Butterfly effect

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Experiment showing the butterfly effect with a double pendulum: At first, the movement is the same, but with time, there are differences.

The butterfly effect is an idea that is more commonly used in chaos theory. A small change can make much bigger changes happen; one small incident can have a big impact on the future. The idea started from weather prediction. Now the term is used for many things; some are scientific, and some are not.

The term butterfly effect comes from an analogy where a butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo and a tornado occurs in Tennessee. Weather is hard to forecast, because small changes like this can have a big impact on the weather.

This term can be used in areas other than weather. Here a small change can also have a large impact. For example, it’s one reason why many people believe time travel to be dangerous. If a small change was made to history, that could have a very bad impact later on.

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