Monday, February 11, 2008

Churchill and Free Will

Here is an interesting aside from Churchill. Ever the English pragmatist, he has an interesting analogy for the conundrum of Free Will and Predestination. This arises in part from his reflecting on his third attempt at the entrance exam for Sandhurst when he was tested upon some obscure (at least obscure for Churchill) equation to which he had just coincidentally been exposed to the prior week.

From Winston S. Churchill's My Early Life, page 28 in the Folio Society edition.

Which brings me to my conclusion upon free will and predestination; namely - let the reader mark it - that they are identical.

I have always loved butterflies. In Uganda I saw glorious butteflies the colour of whose wings changed from the deepest russet brown to the most brilliant blue, according to the angle from which you saw them. In Brazil as everyone knows there are butterflies of this kind even larger and more vivid. The contrast is extreme. You could not conceive colour effects more violently opposed; but it is the same butterfly. The butterfly is the fact - gleaming, fluttering, settling for an instant with wings fully spread to the sun, then vanishing in the shades of the forest. Whether you believe in free will or predestination, all depends on the slanting glimpse you had of the colour of his wings - which are in fact at least two colours at the same time. But I have not quitted and renounced the mathematick to fall into the metaphysick. Let us return to the pathway of the narrative.

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