What is butterfly powder?

Just what is butterfly powder?

Taken literally, the “powder” refers to the colorful dust that stuck to your fingers if you ever came to hold a butterfly by its wings (and I hope you haven’t). What you’d have done, had you done so, is rubbed off thousands of tiny scales and left the creature permanently grounded. However, my use of the term is metaphorical and comes from my novel’s protagonist, a boy whose active imagination led to a discovery when he was small. Gilbert Perles, after logically enough concluding it was butterfly powder that allowed butterflies to fly, then took this idea one step too far by reasoning that if he collected enough of the stuff and dusted himself with it, he too could fly! In his teens, Gilbert painfully realized his error had come about because he was too ready to see what wasn’t there and to believe what wanted believing. He also recognized that his wishful thinking still often led to self delusion just as it had back when he believed he’d be able to fly. So butterfly powder became his metaphor for this phenomenon.

Whereas Gilbert is a fictional character, his butterfly powder metaphor for self delusion is real and applies just as readily to us nonfictional characters because most of us are likewise beset with an amazing ability to believe the most improbable things. Given the murky mental processing unit within which human ideas incubate, everyone’s beliefs could probably stand some scrutiny now and then for signs of butterfly powder. Unfortunately, there is no indication that much of the populace is in any rush to begin. Another big disappointment to many, and me in particular, is that clearer thinking did not seem to accompany the arrival of the digital age. Even a casual glance tells me that there is no shortage of “seeing what isn’t there” or “believing what wants believing” looming on the Internet horizon. If anything, a general dumbing down has occurred and is threatening to boost delusion into a new golden age. Given all the above, I’ve decided it’s time to stop confining my butterfly powder construct to just one character and to apply it where some of the action is. That’s the why of these musings. Now, having said all that, it would be hypocritical of me not to disclose that although the risk is surely very slight, there is always a tiny chance that my own commentary and perception might be butterfly powder.

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