Churchill has his Vision of
Mathematics by Jeff Provine
Author
says: we're very pleased to present a new story from Jeff Provine's
excellent blog This
Day in Alternate History Please note that the opinions expressed in this
post do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).
By September 18^{th} 1893,
Young Winston Churchill had done poorly in school. He narrowly graduated
Harrow, where teachers had forever scarred him against the notion of
learning Latin. Applying to Sandhurst Military Academy, Churchill needed
to pass three of five required exams.
He knew his abilities in English and Chemistry, hated Latin, and doubted
French, leaving only Mathematics. In his singular autobiography, Churchill
wrote, "All my life from time to time I have had to get up disagreeable
subjects at short notice, but I consider my triumph, moral and technical,
was in learning Mathematics in six months".
"A British Isaac Asimov...... "  reader's commentWith
a foundation built by Harrow master, Mr. C. H. P. Mayo, Churchill made way
in solving the "hieroglyphs" to be able to meet the requirements set by
the Civil Service Commissioners. As he worked, he bemoaned perplexing
devices such as sine, cosine, tangent, the quadratic formula, and the
Binomial Theorem. One night, Churchill writes, "I had a feeling once about
Mathematics, that I saw it all  Depth beyond depth was revealed to me 
the Byss and the Abyss. I saw, as one might see the transit of Venusor
even the Lord Mayor's Show, a quantity passing through infinity and
changing its sign from plus to minus. I saw exactly how it happened and
why the tergiversation was inevitable: and how the one step involved all
the others. It was like politics".
"Uranium from peat bogs? You'd have to drain the
bogs dry and do a lot of digging to get enough uraniumespecially enough
fissionable U235to work with. I suppose, though, if the stuff were
known to be there, wartime priorities might have justified the effort. And
Churvchill would have had to do somethng to draw more European refugee
scientists to England in order for that country to build a bomb by 1943.
In our history, most of them went to the U.S. "  reader's commentsPolitics,
which he had studied after his father, made sense to him, and Churchill
began to embrace the tenants of maths. While at Sandhurst, he set aside
formulae for a time, but he took them up again upon placement into the 4th
Queen's Own Hussars. His income was £300 per year plus a £400 allowance
from his mother, and he calculated that he needed at least another £100 to
remain at his accustomed lifestyle. Looking into many sources of
additional income such as journalism, Churchill finally settled on
answering every possible mathematical quiz available in so many colleges
and newspapers around the empire for cash prizes. He also set into a hobby
of mathematical proofs, what he called "little riddles", which occupied
more and more of his time. Churchill was transferred between Africa and
India before returning to England, also playing polo, studying
thoughtproblems, and progressing ever further into calculus in his own
time.
"Churchill as a mathematician would be interesting,
I think. However, the world would have lost a gifted writer...or would he
have been able to write books about math that make it clear even to
dummies like me? "  reader's commentsIn 1906, Churchill read
several of Albert Einstein's papers of his Annus Mirabilis in a
translation of Annalen der Physik, for which the Jewish German would be
given a Nobel Prize. Churchill wrote, "For the first time to me,
mathematical play was shown as credible, and my life took new direction".
He exchanged correspondence with Einstein and eventually used his growing
political influence to offer Einstein a lucrative position as full
professor at Cambridge. The two worked together on many projects, later
sorting out Einstein's General Relativity, while both also worked their
"day jobs" as professor and Minister of Parliament. Churchill grew slowly
through the ranks of government before being beaten out in 1931, taking up
what he called his "wilderness years". He published his own mathematical
papers written from home, studying topology and complex interactions. As
war with Germany approached, Churchill returned to the government in
patriotic spirit, eventually being named Prime Minister for his calls for
defense. Over one of their many teas, Einstein mentioned to Churchill the
idea among the physics community of an "atomic" weapon using the explosive
power of fission by separating a nucleus.
"With Churchill as the leader U.K scientists could
have done it. Actual events bear this "  reader's commentsChurchill,
who had previously been a proponent of tanks and aircraft, leaped upon the
idea. Using uranium from Scottish peat bogs, Project Tube Alloys (later
renamed Wonder) successfully tested the first atomic bomb in 1943.
Churchill endorsed its use with thirteen targets, and Germany quickly
surrendered, soon followed by Japan. As word spread of the radioactive
fallout with the city of Dresden as the prime example, Churchill was given
much blame and removed from office with the elections of 1945. He returned
briefly in 1951 to the prime ministership, during which he tried to sort
out the problems of the Atomic Age he felt he created, only to succumb to
a series of strokes. He died in 1965, when his work on the Unified Field
Theory merited him, as well as Einstein and several others, a shared Nobel
Prize.
Author
says in reality Churchill's vision of mathematics ended, "But it was
after dinner and I let it go!" As for mathematics, Churchill wrote, "I
quitted for ever in the year 1894..." He turned instead to writing, where he
would serve as war correspondent and gain popular leverage to ascend quickly
through government despite numerous setbacks.
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Today in Alternate History web site.
Jeff Provine, Guest Historian of
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