Dharma Movie Review: The Butterfly Effect
- Dharma Movie Review:
The Butterfly Effect
Title Card: It is said that the flapping of a butterfly's wings in Chicago can create a hurricane in Peking.
This movie offers another take at time-travel. The protagonist attempts to change his crucial regrets of his past in hope of altering the path of destiny... but each time creating serious side-effects, as the law of cause and effect does not subsequently lead events to happen in the way he assumed it would. In this sense, the movie is reminiscent of "The Time Machine" (http://imdb.com/title/tt0268695) of 2002. Well, time-travel is not possible in reality - simply because it renders the law of cause and effect senseless and unworkable. How can future effects can become past causes of present situations? There would be total chaos! Anyway, the seemingly slight changes the hero makes diverts the future way off track as he tampers with "fate". There is no happy ending at the end of the movie, but quiet resignation that hints that all we can do is do what we can with now, instead of lingering lost in the past. Perhaps the only time-travel we can attempt is to look back, not in anger or regret, but with hindsights, learning instead to see past misfortunes as lessons to be learnt, thus "changing" the past and how it affects us now.
The Butterfly Effect refers to the famous analogy of the Chaos Theory - when a butterfly flaps its wings in a place, it might lead to a storm far away - through a string, or rather, web of intricately complex and "unpredictable" cause and effect.
"The flapping of a single butterfly's wing today produces a tiny change in the state of the atmosphere. Over a period of time, what the atmosphere actually does diverges from what it would have done. So, in a month's time, a tornado that would have devastated the Indonesian coast doesn't happen. Or maybe one that wasn't going to happen, does." (Ian Stewart,The Mathematics of Chaos)
Due to the above, and coupled with meteorological efforts to predict weather, Edward Lorenz realised in 1960 that it is impossible to predict the weather accurately - a little difference in initial conditions (ie. even turbulence by a butterfly's wings) can tangent off to a whole alternate world of difference. This discovery led him and many others to realise similar characteristics in other aspects of nature and experimentation, giving birth to the Chaos Theory. (See more @ http://www.imho.com/grae/chaos/chaos.html) Related to quantum physics, which discovered that at the microscopic level, subatomic particles seem to be moving random paths with no apparent cause and effect, one of the key mysteries the Chaos Theory presents us is how an apparently stable and orderly world is possible with so much underlying "natural" chaos beneath the surface.
What is the possible Buddhist answer to this bizarre phenomenon? Something non-random must be keeping everything in check or there would be total chaos from the microscopic level to the macroscopic world we readily experience now. What is it? Though not easily discerned, the natural law of cause and effect is still at play, maintaining order and balanced interrelatedness. It is difficult to see the causality behind as it is a zoomed-in reflection of the observer's mindstate. A person at peace might see beautiful and sensible patterns while one with a scattered mind sees messy random paths. Thus the Vimalakirti Sutra states, "When the mind is pure, the land is pure." The deluded mind sees delusion and the clear mind sees things as they are. This answers why different observers under different conditions using different methods of observation yield different results. There is close interaction between the observer and the observed. Thus, no one micro or macro reality appears the same to two individuals with different karma and perception. Chaos is then no different from order - and is held in check by cause and effect and our "peace of mind" and "trouble in mind".Here is an example of the Butterfly Effect at play, showing how easily order morphs seamlessly into chaos. Entering a small slip road into the highway, I noticed a bottleneck forming. As the cab I was in advanced, it passed by a smashed up car at the side of the four-laned highway. The cab slowed down as it got nearer. And I noticed many other vehicles doing the same, as the drivers try to steal a good glance at the scene of the accident. Given that the damaged car hogging a lane already is condition for slower traffic, every other car slowing down creates and worsens the jam. Each vehicle that slows down forces the vehicles behind to slow down too. We are never just in a traffic jam - we are the traffic jam too. This is a good analogy on how we are interconnected such that every little action influences others. Anything anyone does anywhere affects everything everywhere. A single Adolf Hitler can lead to so much suffering, just as a single Mahatma Ghandi to so much peace. The littlest action (or "pre-action") is the intention we have in mind - which is why Buddhism proposes that we all practise the purification of our mind. Only doing so will we attain True Happiness.