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Mathematics Goes to the Movies

by Burkard Polster and Marty Ross


Jurassic Park (1993)

MALCOLM: So you two dig up dinosaurs?
GRANT: Try to!
Malcolm laughs.
HAMMOND: You'll have to get used to Dr. Malcolm! He suffers from a deplorable excess of personality, especially for a mathematician!
MALCOLM: Chaotician, chaotician, actually!
Hammond snorts
MALCOLM: John doesn't subscribe to Chaos, particularly what it has to say about his little science project.
HAMMOND: Codswollop, Ian. You've never been able to sufficiently explain your concerns.
MALCOLM: Oh, John, John, John (???). Because of the behaviour of the system in phase space!
HAMMOND: A load, if I may say so, of fashionable number crunching!

MALCOLM: Dr. Grant, Dr. Sattler -- you've heard of Chaos Theory?
MALCOLM: No? Non-linear equations? Strange attractors?
Ellie shrugs
MALCOLM: Dr. Sattler, I refuse to believe that you aren’t familiar with the concept of attraction.
HAMMOND: I bring scientists -- you bring a rock star.

MALCOLM: You see? The tyrannosaur doesn't obey set patterns or park schedules. The essence of Chaos.
ELLIE: I'm still not clear on Chaos.
MALCOLM: It simply deals with unpredictability in complex systems. The shorthand is the Butterfly Effect. A butterfly can flap its wings in Peking and in Central Park you get rain instead of sunshine.
Ellie gestures with her hand to show that this has gone right over her head.
MALCOLM: Are you saying I’m going too fast. I go too fast, I did a fly-by.
Looking out of the opposite window, Grant spots something. He sits upright, trying to get a better look.
MALCOLM: Give me that glass of water. We are going to conduct an experiment. It should be still, the car is bouncing up and down, but that’s ok, it’s just an example.
He dips his hand into the glass of water and takes Ellie's hand in his own.
MALCOLM (cont'd): Now, put your hand flat like a hieroglyphic. Now, let’s say a drop of water falls on your hand. Which way is the drop going to roll off.
He flicks his fingers and a drop falls on the back of Ellie's hand.

MALCOLM (cont'd): Off which finger or the thumb, what would you say?
ELLIE: Thumb, I’d say.
MALCOLM: Aha, ok. Now freeze your hand, freeze you hand, don’t move. I’m going to do the same thing, start with the same place again. Which way is it going to roll off?
ELLIE: Let’s say, back the same way.
MALCOLM: It changed. Why? Because tiny variations, the orientation of hairs on your hand- -
ELLIE: Alan, listen to this.
MALCOLM: - - the amount of blood distending your vessels, imperfections in the skin - -
ELLIE: Imperfections in the skin?
MALCOLM: Microscopic microscopic - - and never repeat, and vastly affect the outcome. That's what?
ELLIE: Unpredictability....
Grant throws the door open and bolts out of the moving car.
MALCOLM (cont'd): Look at this, see, see?! I'm right again! No one could predict that Dr. Grant would suddenly jump out of a moving vehicle.
ELLIE: Alan?
She jumps out too and follows him into the field.
MALCOLM: There's another example! See, here I am now, by myself, talking to myself. That's Chaos Theory!