The Writers Voice
The World's Favourite Literary Website

The Butterfly Principle


Bob Hyman

I've always liked science fiction. I used to watch all of the "Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits" programs on television. One of my all-time favorite episodes was a story about a butterfly. The story took place some time in the future when scientists had perfected time travel. In the story, a wealthy big-game hunter wanted to go back in time to hunt a dinosaur. The scientists cautioned him that he needed to be very careful and not change anything in the past that could affect the future. The scientists selected a dinosaur that was going to die of natural causes for him to hunt. Just as the dinosaur was about to fall into a tar pit, the hunter was allowed to shoot it. He returned to the present, happy that he had fulfilled his lifelong wish.

But the present he returned to was not quite what he had expected. In the new present, the Germans had won World War II, and the society he came back to was very much different than the one he had left. As he sat crying, agonizing over what had gone wrong, he noticed a crushed butterfly on the sole of his hunting boot. And regretfully, as he was being taken away to a concentration camp, he realized that the loss of this one tiny creature had affected the future. Only a tiny change, but one that - amplified by millions of years of evolution - had made a significant change to the course of history.

Like most science fiction stories, this one was not only entertaining, it also had an important underlying moral theme that makes us stop and think. There is, in fact, a true "Butterfly Principle" that goes on all around us. Every action we take - everything we do and say - can have an impact on the future. These impacts may be either positive or negative. The actions may be small and insignificant, but they have a way of being amplified over time.

Many years ago, I worked at Edwards Air Force Base, out in the Mojave Desert. I usually took the back road to the base, a long straight stretch of deserted two-lane highway. One day as I drove to work, I noticed a fancy sports car sitting in the sand along side of the road. I stopped to see if everything was okay and found a woman sitting behind the wheel crying. She had stopped to take a photograph of the desert and had become stuck in the sand. I attached a tow rope to her expensive vehicle and pulled her back onto the highway. She offered me money for helping her, but I told her it was my "Good Turn" for the day. When she continued to insist, I explained to her that Scouts didn't expect to be rewarded for helping others. She finally realized that I was serious and headed back toward Los Angeles. I went on to work and didn't think any more about the incident.

Later that same year, I ended up as the District fund-raising chairman for the Western Los Angeles County Council. I organized a pancake breakfast hosted by Scouts as the kick-off for the campaign. I managed to get some free coverage in the Los Angeles newspaper, radio, and TV outlets to publicize the event. Imagine my surprise when a well-known Hollywood celebrity attended the breakfast and presented us with a rather large check. He told us about the time his wife had been stranded in the desert and how a Scout had pulled her vehicle out of the sand. He said he wanted to repay the "Good Turn." As you might expect, our fund-raising campaign was quite successful that year.

Not all insignificant actions we do turn out to be significant in the long run, and we should never expect that our good turns will be returned in kind. But we need to always remember that our actions do affect others, and ultimately may come back to us - either to haunt us or to help us. Keep that in mind as you go go through life, and ... watch out for the butterflies.

Critique this work

Click on the book to leave a comment about this work

All Authors (hi-speed)    All Authors (dialup)    Children    Columnists    Contact    Drama    Fiction    Grammar    Guest Book    Home    Humour    Links    Narratives    Novels    Poems    Published Authors    Reviews    September 11    Short Stories    Teen Writings    Submission Guidelines

Be sure to have a look at our Discussion Forum today to see what's
happening on The World's Favourite Literary Website.