Depression, Butterfly Effect and Causation

This is a transcript of a lecture I gave last week to students interested in using game theory to address the symptoms of depression holistically. I though a discussion of Butterfly Effect might be interesting here.

Lewis Harrison



Q: How would an understanding of cause and effect enable me to live a life of greater love, freedom, wealth and happiness?

A: The concept of cause and effect is central to most of what we do in life. History, anthropology, memory,  our general mental health, the choices we make in the present and the choices we make for the future are all based on some level on the concept of cause and effect. Change drives Life; the actions and responses of Life to those actions drives the path that change takes.

Q: How does the concept of cause and effect tie into our religious beliefs?
A: Most of the major religions describe the role that cause and effect plays in our relationships with other worldly forces. Many westerners believe that Divine intervention (Grace) can redeem us from the results of our poor chooses but even so we are accountable for those choices.

In those cultures and religions that hold to the ideas of Karma and Reincarnation, the law of cause and effect is central to the lives of billions of people. If you can estimate the effect of some causative factor you can make choices that will give you greater love, freedom and wealth.

Q: What is the connection of cause and effect to self- actualization?
A: The universe has laws of cause and effect. A self-actualized person knows how to live within these laws quietly and peacefully while doing their chosen work. Most people who think and behave in ordinary ways will attempt to fulfill their desires by controlling the world around them. Ultimately they will fail and in doing so allow all manner of chaos and struggle also to arise.

Q:  How does being an ethical person eliminate unnecessary struggle?
A:  A self-actualized individual lives without struggle because he does not involve himself in those affairs that would create unnecessary struggle and difficulties.   Wu-wei is the ultimate example of moral behavior which also reflects absolute quiescence and inaction concerning material attachment, glory, honor and possession. So what is Wu-wei? It is action that appears to the common man as inaction. It is both action and inaction. It is the way of non-action in an action-focused world.

Q: Is there a specific system with Harrison’s Applied  Game Theory for understanding the law of cause and effect?

A: Yes. Consider for a moment that for a person to be alive they must create.   Further remember that all that exists is the result of some cause and is itself the cause of something that we call an effect.   Now let us consider that a cause or an effect is created from some previous action. Thus one might say that cause and effect is indirectly connected in some manner to the concept of creativity.   An effect can operate in four patterns connected to creativity: as an antecedent to creativity; as a direct consequence of creativity; as an indirect consequence of creativity and as an occurrence taking place simultaneously with creative activity.   If we accept this concept we may then agree that an individual’s emotions and creative thoughts are interwoven in various specific and unique ways within the complex fabric of their daily lives. You might say that we are the cause of our own life experience!

Q: You are not saying that I’m responsible for everything that happened in my life are you?
A: No. However I am saying that you are “the cause” of everything that happens in your life. If you can see that many of your emotionally based depression symptoms would fall away.

Q: How can this be?
A: You are there when something happens to you.

Q: Yes, but I did not make it happen.
A: But you did!

Q: This sounds like psychobabble. How can I be responsible if a deer runs in front of my car on the highway?

A: I didn’t say you were responsible for the deer running into your car. But you are the cause of the deer running into your car.

Q: The deer might have run across the road anyway. What’s the connection to my car?
A: You got in the car, you put the key in the ignition or got in the passenger seat. There you were by choice, in the car, on that particular road and there was the deer running and “bang!” Get it? You are not responsible but you are the cause.

Q: OK, so I’m the cause, though I’m not responsible. I understand. So what?
A: When you understand that outside circumstances do not take place in a vacuum, that they are a step in a long chain of unseen causes and effects, then your entire perspective on life changes. You begin to see where and how you fit into the big picture. This gives you a more accurate sense of where your freedom lies and it also makes you more conscious when making choices.

Q: So this is the essence of cause and effect?
A: If you can come to an understanding of the causes of the choices you have made in your life and the effect those choices have had in your life than you will act more consciously.

Q: What does conscious choosing look like?
A: It includes clarity of thought, meditation, contemplation, and the integrating those things that are essential to creating the results that you seek.

Q: How would I begin this process of conscious choosing?
A: The most proactive and creative means for beginning the process is through the experience and the creation of art. It is an intuitive rather than an intellectual approach to the exercise.
Q:  Is there a system for determining the effect in response to a specific cause?
A:   There’s not an exact system but there is some very interesting mathematical work being done in this areA: Much of it is based on the research of MIT meteorologist Edward Lorenz. In 1960 Lorenz tried to create a model for predicting the weather. He wrote simplified equations that represented changes in wind velocity, pressure, temperature, and eight other variables. He then fed this information into a primitive computer. Just as he expected, his predictions of the weather were fairly accurate for the first few days.  However, as three, five or even seven days passed, the predictions were less and less accurate. Dr. Lorenz realized that the further an effect was from the cause the less easy it would be to predict what the effect might be.  He realized that eventually every long-term prediction would at some point depart from reality.

Q: This seems obvious to me?
A:  It may seem obvious now, but back in 1960 the implications were staggering. Until Lorenz made his discovery, scientists assumed that a slight change in a cause would result in an equal change in the effect. Linear model demonstrated this fact. However, Lorenz’s research dealt with non-linear equations. His equations proved that the previous assumptions were incorrect and a small shift in a single variable could over time create a much larger effect.
Q:  What is the lesson in practical terms of Lorenzo’s discovery?
A: This discovery shows us why long-term weather reports can be so unpredictable and why life may be equally unpredictable.  Consider weather as a metaphor for life. Both obey physical laws.  Like the weather, life is filled with many variables. A small change in the initial condition in a system can cause a chain of events leading to large-scale phenomena. Any change in the system, even on a microscopic level, can affect the trajectory of the system and lead to a completely different sequence of events. Likewise any unexpected event in our life can lead to completely diverse results.  There is a unique and elegant orderliness even in this seemingly chaotic system – a system that may be affected by microscopic changes. The longer the time from the cause to the effect, the larger number of changes that will take place and the further the results will be from what was originally expected.

Q: Is there a name for Lorenzo’s specific theory of how changes in a cause will result in a larger affect?
A: Lorenzo named his discovery “sensitive dependence on initial conditions.” Meteorologists began calling it the Butterfly Effect (technically, disambiguation).  The concept was that if a butterfly were to flap its wings in Manila in April, by the following August the extreme affect of this one small action might affect hurricane patterns in Miami in September.

Q: Does this mean that every action results in an extreme reaction?
A: No. The minute changes in the atmosphere that take place from a Butterfly flapping its wings may also produce the opposite result, preventing a hurricane from appearing.

Q: How would this discovery affect our ability to transcend obstacles and solve problems?
A: Many scientists began to rethink the way they solved problems. They realized that many problems that could not be solved seemed unsolvable because the questions were either inappropriate or too general.

Q:  What are the other effects of Lorenzo’s theory?
A: For one, he showed us that the laws of nature are more complex than we ever realized and that the world is more chaotic than we ever thought.

Q:  I have heard the term “Chaos Theory.” Does the Butterfly Effect relate to this in any way?
A: Yes. The butterfly effect is a “short hand” for the more complex, detailed and technical idea known as  “sensitive dependence on initial conditions” which is part of chaos theory.

Q: What are some of the other implications of Lorenzo’s Theory?
A: His work also led to the understanding among scientists that small changes in the initial condition of a dynamic system can result in much larger variations in the long-term behavior of the same system. This is sometimes presented in extreme ways such as the Butterfly/Hurricane illustration. It can, however, be exhibited by very simple systems. For example, you are sitting in the driver’s seat of your car and your wallet falls out of your pocket onto the car floor. Where it will land will depend on slight differences in the wallet’s initial position when it left your pocket.
Q: Can the Butterfly Effect be used in predicting results?
A: Yes. As an assessment process becomes more sophisticated (See the A Conversation on Assessments) and the questions asked about a problem more specific and accurate, there is a greater chance of tracking effects of a particular action.

Q:  So the Butterfly Effect helps us to solve problems more easily by understanding more effectively the patterns in cause-and-effect reactions?
A: Yes.  For generations researchers, scientists and engineers of every variety have used different algorithms to predict events. However they were only capable of predicting those things that seemed predictable. How many miles will a car travel on a gallon of gas, or how deep and large a foundation will you need to support a sixty-story building? With this new information researchers could more easily predict, even extrapolate, what might happen given a set of variables.

Q: This theory will not help them to solve every problem. Won’t there always be some butterfly whose wing flapping may change the course of history?
A:  Yes. And yet we also know that when that butterfly flaps its wings in Manila, something larger will happen besides another butterfly flapping its wings in Miami. This same effect in politics has come to be known as Black Swan Theory.

Q: Do you have any final thought on the concept of cause and effect?

A: Remember that cause and effect must be tested quantitatively in order to get an accurate picture of what is going on.



Lewis Harrison is an speaker, consultant, and Contemporary Spiritual Teacher. He is a  pioneer in the personal development movement  The author of nine  self help books on human potential he offers seminar, workshops, retreats and phone based coaching.

He is the author of the Comprehensive book Healing Depression naturally

He created the course on Life Strategies  – based on Game Theory, the idea expanded on by John Nash the Nobel prize winning subject of the biopick “A Beautiful Mind”. Lewis holds regular stress management,  and meditation retreats at his Spa in the Western Catskills. Learn more at

His company offers on-site chair massage through

Lewis hosts a weekly radio show “What Up” that explore game theory. The show broadcasts Wednesdays and Thursday on WIOX 91.3 FM  – 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM (EST).  The show is also available as an internet stream at the same time period at