As suddenly and astoundingly as ever, it is Spring again in New York. The weather these past few days has been simple perfection, and the trees and flowers, having awakened in a celebratory mood, are getting about their morning’s work with extravagant exuberance. But not all is renewed, and even as the living world stirs and quickens, we must pause to mark two sad events.
First, with a hat tip to commenter JK, we note the death of Edward Lorenz, the meteorologist whose revelatory insight into the difficulties of weather simulations gave rise to the systematic study of chaos, and became the foundation of an entirely new branch of science.
Lorenz noticed that tiny variations in the initial conditions of his computer models led to enormous disparities in the the results; this amplification of small perturbations in non-linear systems was later referred to as the “Butterfly Effect”, on the notion that a flap of a butterfly’s wings might change the weather half a world away.
I first learned of Lorenz’s work years ago in James Gleick’s excellent book Chaos, which I still think is the best introduction to this curious and important subject. If you haven’t read it, you should: fascinating, entertaining, and immensely informative, it is science writing at its best.
Lorenz was 90. His Times obituary is here.
I also must remark with sorrow upon the death of the E Street Band’s organist, Danny Federici, who has succumbed to melanoma at the appalling age of 58. I got to know Danny during the Springsteen band’s long residency at the Power Station during the recording of the 1980 album The River, and he was, in addition to being a gifted musician and one of the most important contributors to the distinctive Springsteen sound, a charming and thoughtful man. His untimely death, noted also in today’s Times, is a terrible loss.