Have you ever read about the butterfly effect? Or the famous cliché that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in the Amazon can cause a tornado in Texas? It doesn’t add up, but then again, nothing in our complex universe just adds up. It usually has a lot more to it than addition.
Amongst the many theories, nerds like to read up on is the butterfly effect. It’s a very intricately detailed theory that you only need to know the basics of. But it’s better to use Stephen king’s book for this example rather than just describing it in my own words.
In his book, 11/22/63, a man named Jake discovers a portal that leads him back to 1958. After some research and experiments, he realizes he can alter history. On top of that, no matter how much time he spends in the past, only two minutes of the present pass by. This leads him to decide between staying there till 1963 to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Luckily, his efforts proved to be fruitful, and John F Kennedy manages to live past his expected expiration date.
You would expect the world to be a better place now that John could return to his timeline, feeling good about what he’s done. But instead, he faces the short end of things. There are earthquakes everywhere, and a nuclear war has wiped out almost the majority of the earth. In short, a less than ideal outcome.
Not to sound like a literature major, but this book’s heavily simplified plotline tells us that everything in our world is connected in ways we don’t fully understand. That’s exactly what the butterfly effect demonstrates. Small things can have non-linear impacts in very complex systems like our universe. Hence the example that a butterfly flapping its wings could cause a typhoon somewhere. Despite revising this butterfly and its wings example multiple times, it doesn’t quite show the drastic changes an insignificant event can bring about.
So, let’s move towards an example that’s relatively more modern and applicable to our world.
Back in the 1980s, a notorious criminal by the name of Pablo Escobar had his hands everywhere. His drug cartel was the biggest one yet, and he was very good at his job. He was the richest man in the world for a period too. And with so much money comes an opportunity for peculiar hobbies. Perhaps his most liked hobby was collecting exotic animals, of course, illegally. He was already the world’s biggest criminal at this point. Why would he be scared of another crime? He smuggled in elephants, giraffes, and some unfortunate hippos; three females and one male. During his lifetime, there would be school buses full of kids and cocaine, as expected, going in and out of his zoo.
However, things took quite a weird turn after his death. The estate was confiscated, and the zoo animals were dispersed. Considering they were exotic and rare animals that needed specific commits to survive, many of them were sold to overseas buyers… except the hippos who were left out in a nearby lake. These hippos didn’t just manage to survive. They thrived. Their population has been booming for the past two decades. There are so many that even the scientists are clueless about their exact number.
Hippos are native to Africa mostly, so when the locals saw a giant hairless bear with choppy teeth, their reaction was not positive. Imagine their faces when they find out that this is the biggest and perhaps the only thriving herd of hippos outside of Africa, especially since they don’t have any natural predators in South America. Everything seems to backfire when it comes to controlling their population. The weather in Africa is quite harsh and causes a lot of droughts, killing many hippos. But the conditions in South America are just right to help hippos start reproducing at a much earlier change.
To some, these hippos are a nuisance. After all, they are an invasive species. But there is always someone who sees the good in the bad. And in this case, it happened to be Erick Lundgren, who was the lead author of an article that explores the comparison between invasive species that humans introduce to an area versus native animals that go extinct because of our actions. He explains that this situation is just peculiarly accurate enough for him to compare how different species affect ecosystems. These details would help understand how human intervention makes the modern world similar or even dissimilar from the pre extinction past.
All this started with a criminal’s love for gathering precious animals. Now, Colombia has its breed of non-native animals that are more or less taking over the wildlife of South America.
Perhaps now you understand better how one small event led to this butterfly effect and ultimately to a permanent change in the ecology of a whole continent. So much for doing whatever we want without thinking too much about it.