Edward Lorenz, Father of Chaos Theory, Dies
Edward Lorenz has died, thus conforming to a recurring pattern.
A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Lorenz was the first to identify chaotic behavior in the mathematical modeling of weather systems, in which small differences in a dynamic system, like the weather, “could trigger vast and often unsuspected results,” the university said.
A committee that awarded him the 1991 Kyoto prize for basic sciences wrote that Lorenz’s groundbreaking theory represented “one of the most dramatic changes in mankind’s view of nature since Sir Isaac Newton.”
Lorenz’s research led him to develop what became known as the “butterfly effect,” the idea that an infinitesimally small alteration — like the flapping of an insect’s wings — can lead to potentially monumental consequences. The term stemmed from his 1972 academic paper “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set off a Tornado in Texas?”
MIT said Lorenz’s early work “marked the beginning of a new field of study that impacted not just the field of mathematics but virtually every branch of science — biological, physical and social.” “Some scientists have since asserted that the 20th century will be remembered for three scientific revolutions — relativity, quantum mechanics and chaos,” the statement said.
While this event was entirely predictable, it’s nonetheless sad. Lorenz’ work reached pop culture status and is often cited by people, myself included, with little more than a rudimentary understanding of its technical details.