RIP: "father of chaos theory," Edward Lorenz

Meteorologist Edward Lorenz, credited for having founded the field of chaos theory, died Wednesday of cancer in Massachusetts. He was 90 years old.
He was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when he came up with the scientific concept that small effects lead to big changes, something that was explained in a simple example known as the "butterfly effect." He explained how something as minuscule as a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil changes the constantly moving atmosphere in ways that could later trigger tornadoes in Texas.

His discovery of "deterministic chaos" brought about "one of the most dramatic changes in mankind's view of nature since Sir Isaac Newton," said the committee that awarded Lorenz the 1991 Kyoto Prize for basic sciences. It was one of many scientific awards that Lorenz won. There is no Nobel Prize for his specific field of expertise, meteorology.

Jerry Mahlman, a longtime friend, noted that the man who pioneered chaos theory was "the most organized person I ever knew."

Link to AP obituary, here is the New York Times piece, and here is more about Lorenz at the MIT website. (thanks, gATO)


  1. Does anyone else remember a car commercial which described a long cause-and-effect chain that started with a butterfly flapping its wings? It seems the butterfly is to Lorenz what the apple was to Newton.

    Also, in before link to xkcd’s “Real Programmers”.

  2. Put a drop of water on your hand, like this, see! And it rolls down this way! But, but, but — but wait! Try it again! Works differently! The water goes somewhere else! There’s all these tiny hairs on your hand! So — you can’t — you don’t know! That’s called chaos! It’s why dinosaurs can never be safely trapped in a theme park! That and the hubris of man!

    At least, that’s chaos theory as I understand it.

  3. To let you know what a GeekoPagan I am, I’ve used the Lorenz Attractor as a visualization for psychic shielding, on the theory that it could absorb infinite energy.

  4. Well, meteorology is basically a part of Physics, so there IS a Nobel Prize for it. Paul Crutzen might be the only one who received one in the field of meteorology/climatology.

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