"It's all an illusion, a very beautiful illusion, a miracle that is taking place before our very eyes."
We rely on nature for our food, our water and our metaphors. Nature is the source of our physical transformation, as well as a primary source of metaphorical transformation in myth and art. When we successfully communicate, for instance, that a personal situation is in flux, we have a river to thank. We speak of political firestorms, of movie stars, of turbulence in our relationships. The stock market may be falling like a rock while a new artist is blowing up. We speak of bursts and flashes of insight, of ideas that pop and fizzle.
But just as the natural world we transform transforms us, the natural metaphors we choose transform us too. Metaphors change reality. They affect the possibilities we see for ourselves. A young James Joyce saw himself as a bird-man, one that could “fly those nets” of oppression and soar – like Icarus and Daedalus – to unimaginable heights. True to the metaphor, he transformed himself into one of the greatest writers of all time. He also nearly went blind, as one would who got too close to the sun.
It is literally impossible to say where our metaphors end and we begin. Metaphors, drawn from nature, create who we are – who we decide to be, individually and as a culture. Transformed by the metaphors we inhabit, we live our lives in nature, and transform nature in turn.
The figurative expression “butterfly effect” is less than thirty years old, but like the effect itself, it has reached the far corners of the earth. Every millennial has internalized it; it’s entered deep into their thinking, and as a result they – and those even younger – are more aware of the earth and environment than any previous generation.
They want to leave no carbon footprint, to have a light touch, like butterflies. And if they succeed, and if their behavior becomes contagious, the world will have been transformed by a metaphor for how the world is transformed. The “butterfly effect” is a notion that has become part of the butterfly effect itself, and takes part in the world’s transformation.