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Words Of Wisdom From Ed Lorenz

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Judith Curry, Climate Etc.

“Perhaps the best advice that chaos ‘theory’ can give us is not to jump at conclusions; unexpected occurrences may constitute perfectly normal behavior.”

Insights from Ed Lorenz, pioneer of chaos theory, on the detection of anthropogenic global warming.

Ed Lorenz has been arguably the most influential meteorologist in history, having laid the foundations of chaos theory.  From his 2008 obituary:

In discovering “deterministic chaos,” Dr. Lorenz established a principle that “profoundly influenced a wide range of basic sciences and brought about one of the most dramatic changes in mankind’s view of nature since Sir Isaac Newton,” said a committee that awarded him the 1991 Kyoto Prize for basic sciences.

The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society has just published what is probably Lorenz’s last interview, on the topic of the limits of predictability and the impact on weather modeling.

MIT has a complete online collection of Lorenz’s publications [here].

Of particular relevance to topics under discussion at Climate Etc., I refer to this paper:

E.N. Lorenz (1991) Chaos, spontaneous climatic variations and detection of the greenhouse effect. Greenhouse-Gas-Induced Climatic Change:  A Critical Appraisal of Simulations and Observations, M. E. Schlesinger, Ed.  Elsevier Science Publishers B. V., Amsterdam, pp. 445-453.

Relevant excerpts (JC bold):

[…] Unfortunately, recognizing a system as chaotic will not tell us all that we might like to know. It will not provide us with a means of predicting the future course of the system. It will tell us that there is a limit to how far ahead we can predict, but it may not tell us what this limit is. Perhaps the best advice that chaos “theory” can give us is not to jump at conclusions; unexpected occurrences may constitute perfectly normal behavior.

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