In the 1960’s American mathematician and meteorologist, Edward Lorenz, came up with a notion now known as the ‘butterfly effect.’ Lorenz, who was an early pioneer of the chaos theory, suggested that a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo could theoretically cause a hurricane in Florida. While that might sound absurd the popularized thinking behind the theory is that seemingly inconsequential actions could have radical effects further down the line, and that somehow everything is chaotically linked. Think about that next time a butterfly flies past you.

I mention the ‘butterfly effect’ not because this post is about the plot of the trajectory Lorenz system for values r = 28, ˆ = 10, b = 8/3, but merely as an interesting introduction to the photographs I recently shot while at the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Before my visit to the butterfly center I’d spent the afternoon wandering around the downtown area of Houston. Along the way I had stopped in at a the Live Sports Café on Main Street to grab a drink and make use of the free wireless internet. The place was quiet as the proprietor, Amir Alani, made my cinnamon mocha while I made idle conversation with him. “It’s on the house.” He declared as he passed it across the bar to me. Turns out my English accent was deserving of a free drink, and who was I to question that.

As I sat outside in the thick humid afternoon air I tapped away at my laptop keyboard, quickly responding to emails and checking Google maps for some local direction. A crazy lady walked past muttering under her breath as crazy people so often do. I paid her no attention until out of the corner of my eye I saw that she was about to violently throw an object at me. I ducked expecting the projectile to fly past my head, but whatever it was she had thrown was actually attached to her wrist and it flicked right back into her hand.

“You’ve got LSD in your veins!” She howled while angrily pointing in my direction. “I know you! You’ve got fucking LSD in your veins you bastard!” A man in a suit walking behind her made a face at me as if to acknowledge the fact that crazy people are indeed everywhere. She shouted at me a couple more times before shuffling on her way shouting about the LSD I had in my veins and pointing at a sculpture across the road.

With my email done I shut my laptop and walked to the MetroRail, a relatively new addition to Americas fourth largest city. The MetroRail is a breath of fresh air in this city famed for its reliance on overweight highways jammed with an endless supply of motor vehicles. But with just 16 stops along its desperately short 7.5 mile length it’s only a very small breath.

I took the train to the Museum District eavesdropping conversations of other riders. I learned that “Patti was going to have the operation after all” from a man who appeared to be a nurse of some sort. The tall woman he was talking to seemed preoccupied with other thoughts as they boarded the train together. A dark haired girl that some people might describe as being ‘big boned’ talked on her cell phone. “If Michael doesn’t stop talking when we do it I swear I’ll kill him myself” She said as she stood and got off the train laughing, still engrossed in cellular interaction. In a time when the iPod acts as the escape capsule at moments like these, the fun of conversation dipping is lost on many.

The Museum District is clean and unlike so many other areas of Houston that I’ve seen, there are many people walking the sidewalks. I meander somewhat aimlessly and in no hurry, eventually finding my way to the butterfly center at the Museum of Natural Science.

Inside the huge glass addition to the museum building, tropical plants grow around an impressive waterfall and the hot muggy air is alive with butterflies content to see you as no threat at all. They land so close by that it’s almost as if they’re happy to pose for pictures.

I could have stayed in there for ages. I’m not especially excited about butterflies, but there was just something really great about being in this environment and able to interact with it so easily.

It’s seems somewhat of a stretch to believe that a butterfly flapping its wings in Japan could cause a hurricane in Florida, but somehow I like that connection. For a guy who enjoys meandering in the sun and eavesdropping conversations on trains, a beautiful chaos makes perfect sense to me.

The Cockrell Butterfly Center
Edward Lorenz
The Butterfly Effect
Chaos theory