Chaos theory, Butterfly Wings, and Watchfulness over the Thoughts

One of the more important contemporary theories that make sense of phenomenon in the physical world is chaos theory. It affirms that open systems are nonlinear, which is a scientific way of saying that minute changes can have enormous consequences in emergent patterns. For example, when the meteorologist Edward Lorenz was developing computer simulations for weather predictions, he found that rounding numbers from six decimal points to three (a fraction of a thousand) made huge differences in the ultimate predictions. This was called the butterfly effect: the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can cause a hurricane on the other side of the world. It’s made physicists rethink simplistic, linear notions of cause and effect.

Now turn to the spiritual world and the world of our thoughts. We all have thoughts, good and bad. We naively might think that those thoughts only affect our own psychological well being, but in fact those thoughts affect our behavior, our demeanor, the expression on our face, and thereby, our neighbors, whose thoughts affect their behaviors, demeanors, and the expressions on their faces, whose thoughts in turn affect others in a spiralling network that works its way throughout the human race just like those flapping butterfly wings in Northern China can help “cause” that hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. But in this case thoughts of love or hatred snowball into outbreaks of war and or agreements of peace between nations and peoples. Let no one consider a single good thought or a single bad thought to be insignificant. Our thoughts are of unbelievable import.

In my book, I note, “As Clement of Alexandria puts it, ‘the thoughts of the saints cleave not only the air, but also the entire world.’” Chaos theory reaches a similar conclusion. For this reason, hesychasm and watchfulness over the thoughts have so much to offer to the modern world as they always have. Long before Poincare started to formulate the basic tenets of chaos theory, Saint Seraphim of Sarov made a statement in the Holy Spirit that rationalism could hardly explain, but experience and now chaos theory show to be true: “acquire inner peace, and thousands around you will find salvation.”  It all begins with the thoughts.

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  1. […] an earlier post, we spoke about one way that the butterfly effect from chaos theory can be applied to the spiritual […]

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