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Buttery eect

For other uses, see Buttery eect (disambiguation).

cially in scenarios involving time travel. Additionally,
In chaos theory, the buttery eect is the sensitive de- works of ction that involve points at which the storyline diverges during a seemingly minor event, resulting
in a signicantly dierent outcome than would have occurred without the divergence, are an example of the buttery eect.

1 History
Chaos theory and the sensitive dependence on initial conditions were described in the literature in a particular case
of the three-body problem by Henri Poincar in 1890.[1]
He later proposed that such phenomena could be common, for example, in meteorology.[2]
In 1898,[1] Jacques Hadamard noted general divergence
of trajectories in spaces of negative curvature. Pierre
Duhem discussed the possible general signicance of this
in 1908.[1] The idea that one buttery could eventually
have a far-reaching ripple eect on subsequent historic
events rst appears in "A Sound of Thunder", a 1952
short story by Ray Bradbury about time travel (see Literature and print here).

A plot of Lorenzs strange attractor for values =28, = 10,

= 8/3. The buttery eect or sensitive dependence on initial
conditions is the property of a dynamical system that, starting
from any of various arbitrarily close alternative initial conditions
on the attractor, the iterated points will become arbitrarily spread
out from each other.

In 1961, Lorenz was using a numerical computer model

to rerun a weather prediction, when, as a shortcut on a
number in the sequence, he entered the decimal 0.506 instead of entering the full 0.506127. The result was a completely dierent weather scenario.[3] In 1963 Lorenz published a theoretical study of this eect in a well-known
paper called Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow.[4] (As noted
in the paper, the calculations were performed on a Royal
McBee LGP-30 computing machine.[5][6] ) Elsewhere he
said that One meteorologist remarked that if the theory were correct, one ap 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.[6] Following suggestions from colleagues, in later speeches and papers Lorenz used the more poetic buttery. According to
Lorenz, when he failed to provide a title for a talk he was
to present at the 139th meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1972, Philip
Merilees concocted Does the ap of a butterys wings in
Brazil set o a tornado in Texas? as a title. Although a
buttery apping its wings has remained constant in the
expression of this concept, the location of the buttery,
the consequences, and the location of the consequences
have varied widely.[7]

pendence on initial conditions in which a small change

in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large dierences in a later state. The name of
the eect, coined by Edward Lorenz, is derived from the
metaphorical example of the details of a hurricane (exact
time of formation, exact path taken) being inuenced by
minor perturbations such as the apping of the wings of
a distant buttery several weeks earlier. Lorenz discovered the eect when he observed that runs of his weather
model with initial condition data that was rounded in a
seemingly inconsequential manner would fail to reproduce the results of runs with the unrounded initial condition data. A very small change in initial conditions had
created a signicantly dierent outcome.
The buttery eect is exhibited by very simple systems.
For example, the randomness of the outcomes of throwing dice depends on this characteristic to amplify small
dierences in initial conditionsthe precise direction,
thrust, and orientation of the throwinto signicantly
dierent dice paths and outcomes, which makes it virtually impossible to throw dice exactly the same way twice.
The buttery eect is a common trope in ction, espe1


The phrase refers to the idea that a butterys wings might

create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately
alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even
prevent the occurrence of a tornado in another location.
Note that the buttery does not power or directly create
the tornado. The Buttery eect does not convey the notion - as is often misconstrued - that the ap of the butterys wings causes the tornado. The ap of the wings is
a part of the initial conditions; one set of conditions leads
to a tornado while the other set of conditions doesn't. The
apping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale alterations of events (compare: domino
eect). Had the buttery not apped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly dierent its possible that the set of conditions without the buttery
apping its wings is the set that leads to a tornado.

sensitive dependence to initial conditions if for any x in

M and any > 0, there are y in M, with distance d(. , .)
such that 0 < d(x, y) < and such that

Some scientists have since argued that the weather system is not as sensitive to initial condition as previously
believed.[9] David Orrell argues that the major contributor to weather forecast error is model error, with sensitivity to initial conditions playing a relatively small
role.[10][11] Stephen Wolfram also notes that the Lorenz
equations are highly simplied and do not contain terms
that represent viscous eects; he believes that these terms
would tend to damp out small perturbations.[12]

where the initial condition parameter is given by =

1 1/2
(x0 ) . For rational , after a nite number of
iterations xn maps into a periodic sequence. But almost
all are irrational, and, for irrational , xn never repeats
itself it is non-periodic. This solution equation clearly
demonstrates the two key features of chaos stretching
and folding: the factor 2n shows the exponential growth of
stretching, which results in sensitive dependence on initial
conditions (the buttery eect), while the squared sine
function keeps xn folded within the range [0, 1].

d(f (x), f (y)) > ea d(x, y)

for some positive parameter a. The denition does not
require that all points from a neighborhood separate from
the base point x, but it requires one positive Lyapunov
The simplest mathematical framework exhibiting sensitive dependence on initial conditions is provided by a particular parametrization of the logistic map:

xn+1 = 4xn (1 xn ), 0 x0 1,
The buttery eect presents an obvious challenge to prediction, since initial conditions for a system such as the which, unlike most chaotic maps, has a closed-form soweather can never be known to complete accuracy. This lution:
problem motivated the development of ensemble forecasting, in which a number of forecasts are made from
xn = sin2 (2n )
perturbed initial conditions.[8]

4 Examples

Theory and mathematical denition

Recurrence, the approximate return of a system towards

its initial conditions, together with sensitive dependence
on initial conditions, are the two main ingredients for
chaotic motion. They have the practical consequence of
making complex systems, such as the weather, dicult to
predict past a certain time range (approximately a week in
the case of weather) since it is impossible to measure the
starting atmospheric conditions completely accurately.
A dynamical system displays sensitive dependence on initial conditions if points arbitrarily close together separate
over time at an exponential rate. The denition is not
topological, but essentially metrical.

The buttery eect is most familiar in terms of weather; it

can easily be demonstrated in standard weather prediction
models, for example.[13]
The potential for sensitive dependence on initial conditions (the buttery eect) has been studied in a number
of cases in semiclassical and quantum physics including
atoms in strong elds and the anisotropic Kepler problem.[14][15] Some authors have argued that extreme (exponential) dependence on initial conditions is not expected
in pure quantum treatments;[16][17] however, the sensitive
dependence on initial conditions demonstrated in classical motion is included in the semiclassical treatments
developed by Martin Gutzwiller[18] and Delos and coworkers.[19]

Other authors suggest that the buttery eect can be observed in quantum systems. Karkuszewski et al. consider the time evolution of quantum systems which have
slightly dierent Hamiltonians. They investigate the level
If M is the state space for the map f t , then f t displays of sensitivity of quantum systems to small changes in their

given Hamiltonians.[20] Poulin et al. presented a quantum algorithm to measure delity decay, which measures the rate at which identical initial states diverge
when subjected to slightly dierent dynamics. They
consider delity decay to be the closest quantum analog to the (purely classical) buttery eect.[21] Whereas
the classical buttery eect considers the eect of a
small change in the position and/or velocity of an object in a given Hamiltonian system, the quantum buttery eect considers the eect of a small change in
the Hamiltonian system with a given initial position and
velocity.[22][23] This quantum buttery eect has been
demonstrated experimentally.[24] Quantum and semiclassical treatments of system sensitivity to initial conditions
are known as quantum chaos.[16][22]

See also
Actuality and potentiality
Avalanche eect
Behavioral cusp
Buttery eect in popular culture
Cascading failure
Chain reaction
Domino eect
Dynamical systems
Great Stirrup Controversy
Innovation buttery
Kessler syndrome
Law of unintended consequences
Point of divergence
Positive feedback
Representativeness heuristic
Ripple eect
Snowball eect
Trac congestion
Tropical cyclogenesis

6 References
[1] Some Historical Notes: History of Chaos Theory
[2] Steves, Bonnie; Maciejewski, AJ (September 2001). The
Restless Universe Applications of Gravitational N-Body
Dynamics to Planetary Stellar and Galactic Systems. USA:
CRC Press. ISBN 0750308222. Retrieved January 6,
[3] Mathis, Nancy (2007). Storm Warning: The Story of a
Killer Tornado. Touchstone. p. x. ISBN 978-0-74328053-2.
[4] Lorenz, Edward N. (March 1963). Deterministic
Nonperiodic Flow.
Journal of the Atmospheric
ISSN 15200469. Retrieved 3 June 2010.
[5] Part19. 1960-11-22. Retrieved 201406-08.
[6] Lorenz, Edward N. (1963). The Predictability of Hydrodynamic Flow. Transactions of the New York Academy of
Sciences 25 (4): 409432. Retrieved 1 September 2014.
[7] The Buttery Eects: Variations on a Meme. AP42
...and everything. Retrieved 3 August 2011.
[8] Woods, Austin (2005). Medium-range weather prediction: The European approach; The story of the European
Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. New York:
Springer. p. 118. ISBN 978-0387269283.
[9] Orrell, David; Smith, Leonard; Barkmeijer, Jan; Palmer,
Tim (2001). Model error in weather forecasting. Nonlinear Proc. Geoph. 9: 357371.
[10] Orrell, David (2002). Role of the metric in forecast error
growth: How chaotic is the weather?". Tellus 54A: 350
362. doi:10.3402/tellusa.v54i4.12159.
[11] Orrell, David (2012). Truth or Beauty: Science and the
Quest for Order. New Haven: Yale University Press. p.
208. ISBN 978-0300186611.
[12] Wolfram, Stephen (2002). A New Kind of Science. Wolfram Media. p. 998. ISBN 978-1579550080.
[13] Chaos and Climate. RealClimate. Retrieved 2014-0608.
[14] Heller, E. J.; Tomsovic, S. (July 1993). Postmodern
Quantum Mechanics. Physics Today.
[15] Gutzwiller, Martin C. (1990). Chaos in Classical and
Quantum Mechanics. New York: Springer-Verlag. ISBN
[16] Rudnick, Ze'ev (January 2008). What is...Quantum
Chaos (PDF). Notices of the American Mathematical Society.
[17] Berry, Michael (1989).
Quantum chaology, not
quantum chaos.
Physica Scripta 40 (3): 335.

[18] Gutzwiller, Martin C. (1971). Periodic Orbits and Classical Quantization Conditions. Journal of Mathematical Physics 12 (3): 343. Bibcode:1971JMP....12..343G.
[19] Gao, J. & Delos, J. B. (1992).
theory of oscillations in atomic photoabsorption cross sections in a strong electric eld.
Derivation of formulas. Phys. Rev. A 46 (3):
[20] Karkuszewski, Zbyszek P.; Jarzynski, Christopher;
Zurek, Wojciech H. (2002). Quantum Chaotic Environments, the Buttery Eect, and Decoherence.
Physical Review Letters 89 (17): 170405. arXiv:quantph/0111002.
[21] Poulin, David; Blume-Kohout, Robin; Laamme,
Raymond & Ollivier, Harold (2004). Exponential
Speedup with a Single Bit of Quantum Information:
Measuring the Average Fidelity Decay.
arXiv:quantReview Letters 92 (17): 177906.
doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.92.177906. PMID 15169196.
[22] Poulin, David. A Rough Guide to Quantum Chaos
[23] Peres, A. (1995). Quantum Theory: Concepts and Methods. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.
[24] Lee, Jae-Seung & Khitrin, A. K. (2004).
Quantum amplier:
Measurement with entangled spins.
Journal of Chemical Physics 121

Further reading
Devaney, Robert L. (2003). Introduction to Chaotic
Dynamical Systems. Westview Press. ISBN 0-81334085-3.
Hilborn, Robert C. (2004). Sea gulls, butteries, and grasshoppers:
A brief history
of the buttery eect in nonlinear dynamAmerican Journal of Physics 72 (4):

External links
The meaning of the buttery: Why pop culture loves
the 'buttery eect,' and gets it totally wrong, Peter
Dizikes, Boston Globe, June 8, 2008
From buttery wings to single e-mail (Cornell University)


New England Complex Systems Institute - Concepts: Buttery Eect

The Chaos Hypertextbook. An introductory primer
on chaos and fractals Advanced graduate textbook on
chaos (no fractals)
Weisstein, Eric W., Buttery Eect, MathWorld.

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