There is an iconic scene in “Jurassic Park” where Jeff Goldblum explains chaos theory. “It simply deals with unpredictability in complex systems,” he says. “The shorthand is ‘the butterfly effect. ‘ A butterfly can flap its wings in Peking, and in Central Park, you get rain instead of sunshine.”
In the visual arts world, butterfly effect means the singularity whereby a minute contained change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere and it’s a term used to describe how the future state of a complex system can change hugely based on small changes in the original state.
Artist Tasha Wahl started in 2013 a micro-philanthropy movement that combined Mahatma Gandhi’s popular concept, “Be the change you want to see in the world” with Edward Lorenz’s “Butterfly Effect” theory that even the softest flutter of a wing can affect the molecules around it, setting off a chain reaction that produces major change.
The 1952 short story A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury explores the concept of how the death of a butterfly in the past could have drastic changes in the future is a representation of the butterfly effect, and has been used as an example of how to consider chaos theory and the physics of time travel. The influence of the concept can be seen in the films The Terminator, Back to the Future, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Cloud Atlas, as well as an episode of the television series The Simpsons.
Butterfly as a symbol can also represent transition, celebration, and lightness. Butterfly is the power of air, the ability to float upon a breeze.
Art survives through its effect on others.