An appreciation of the highly unpredictable

I have thought much about the influence of contingent events on our lives and am of the opinion that although the broad outline of our years may be bounded by the social, religious, and cultural circumstances into which we are born, the specific details of how we live out our days are dependent upon highly contingent events. In other words, and for most of us, some part of what it is we are destined to become is determined, limited, bounded, and channeled by defined circumstances such as who our parents are, where they lived, what they did, and who their parents were. The specific details of our lives-played-out, however, must be due to an inestimable number of highly unpredictable events. Outcomes are rendered chaotic if they are dependent upon the highly unpredictable. This is not a new idea and has been called The Butterfly Effect.

It occurred to me that ice formations, such as those shown in the photos I’ve been posting lately, although bounded by a number of physical and chemical factors are, in many ways, highly contingent. Proof of this could be provided by running the following impossible experiment. Imagine you were to photograph an icicle. Then, and here’s the impossible part, roll back time and allow the icicle to form again. Take a photo at the precise time the first was taken. Replicate the experiment and compare the photos. Although each will record a fully-formed icicle, and although any number of physical and chemical parameters would have remained the same between and among the trials, it is unlikely, no, it is impossible, that the very same icicle would form more than once. Why? Because the minute details of how time unfolds will differ among the trials. You must agree that it is impossible, for example, to imagine that any particular water molecule will cascade its watercourse in exactly the same way more than once. Imagine just how improbable it would be for the trillions upon trillions of molecules that come together to form the icicle to do so in precisely the same way more than once. Because of this degree of uncertainty, this chaos, the specific form of the icicle will differ each and every time you complete the experiment. Formation of a snowflake may be taken as observational proof of the same effect.

So, what am I getting at? I suppose this is my way of telling you that you should enjoy each and every one of nature’s highly contingent outcomes. For each and every thing is just so. Every tree, every bird, and every flower. Each is, at the same time, a tightly bounded and highly contingent outcome of an innumerable number of events. Keep this in mind the next time you enjoy a walk in the woods. Appreciate nature.


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