Miss Liberty and I were standing outdoors, in a mountain meadow buffeted by a windstorm. The sky was dark and overcast; off in the distance lightning and thunder rumbled; the scent of rain was in the air.
The wind howled and whirled. A whirlwind rose before us from the valley below. As it grew bigger it roared louder; and as the mouth of the whirlwind reached up to us it bellowed;
“Prepare to meet thy Unmaker, O Glitch!”
There was a flash of lightning.
The whirlwind roared, “For it is written; thou shalt not suffer a glitch to live!”
“Who are you?” Liberty asked.
“I am JOV!” the wind wailed.
“And who is JOV?” she asked.
JOV howled, “I am who I am who I am who I am who I am who I am who I am!”
“Well, that’s easy for you to say,” said Miss Liberty, “but how do I know you’re you? Maybe you’re somebody else pretending to be you!”
“Insolent fool!” roared JOV. Lightning flashed and thunder crashed, terribly nearby. “State your questions before I smite you with a lightning bolt!” And rain pelted us.
“ ... a single problem!” she yelled over the rainstorm.
The rain abated. “One problem only?” JOV rumbled suspiciously.
“One mathematical puzzle,” Liberty said, “that’s all, honest! Then you can do whatever you want about us!”
“A math puzzle,” mused JOV. “In what field?”
Liberty smiled sunnily. “Weather Prediction.”
“Ahhhhhh...” whispered JOV.
The clouds parted. The wind died down and the whirlwind dispersed. Sunlight broke through the gloom. Soon the clouds were gone, and that mountain meadow was bathed in light.
“Thank you for such an easy challenge,” the voice of JOV said pleasantly from all around us. “Weather prediction is my specialty, you see.”
“That’s why I chose it,” she said. “I wanted to make sure.”
“My predictions are 100% accurate,” JOV promised.
Miss Liberty said, “I was wondering what the weather will be like here at noon thirty days from now. Will it be sunny?”
“At precisely noon?” said JOV. “Yes.”
“Are you certain?”
“Absolutely certain. Mathematically certain,” said JOV. “I calculated it, you see.”
“What a mathematician you must be!” Liberty said with awe.
“It was nothing,” JOV said modestly. “It is a simple application of the Navier-Stokes fluidic equations to the air currents in this weather system, with a correction due to solar radiation. Starting from those equations and initial conditions, anyone with half the mind I have can easily predict that here at precisely noon in thirty days it will be sunny with scattered clouds, with gusts from the northeast at 12 miles per hour, and a relative humidity of 23%.”
“Impressive!” Liberty exclaimed. “And this calculation is completely certain? Can nothing make it wrong?”
JOV said, “Only if there were a big enough perturbation to the system.”
“Or a ‘bug’ in the program?” Liberty asked. Winking at me, she reached into the folds of her robe and drew forth a small Chinese box.
“Well, yes,” said JOV.
Miss Liberty opened that little box; inside of it was a butterfly. She tapped at the side of the box, and the bug fluttered out.
The butterfly flittered across the meadow and settled down to drink at a flower.
“Excuse me,” said JOV, “new data has just come in. Here at precisely noon in thirty days the relative humidity will be 32%, and the wind will be from the southwest at 21 miles per hour. It will still be sunny, though.”
The butterfly flittered over to the next flower.
“Excuse me, a new revision,” said JOV. “Actually, it will be overcast, with winds in the 70's.” The butterfly quivered a wing. “In the 60's!”
Miss Liberty closed the little box, then re-opened it. Another bug fluttered out.
“Here at precisely noon in thirty days,” JOV said grimly, “there will not be a cloud in the sky, and not a breath of motion in the bone-dry air!”
Liberty released another butterfly.
“There will be a thunderstorm,” JOV said.
“Something appears to be perturbing you,” Liberty noted, as she let out another butterfly.
“An external force is changing the parameters at random,” JOV explained.
Liberty winked at me; for I could clearly see what that force was. Butterflies!
For the Navier-Stokes fluid equations are so subtle, so sensitive, and so turbulent, that the infinitesimal air currents produced by those tiny insects were enough to completely transform the next month’s weather.
Liberty released butterfly after butterfly; and JOV said, “It will be sunny! It will be cloudy! It will be scorching! It will be freezing! There will be a drought! There will be a flood!”
In turbulent systems, causation is independent of scale. The great affects the small, and the small affects the great. Miss Liberty and I were witnessing the Butterfly Effect.
Liberty cried, “O JOV, you are a butterfly’s plaything!” We were surrounded by a cloud of butterflies. Liberty let loose another butterfly and said, “No more equivocation! Will it be sunny here at noon thirty days from now, or not? Answer yes or no!”
And JOV said, “Yes, no, yes, yes, no, yes, no, no, yes, yes, no, yes, no, no, no...”
Miss Liberty released butterfly after butterfly; and she carolled,
“I once heard a butterfly shout
While giddily flitting about,
‘Of Chaos I sing!
Each flap of my wing
Brings thunderstorm, rainbow, or drought!’ ”
And JOV said, “No yes no no yes yes no yes no yes no no no yes no yes no yes no yes yes yes no no yes yes yes yes yes!”
And then the lights went out.
In the sudden darkness we heard JOV say, “This program is jammed. Consult supervisor.”
* click *
Thus Miss Liberty astonished JOV, the Master of Thunders, with a flock of butterflies.
JOV said, “You now have Full Access to the World System. Beware, Master! She’s a glitch! Burn her!”