chaos theory

Tonight I went to see Le battement d’ailes du papillon [français], that is, “the beating of the butterfly’s wings”. It’s a film starring Audrey Tautou [français], star of another film you may recognize, Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulin [français]. Okay, I will say this once and we can get on with it: Audrey Tautou is really cute. I’m a fan.

So. The story was about how the things we do affect the affairs of the people around us in ways we can’t even imagine. For those who remember their chaos theory, the analogy is to the beating of a butterfly’s wings in the Atlantic having the power to cause a hurricane in the Pacific. As I read up on some of the stuff in that link I gave, I realize I really know very little about the theory itself, spawned from hardcore mathematics as it is, but as I understand it, the underlying idea is that there are certain systems (like the universe?) that are neither completely random nor completely determined, that are dynamic, never achieving an equilibrium state, and that achieve a strange self-organization. So ponder the universe for a second, or even just our planet. We live in a world that is constantly in motion, where all beings eat and are eaten, where things are constantly dying and being born. We all are part of a vast system, an ecology if you will, and we all affect each other. Sometimes we do things that appear random, but even these things are part of that system that encompasses everything. So whatever we do feeds back into that system and produces effects that may be small, but may be huge. Say you decide to throw a stone from your balcony. What if it hits the windshield of a taxi? And then the person who’s in that taxi breaks her nose and has to go to the hospital? And then, through a process of seemingly random events, ends up somewhere completely different from where she was supposed to be? There’s the story of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá when he was planning to come to North America. The Bahá’ís wanted to book him a trip on a luxury liner, you know, so he could travel with class, and arrive sooner. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá refused, though, and chose to wait longer for another trip, on a smaller, more modest ship. The luxury liner was the Titanic, and of course, during its journey, it sank. Though his choice may have seemed random, the effect was that his life was saved. We all know of examples of this kind in our lives. What if we had stepped on the brake a few seconds later? What if we hadn’t had our lifejacket on? We are all part of this system, and are at its mercy.

Is there any remover of difficulties save God? Say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His servants and all abide by His bidding. (The Báb)

Food for thought. Can we rise above that system which binds us? I think not. The best thing we can do is to learn to use the system to our advantage. Perhaps the defining quote of the film — which is posted on its website — gives us a hint on how to do this: “N’hésitez pas à faire un acte idiot, gratuit et dérisoire. Car cet acte gratuit, idiot et dérisoire peut bouleverser l’ordre du monde…” Loosely translated, don’t hesistate to do things that may seem stupid, because that stupid act could change the whole world. Sometimes we get really good ideas — like offering a coat to a wet passer-by, or intervening when we see injustice taking place — but we stop ourselves because that would look so stupid. Well, perhaps. But who cares? And who knows what that stupid act will really do? It’s worth it to feel awkward for one moment if it means you save someone’s life, if you make someone happy when they’re feeling down, or if you do a good turn to someone who later comes back to help you out when you’re in need.

Of course, it wasn’t just about good-natured acts, just acts in general… but that’s another story! coughcoughCentury of Lightcoughcough

good night, finally!

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