Interesting thought experiment on butterfly effect

Posted by Psilocybin at 2:31am Aug 2 '15
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From Wikipedia's Reference Desk, by one Steve Baker:

The problem is that the environment on Earth is 'chaotic' (in the mathematical sense of Chaos theory) - epitomised by the idea that the flapping of a butterfly wing might cause a hurricane halfway around the world a year from now. This effect (which is very real by the way) means that the most insignificant change (one atom displaced by a nanometer or so) is more than sufficient over the very long term to cause extinction or failure to evolve of an entire species. There is no lower limit beneath which you shouldn't care.

Imagine a single cosmic ray misplacing a single atom in the DNA of the sperm that was to become Richard Nixon. That resulting in it swimming 0.1% more slowly than it otherwise might - and resulting in a different sperm making it to the egg, Richard Nixon never existed but instead we got Sandra Nixon. Despite an unprecedentedly great political career, and a reputation for honesty and a high ethical standard - in 1968, America simply wasn't ready for it's first female president and Hubert Humphrey got the job instead. Being obsessed with solving the Vietnam problem, Humphrey failed in Cold War engagement with the Soviet Union. The resulting nuclear holocaust caused in the extinction of 90% of the species on earth and resulted in the eventual evolution of super-intelligent giant cockroaches who farmed genetically engineered fungi over 80% of the land area of Earth - and that caused the extinction of the wheat plant on earth. One cosmic ray - one nanometer to the left.

So, no - it's not sufficient to assume that one misplaced atom cannot make a difference!

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