The Butterfly Effect

Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?
One of my favourite thought exercise is to romanticize about the chaos theory. So this other day, I was having a conversation with one of my dear friends regarding the multiple ‘what-if’s in our life line. Isn’t it incredible that random actions by random actors cause incredible repercussions to your future?

Sometime in 2002. I was attending the centralized allotment process for admission into an engineering college. For those who are unfamiliar with the process – people are called in order of the rank they get in an entrance test and they choose which college they want to study in. People with the higher rank therefore have more choice and usually have higher chances of getting into the college they want. I was chatting to this girl who had a rank just above me and she wanted to get into college X. We could see the live updates of the seats remaining in all colleges right in front of us. With 5 people to go; there were still 2 seats left for her preferred college. She was quite hopeful. But just as her turn came in; the board suddenly showed 0. She was quite disappointed and had to settle with some other college; lets say college Y. I came to know later that there was actually still 1 seat left when she had gone in for the allotment. What had happened was a clerical error and eventually I got allotted that seat. She could have gone ahead and given a complaint and this would have probably been sorted out in her favour; because I myself didn’t have an objection. But she and her parents waved it off and said they didn’t want the hassles. We became friends and after a few years I was still in touch with her. She studied for 4 years in college Y, she met a guy there, she fell in love with him, she got married to him recently and is now expecting a child – all because of a clerical error by a government employee. You might say it was all meant to be; it was fate yada yada – but isn’t it just so damn interesting that someone totally external to her world has affected her destiny and the destiny of generations to come?

Now what would have happened if the girl went and complained? That brings back to the discussion I had with my friend. How would that have changed my life? Would I have the same friends that I have? Would I have taken the same career path as what I have? Would we two have ever met? Questions and more questions. Life is an incredible collage of choices and coincidences.

There is this short story ‘A Sound of Thunder’ by Ray Bradbury written in the 1950s which discusses this theme in-depth. The protagonist goes on a time travel adventure to hunt Dinosaurs. The catch is that the Dino can be killed only at the moment when their natural death would have occurred anyway and you are not allowed to veer off from a precise predefined pathway. But the guy steps out of the path momentarily squashing a bug, whose effects change a lot of things in the future that he goes back to. It is a really good read and I would suggest you have a look at this whether or not you have are fanatical about the Chaos theory. You can read it online here.

Consider this – The 5 minutes you took reading this blog post; if you had spent those 5 minutes doing something else (probably more interesting) what would have changed in your life? You never know.. That’s the beauty of the butterfly effect!

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