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lorenz_butterfly_effectIt seems to me that we do in the world has effects that continue even when the individual personality perishes. In that way a part of us – the active part – lives on.

Descartes asserted that in this life we are what we think.

That is an notion worth pondering because the truth in it is profound.

It is also worth pondering that when this life is over, we are what we have done.

Consider this notion in relation to both a surprising mathematical phenomenon and the reveries of a woman who came across unexpected traces of her deceased Mom.

Edward Lorenz (MIT) discovered and named a mathematical phenomenon known as The Butterfly Effect in the 1960s.

This aspect of Chaos Theory consists in small changes for initial conditions causing large differences in subsequent related states.  Basically, small actions can lead to large unexpected outcomes.

Lorenz applied The Butterfly Effect to explanations of weather and noted;

“if the theory were correct, one flap of a sea gull’s wings would be enough to alter the course of the weather forever. The controversy has not yet been settled, but the most recent evidence seems to favor the sea gulls.”

For an prescient literary treatment of this issue, read Ray Bradbury’s story “A Sound of Thunder” in which a butterfly is at issue, rather than a seagull.


For just a moment imagine the 10,000 seemingly inconsequential actions that we do (or don’t do) in a week.

The vast majority of these happen nearly unconsciously and don’t even register in our memory.  But they really happen and they really have impact on the world.

Just a tiny impact, agreed, but that is the whole point of The Butterfly Effect – we just do not know what large effects our seemingly insignificant causes set into motion.

Just think of it. If even one mundane behavior in a lifetime turns into a significant outcome for other people – even if we have we have absolutely no knowledge of it – that makes us so much more powerful than we ever suspect.

It is not just one such effect in a lifetime.  It is many; maybe many in a single day.

We are world makers, you and I.  World makers with the potential to be intentional about transforming this world into what it should be.

When that potential is realized it carries on longSoundOfThunder past our passing from the here-and-now.

Lorenz’s seagull may alter the course of weather forever.

You have the power to change reality forever – you already do it.

The question is: to be an accidental catastrophe in the world or a sentient agent that acts with intention?

To be the later we only need to pay attention to what we do in every moment.

To pay attention to the here-and-now (every present moment) is to direct our thought into that part of us that will continue to exist eternally.

For a touching account of small actions having unexpected effects, read “Her secret history: I discovered my mother’s digital life after her death” by Kate Brannen.

Both Brannen and Lorenz discovered the persistence of little things in different ways.

So may we all.

Jon facilitates Death Café Corvallis which is open to all and meets weekly in Corvallis Oregon.

Brannen, Kate. “Her Secret History: I Discovered My Mother’s Digital Life after Her Death.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2016. Web. 08 May 2016.

Lorenz, E.N. (1963). “The Predictability of Hydrodynamic Flow” (PDF).Transactions of the New York Academy of Sciences 25 (4): 409–432.

Bradbury, Ray. “A Sound of Thunder” in The Golden Apples of the Sun. Garden City: N.Y., 1953.

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