographs and a lovely quote!

    Today, I think my butterfly effect was the hugs I gave my two daughters before going to school. They both were feeling down about one thing or another. While I hugged them, separately, about an hour apart, each one gave that little sigh of contentment (it just made my day!) that I’m hoping means the hugs perked them up a bit!

    You always have something interesting and thought-provoking, Tammy! That’s why I wanted to give you a blog award. You’ll find it here http://ekcarmel.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/yes-im-a-procrastinator/

    Reply
    • What a lovely gesture – both the hugs and the blog award! I’ll have to give it quite a bit of thought though before passing it along as eloquently.

      Reply
  25. I am a huge believer in this principle. The idea is mentioned in the film The Secret where they were able to curb violence in a major US city by simply all meditating and holding good thoughts. What a difference we can make to this planet!

    Reply
  26. Great post and reminder that sometimes its the simple little things that make the big differences. Last week mine was adding some change to someone’s parking meter that was about to expire, not sure if that really counts through.

    Reply
  27. I love this. My day is nothing but butterfly effects, sometimes. I get really preoccupied with how interconnected everything is with everything else. It’s not anything magical or paranormal, but the “ripple effects” of even the smallest things are really pretty amazing sometimes.

    Gorgeous butterfly images, of course.

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  28. All right. It’s the moments when we get out of our own heads and look around at the needs of others when we can have that effect. Even if we don’t see the outcome.

    Reply
  29. This is fantastic, I am always in the belief that ‘if you want to make a change then you be the change’ – this is a powerful reminder how we all can make our existence a more powerful peace loving one.

    Good stuff

    Reply
  30. Tammy: I’ve been overly occupied over the past few weeks and have not kept up with your blog, but I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your post. While the butterfly effect is random in the outcomes it produces, the principle applies. Just getting back from Egypt it is obvious there how the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia, has changed this oldest of old societies in an unpredictable way. One of my students in discussing the events in Egypt made a comment, meant to be funny, but which you would just love. “The reason was that Bouazizi was a vegetable vendor, had he been a butcher I don’t think anyone would have heard about it.” Egyptian humor requires a heavy dose of cultural background before it makes sense.

    Reply
  31. Kathy Nolte

     /  April 11, 2011

    Wow – what great pictures Tammy! Now I’m so excited to be going to the Museum of Natural History this Thursday on a field trip w/Anna – I’m going to have to make sure the kids go see the butterflies!

    Here’s an interconnectedness quote I came across recently – “The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.” – Frederick Buechner

    I’ve vowed to be cheerful and upbeat no matter what w/all of our customer calls – even the knuckleheads…Also thinking about starting to include inspirational quotes in the packages we ship – who knows how that might change someone’s day…?

    Reply
    • That’s a great quote and a very fun idea. Why not include quotes in the packages? You never know what life you may touch.

      Reply
  32. My butterfly effect is that I give a smile to unknown person and say hello when I am hiking on forest path.

    Now I wait that my smile goes round the world and some unknown person give it to. Then it continues…

    Reply
  33. Beautiful photo! I love that Tagore quote – nature has much to teach us, if we but pay attention.

    Reply
  34. Absollutely gorgeous butterfly photos. And you even got a luna moth. I notice the third on the top row looks similar to a luna moth but is yellow, even has same markings…do you know what it is? Just curious.

    Reply
    • I actually thought that it was just another luna moth with more lighting and taken from the opposite side.

      Reply

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