hugo :: ideas :: metaphysics
"only as an æsthetic phenomenon is
existence and the world justified"

- nietzsche


emotus ponens picture
::: butterfly effect and god:::

one time i needed to catch the train. i was so incredibly late. seemed like there was no way i should have made it. i left my office, had to ask for a ride, had to ask for directions, when i got to the station, the train was just pulling in and i made it. i shouldn't have made that train. not enough time. i felt like it was a cinematic trick, where 1 minute in the movie takes like 2 minutes of narrative time.

other times, i am catching the train to work with plenty of time to spare, yet, every step goes wrong. walking to the subway, i hit red lights at every intersection. i just miss the train. hopping on the next train, i just miss the transfer. i wait a while for the transfer and it goes super slow. and finally i just miss my train. the next train is in an hour. so i have a whole hour to eat at grand central station. which is sort of funny, because my whole way over, i was worried about not having lunch. maybe god was looking out for me.

i had this idea once -- perhaps in a dream, or more likely, i heard it from someone since forgotten -- that god can control small events. events so small that mathematicians are inclined to label them random events. the roll of the dice, the precise arrival of the bus given traffic, bumping into someone on the street, being hit by a drunk driver. but upon reflection, these events aren't truly random. mathematicians often say that things like this are deterministically random. because after all, nothing in the world is random. they are all governed by rules. when too many rules interact and we are not longer able to comprehend what's going on, we say that things are chaotic. chaotic events are deterministic, meaning, that we can theoretically predict all eventualities given the preconditions. however, the motions are too complicated to predict with shortcuts. sometimes we have to simulate the whole event to figure out how things will turn out.

perhaps god has designed us to have these sorts of fundamental limitations. perhaps he can mask his actions through tweaks in the apparently "random" or "chaotic" events. most of these random or chaotic events fold into themselves, meaning, their effects are dampened and limited in scope. for example, a fly lands on a cup of coffee and flys away. could have no consequence at all. however, suppose the fly had landed on a cup of coffee as a lady was drinking it, and this lady just happened to be the fly phobic type. she squeels and spills the coffee all over the floor. the bicyclist on the sidewalk hears the commotion and is distracted. not paying attention to where he is riding, he hits a pedestrian. in this situation, a small cause has had a magnified effect. this is known as the butterfly effect. if i were god, i sure would see this as a clever to disguise myself. knowing that humans will always try to pin things down to root causes.

so perhaps when i really needed to get on the train but didn't have nearly enough time, god was just looking out for me. and when i tried to get on the train with plenty of time, god really wanted me to miss the train so that i could have a bite to eat.


articles copyright (c) 2002-2003 by
all rights reserved.



H U G O . . L I U ...

program in comparative media studies, mit

the media laboratory, mit
if you like my work, please link to me
hugo at media dot mit dot edu