So. A fourteen year old builds a clock from spare parts, takes it to school and ends up in jail. And, frankly, I have some doubts about his skin color, name or even religion playing a determinant role in what happened to him. They did set a certain framework for what it happened but I’m afraid that sooner or later this kind of harsh reaction to everything out of the bland ordinary might become a norm, involving people of all extractions, instead of an exception.
If you don’t believe me check here:
But what’s the link to the ‘butterfly effect’?!? “the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state”?!?
After all a society is indeed a nonlinear system but could we consider it as being deterministic?
For short periods of time and in certain conditions, yes!. I’ll come back to this shortly.
First I’d like to give you my interpretation of the butterfly effect. You see, for a system to be sensible to such a minute influence as a butterfly landing on it that system has to be in a very unstable configuration. Like a playing cards castle compared to the Golden Gate bridge. While the second can withstand gale-force winds without even noticing them the first would indeed crumble if a butterfly landed on it.
So, what happened to the American society, as a whole, to bring it here? How come a teenager gets a suspension, instead of some small praise, for building a clock and bringing it to school?
Society, as a non deterministic system, was supposed to be able to overcome trauma – like the one inflicted by terrorist attacks.
Eventually it will.
Only this is not something that will happen on its own. Society is made up by individual people, it can do something only if those men and women decide to put that something in practice.
And there’s the catch.
Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, 2013, explains that our minds have two intertwined thinking systems. One that is more or less deterministic – we instinctively pull out our hand when we touch a hot stove and nobody thinks very much when riding a bike, after it got familiar with it – and a second one which embodies in earnest our humanity – our ability to think reasonably and to be creative.
The first system, the more or less instinctive one, has evolved to help us survive the intense moments of our lives, when we don’t have enough time to make elaborate decisions and the second one is for those times when the immediate danger has subsided, when we have the resources to evaluate what really happened and to prepare for what the future might have in store for us.
Using the information provided by Kahneman it is easy to understand that a society where a significant portion of its members use predominantly the first manner of reacting to the outside challenges is a deterministic, hence predictable, system, while a society where people take the time to think for themselves is a lot more flexible than that.
The difference between those two situations being not only the amount of fear that exists in that society but, maybe the more important aspect, the manner in which the significant agents in that society react to that fear. If they approach it with calm and evaluate it sensibly is one thing, if they try to use that widespread emotion for their own, narrow, purposes the result is completely different.
The whole system might become so unstable as to be unsettled by a landing butterfly.
Or by a teenager bringing a makeshift clock to class.