Edward Lorenz, Father of Chaos Theory, Dies at 90

Geek Culture

Edward Lorenz, mathematician and meteorologist, passed away last week at the age of 90.  He was widely known for his groundbreaking work Deterministic Nonperiodic Flow, which crafted a framework for explaining why weather patterns behave in ways that cannot be described by classical dynamics and cannot be predicted more than a few days in advance.  He developed the idea of the Lorenz Attractor, a functional explanation for the potentially profound effect of small initial actions.  This became famously referred to as The Butterfly Effect.

The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly‘s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that ultimately cause a tornado to appear (or prevent a tornado from appearing). The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale phenomena. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different. (Wikipedia)

From a GeekDad point of interest, yes- Lorenz’s work was the basis for Jeff Goldblum’s chaos-theorist character in the Jurassic Park movies.  But let’s not hold him at fault for that.  His work influenced science fiction in a profound way, and gave us all a new way of looking at the amazing complexity of the world around us.

Image from the American Institute of Physics.

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