A butterfly flaps its wings and causes a typhoon.
This is how the “butterfly effect” is imagined.
The butterfly effect is a metaphor that illustrates the idea that small things can have non-linear—and often significant—consequences in a complex system. While a single act, like the butterfly flapping its wings, cannot cause a typhoon, a small event can be a seed, a catalyst that starts a chain reaction.
Such catalysts are the focus of the 2017/18 edition of The ArtSci Effect. We’ve imagined the ArtSci effect as the often unforeseen impact our remarkable donors and volunteers have on our academic community—and the impact that community in turn has on the world.
It could be a chance meeting between a professor and a wealthy astronomy enthusiast that, nearly a century later, begets a globally recognized institute, whose researchers are studying the universe at observatories on almost every continent. Or the PhD student who—funded by a scholarship set up in 1962 from an estate gift—goes on to earn the world’s most coveted postdoctoral fellowship in the sciences. Or a conversation between an undergrad and an alumna that crystalizes for him the career he dreams of, and gives him the confidence to land an internship in South Africa. Or a young man fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe who, decades after earning a U of T degree, establishes a school of global affairs that sends its students and alumni abroad to heal the world.
Such stories can be found everywhere at Arts & Science—more every year, as our community of scholars, students and supporters continues to grow.
As John Gribbin writes in Deep Simplicity, “some systems… are very sensitive to their starting conditions, so that a tiny difference in the initial ‘push’ you give them causes a big difference in where they end up, and there is feedback, so that what a system does affects its own behavior.”
As teachers and researchers, we can never predict the long-term effect of any single act. But year after year, we see the ripples go out and then come back again. An alumna who came back to the University this year as a mentor told us: “Amazing… I felt like I was giving back to the academic community that started me off on my life’s journey.”
This is your ArtSci Effect.
ROOM TO GROW (above) Dean David Cameron at the Growth Facilities in the Earth Sciences Centre, where students and scientists plant seeds for plant materials used in research and education on ecology and evolutionary biology.