Blogging and deterministic non-linear systems. And butterflies.

Once upon a time, I made my living doing mathematics – and one of my favourite mathematical truths is this: deterministic nonlinear systems are extremely sensitive to initial conditions. You may know that truth as the butterfly effect.

It’s an amazing thing, when you think about it: if you take two identical planet Earths, and change one little thing in one of them – one little puff of air – you nudge it down a whole new path.

You can change the world right now if you want to: all you have to do is put your lips together and blow.

Go on, you know you want to.


The world you just created looks very similar to the one that would have existed had you not blown – but eventually, the differences between them will become bigger and bigger. Storms will happen on different days; people’s life paths will be altered; different people will be born; different people will die.

Anyone who’s ever told you that you couldn’t make a difference was wrong.

When people ask me why I bother to reduce food waste in my life, and why I blog, I tell them about non-linear systems and butterflies, and about the power we all have to nudge ideas and culture and behaviour in any direction we want. I tell them that those small nudges make a huge difference … eventually. And, if I’m feeling particularly lyrical that day, I tell them that that’s what a soul is: the consequences of our actions, rippling through time, forever magnifying, and forever reshaping the world — no matter how small we were in life.

Given that, you may not be surprised to learn that I’ve been disappointed that I haven’t been able to attend to this blog much in the past couple of months – but work has taken over most of my evenings and weekends, and it promises to keep doing that for at least a few more months.

The good news is that Bonnie Lee has agreed to step in to help pick up the slack, and keep those little puffs of 222 million tons wind flowing out into the world. I’ll add in my two hundred and twenty-two cents when time allows, including some overdue comments on the blogs I follow.


When you’re trying to change the world, two butterflies are better than one.

And now, back to work…


13 thoughts on “Blogging and deterministic non-linear systems. And butterflies.

  1. Nice – well, your “initial conditions” were setup pretty nicely around here, so I’m sure there is plenty of positive impact to come.

    Looking forward to hearing more from Bonnie!

    Hope all that hard work is at least satisfying – and contains little or no waste! ;-)

  2. This was a lovely – and necessary – reminder of how what we do really does make a difference.
    Sorry to hear that work is gobbling up all your free time, but definitely looking forward to a Bonnie perspective too.

    Keep flapping your two pairs of wings!

  3. Scott and I were having a similar discussion about small actions resulting in visible change on our way out west (where we are now, without kids). Amazing what we can hash out on a 10-hr drive with a quiet back seat.

    Whether I feel depressed by the news of another species nearing extinction, frustrated by the lack of non-animal based foods in the dining out industry (it does suck, but we’re sticking to our guns), or just plain over-whelmed by the severity of some of these problems, I say to myself, IT’S OKAY. The best way into someone’s heart is through my own joyful actions, not my words or blog. The more someones that are enlightened is that slow change of which you write. Doubtful we can change the hearts of the uncaring, but that’s not who I hope to reach in my efforts.

    I miss you here, Jean-François, but that’s just the selfish me typing. I’m not going anywhere and my life is no less full. We’ve got a lot of work to do. Not going anywhere. :)

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