Chaos Theory, The Butterfly Effect, And The Computer Glitch That Started It All
“In his 1814 treatise, “A philosophical essay on probabilities,” French mathematician Pierre Laplace speculated that Newtonian mechanics heralded a rigid determinism that would theoretical enable the successful prediction of the entire future of the universe, given absolute knowledge of its complete state at any given time. The only catch is that the prognosticator would somehow need to step outside of the universe and obtain a complete snapshot at once of all the particles in it and their instantaneous trajectories.”
It seems like a foregone conclusion: if you live in a deterministic Universe, one governed by deterministic equations like Newton’s Laws, all you need to do is know the positions and momenta of all the particles to arbitrary accuracy at any given time. You give me those, and I should be able to, with enough computational power, give you the positions and momenta of those particles arbitrarily far into the distant future. Only, that isn’t the way physics actually works! If you give me those for a complex enough system, I’ll only be able to predict their behavior for a short while; pretty soon, chaotic effects will take over. We may call this the “butterfly effect” today, but the truth is it was started by a computer glitch almost 60 years ago.