Determinism: Weather, Chaos, and the Human Mind

The weather is an incredibly complex system; it fluctuates, it moves, it reacts, and it behaves in certain ways. The weather can also be modeled by certain equations that predict its behaviour; when specific conditions are put in place, the weather will behave accordingly. Similarly, when different numbers are put into the equation you’ll end up with different outputs. The weather forecast is fundamentally uncertain because the weather is so complex it seems impossible to predict its behaviour with certain accuracy. However, imagine if one had all of the information relating to the set of starting conditions the weather behaved on. They would know the starting position of every molecule, the starting position of every atom, and every force acting upon such subatomic particles. Equations that perfectly model the weather could be put together if one had all of this information.


Meteorologists have been trying to construct better and better equations modeling the weather for decades, among them the famous mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz. Edward was trying to construct equations modeling the weather when he came to the realization that the weather’s behavior relies heavily on its initial conditions, thus making long term predictions for the weather’s behavior is foolish. Even the slightest variation in the starting position of each molecule in the atmosphere could make the weather behave in a different way, the error would magnify over time as the particles continued to move and collide. It was this incredible unpredictability that gave the weather its properties, and Edward Lorenz would call this the butterfly effect. The butterfly effect is the event in which a small change in a complex system can have much larger implications further down the road.
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