What is the butterfly effect?
7 mins read

What is the butterfly effect?

Spring is here, the flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, the sun is – finally – showing the end of its rays and… Thebutterfly Effect invades TikTok.

If the latter has already inspired Hollywood in 2024 – in The Butterfly Effectwith Ashton Kutcher – or even songs in Bénabar (2008) and Youssoupha (2009), he is now at the origin of a new trend on social networks, which brings together, to date, more than 19.7 million of views.

“If I had not left my job and crossed this pedestrian crossing 5 minutes later than usual, I would not have been hit by a car at 21, I would not have received 20,000 euros, which allowed me to continue my studies at school and do a semester in the United States, even though no bank would give me a student loan and my parents did not have the means to help me.” sharing @enelopa in a video viewed more than 500,000 times.


Since that day I always say that everything happens for a reason

? Seashell Beach (First Kiss Song) – Tao Mon Amour

But like everything that is served with TikTok sauce, the primary meaning of the subject is often lost between re-interpretations and misunderstandings. “My butterfly effect is wondering what would have happened if I hadn’t been an only child”, “if I hadn’t moved to the south”, “if I hadn’t stolen the camera from my mother to make a YouYube video”…

It is then difficult to sorting out a simple cause-and-effect link and a real butterfly effect.

What is the butterfly effect?

The butterfly effect was theorized by the meteorologist Edward Lorenz in 1963, while trying to model the climate.

“One day he changed one of the twelve numbers representing atmospheric conditions, from 0.506127 to 0.506. This tiny change completely transformed his long-term forecasts,” summarized an article in the Boston Globe in 2008.

According to him, Tornado in Texas could be caused by tiny flap of butterfly wings in Brazil.

“Here, it is the psychological variation of chaos theory – “a discipline which studies the behavior of dynamic systems, very sensitive to initial conditions”, popularized by the saga Jurassic Parkunderlines Waleed Mouhali, teacher-researcher in physics, in an article for The Conversation -. The idea that small actions, not necessarily conscious or chosen, will generate significant positive or negative changes in our lives or those of others“, summarizes Delphine Py, psychologist and psychotherapist specializing in cognitive and behavioral therapies.

The expert therefore confirms that a move is not the trigger for a butterfly effect. “It will be more of a chance thing, or a minimal and unthoughtful action, like smiling at a stranger in a queue,” she illustrates.

A theory that makes us feel good

Today amplified by the mass effect, that of Edward Lorenz is “a metaphor for the existence of apparently insignificant moments which modify history and shape destinies”. And this way of seeing things does us good, especially in these times of particularly anxiety-provoking news.

The proof is, under the hashtag #butterfly Effect, it is not common to find a negative story related to this theory. Romantic encounter, dream professional opportunity, 360°C life change… She would only be our ally.

If Delphine Py emphasizes that the effect is not necessarily only positive – one of our unconscious actions can also lead to negative consequences – she specifies that craze can be understood by its reassuring side.

“For the anxious, or people who fear uncertainty, the effect brings wonder to our lives. We know that something beautiful awaits us in the future and that its trigger may have just manifested itself.”

“The fact that we imagine that the butterfly effect would explain everyday things, however, reveals more than an exaggerated impulse to validate ideas through science. It speaks to our broader expectation that the world is understandable, that everything is happens for a reason and that we can identify all these reasons, no matter how small”, confirms the Boston Globe.

A way of thinking that can encourage us to enjoy the present momentto savor the little pleasures of life, but also to pay more attention to your daily attitude.

“How can I create a smile in someone today and be the starting point of a butterfly effect for them?”, takes the psychologist as an example.

Butterfly effect: don’t wait for it to be happy

However, you have to understand the nuance to fully enjoy the butterfly effect. We must learn to use it and not wait for it just to endure it.

“We must not imagine thatwe must become the spectator of our life until the theory hits us. We will always have the power. On a meeting for example, we can decide to develop it into a relationship or not. You have to know how to adapt to uncertainty and demonstrate mental flexibility. No, we do not have control over everything, but we have power over our reactions and our adaptive behaviors”, explains Delphine Py.

Likewise, if your mind is too focused on this way of thinking – exacerbated by the thousands of videos abounding on social networks – you could ruminate on the past and regret your potential missed butterfly effects.

So, “to counter guilt and rumination, the best choice at this time is to be self-compassionate,” replies the psychologist.

Finally, detach yourself enough from the idea of ​​“small things with big consequences” to be able to appreciate its benefits, once you become aware of the effect. Otherwise, all the magic of flapping your wings will no longer be and the saving effect on your psyche will be less.

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