Saturday, 19 April 2008

Musings on weather and genealogy

As the last snow looks set to disappear from my front lawn today (a forecast), and I read about the death of Edward N Lorenz, it set me thinking about similarities between weather and family history.

Ed Lorenz, the founder of Chaos Theory, was arguably the greatest atmospheric scientist, or mathematician-meteorologist, of his generation. He started his career as a weather forecaster during WW2, a background he shared with Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow. Lorenz fully deserved a Nobel Prize for his insight that "slightly differing initial states can evolve into considerably different states." This was expressed more imaginatively that the flap of a butterfly's wing in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas. It showed why there are limits on the predictability of weather.

In family history, how might a small difference have changed the whole course of your (if there was a you) family history? A man just misses a bus, or walks out of the building a minute earlier, and so doesn't meet the woman who would otherwise become his wife. Life is full of such critical points so we don't expect to be able to predict our future family history.

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