03 February 2009

Groundhog Day vs. the Butterfly Effect

Two movies from 1993 introduced sophisticated scientific concepts into the popular lexicon. Well before February 2nd, 2009 the term "Groundhog Day" had become synonymous with a kind of tragic deja vu--the feeling that one is doomed to repeat the same scenario repeatedly until reaching some transcendent epiphany that looses that entrapment. The "Groundhog Day" phenomenon owes a nod to the idea of a parallel universe as suggested by the theory quantum mechanics. It was boosted, of course, into the public consciousness by the Bill Murray movie of the same name.

And it was Jurassic Park--cue Jeff Goldblum's nervous tic--that took Chaos Theory to the masses. Specifically the concept of the "Butterfly Effect" as suggested by the late mathematician Edward Lorenz who theorized that the "sensitive dependence" of weather patterns were so significant that a butterfly flapping its wings in Florida could cause a tornado in China. This idea is most commonly used in modern parlance to suggest one small change that causes a ripple of various effects.

This relates to my bike commute how? Well, I started the day yesterday feeling like the bike commute was Groundhog Day, the same thing over and over. And then on the way home, kind of accidentally, I veered from my normal pathway and realized how much change had occured--a cut-through blocked off, a house remodel--just a block or so off my normal course. There's safety, reliability in known pathways; there's value in intermittently veering from the path. Change means nothing without some constant to guage it by; repetition breeds boredom.

Which category of commuter do you fall in?

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