Professor: Good evening, students.
I see there are a great many of you here this evening, which most probably means that you are missing Dr. Bettelheim's lecture, which is entitled "Some Positive Aspects of Anti-Semitism". And it's a good thing that you're missing it, too.
Now, this evening, if you will remember, we are to discuss eleftheros [ἐλεύθερος eleutheros] and ananke [ἀνάγκη anangke]: free will and necessity.
Now necessity is when you want to do something very, very, much, and the way is open so you can do it and nothing stands in your way, you couldn't do it. Whereas free will is where you want to do something, and everything in the entire universe makes it impossible for you to do it, you do it anyhow.
Now this evening we are going to examine free will and necessity in the light of the play that you were to have read, which is entitled "Oedipus Rex", which means "Oedipus the King". Now for those of you who may not have read it, the plot is a very simple one (in a confused way).
Oedipus is an orphan who doesn't know who his parents are. And one day for some or other reason, God knows why, he sets out on a journey. And in the road, on the journey, he meets a king. And the king says, "Move over, Oedipus, so I can get by!" (it was obviously a very narrow road or something). And Oedipus says "No!" (for some reason of his own). And the king says, "Move!" And Oedipus kills him in a fit of pique. And the king, being killed, dies.
And Oedipus goes on down the road, and he meets up there with a Sphinx. Now a Sphinx is an animal which is part lion, part woman, and very, very neurotic, heh! And who wouldn't be in such a situation! And so she proceeds to ask him the riddle of the Sphinx, which is, "What walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?" And Oedipus answers, quite simply, Man. Because as a child you walk on all fours, and as a man you walk on two legs, and as an old man, you walk with a cane. So the Sphinx, hearing this, leaps over the cliff and destroys herself (for some neurotic reason of her own).
And then he goes into the town of Thebes where the townspeople meet him. And they say, "Oedipus, you have killed the Sphinx, therefore you must marry the queen." Cause and effect. [unintelligible] Anyhow, he marries the queen and he has four lovely little children.
And suddenly a pestilence falls on the land and people are getting sick and then there is a drought and the crops are failing. And out from the crowd steps a blind seer—another anomaly—whose name is Tiresias. And he says, Oedipus, that man that you killed, that king, that was your father, that woman that you married, that was your mother, and these four lovely children, God knows what relation they are to you.
And at this point from offstage is heard a scream. And he learns that Jocasta, the queen, has hanged herself in her own garments. And Oedipus, knowing this, rushes and he takes the pins from the garments and plucks out his own eyes and lives happily ever after in the garden.
Now, keeping in mind free will and necessity, we are going to see what would have happened to Oedipus if he had read the book before going on the journey. Free will and necessity, ja? Watch.
King: Make way for the king!
Professor: Certainly, your majesty! Go right past. Aha!
King: Not so fast.
King: Why are you trying to curry favor with me, hah?
Professor: I wouldn't curry you.
King: Oh yeah? Why are you trying to butter me up?
Professor: I wouldn't butter you. What am I, a cook? What is this?
King: Why did you get out of the way so fast, then?
Professor: Well, I'll move back. I was [unintelligible]
King: Ah, just a minute now. I'm surrounded by two types of people, plotters and people who are trying to get in tight with me and get some—
Professor: [unintelligible] I happen to be a teacher.
King: I have a bad heart and I'm a very old man and if you excite me, I'm liable to go at any mo—oh—
Professor: Take an aspirin!
King: oh dear—oh, my heart—
Professor: Oh no! Please! He died of a heart attack! It wasn't my fault! I didn't do it! You see that!
Sphinx: Oedipus, you've come!
Professor: Good grief, a Sphinx!
Sphinx: All hail, great Oedipus!
Professor: Hello, schatzie, what can I do for you? What's happening?
Sphinx: Answer my riddle and you will marry the queen and become king of all Thebes!
Professor: Ah, I don't want to answer the riddle!
Sphinx: Oh, Oedipus, please? What walks on four legs in the morning—
Professor: four legs in the morning—
Sphinx: two in the afternoon—
Professor: two in the afternoon—
Sphinx: And three in the evening?
Professor: Three in the evening. Some sort of hideous monster, ha ha ha ha!
Sphinx: Oh, Oedipus—
Sphinx: think of the power—of the glory—
Professor: I don't need power and glory, I'm a full professor. What do I need power and glory for? Ridiculous. What is it?
Sphinx: Yes, you are, yes, and you're a smart—man. MAN.
Professor: Oh, I'm a full professor but I'm not a real smart man.
Sphinx: MAN! You've guessed the magic word! [exits shrieking]
Professor: No, I said it by accident! I didn't mean to say that! Good grief, what a mess that Sphinx made of herself down there!
Chorus leader: Hail Oedipus!
Chorus: Hail Oedipus!
Professor: Hello there. What can I do for you?
Chorus leader: You've killed the Sphinx!
Chorus: the Sphinx!
Professor: the Sphinx.
Chorus leader: You must marry the queen!
Chorus: The queen!
Professor: The queen, ja, cause and effect, I know. I wouldn't do it, ha ha ha!
Chorus leader: You must marry the queen!
Chorus: the queen!
Professor: I won't marry the queen.
Chorus leader: If you don't marry the queen, we'll kill you!
Chorus: kill you!
Professor: [subdued] I'll marry the queen.
Chorus leader: Jocasta! The queen!
Jocasta: You have a lovely smile, Oedipus.
Professor: You know, by all rights, this should be my mother, but my mother's at home in Barbaria. Besides, she's a dwarf.
Crowd: [moaning] Oh! Oh! Oedipus!
Professor: Ja? What is it?
Chorus leader: the drought is on the land!
Chorus: the land!
Professor: It didn't rain. Cause and effect.
Chorus leader: The people are dying of the plague!
Chorus: the plague!
Professor: You didn't inoculate them.
Chorus leader: The crops have failed!
Chorus: have failed!
Professor: You didn't rotate them.
Professor: Heavens, a seer!
Chorus leader: Tiresias!
Tiresias: Oedipus, I have a message for you. Come here.
Professor: What is it you want to say?
Tiresias: [whispers to Oedipus]
Professor: I'm a what?? What did you call me?? I'll hit you, that's what I'll do!
[Jocasta screams offstage]
Professor: What was that scream?
Chorus leader: The queen has hanged herself! Here are her pins. Put out your eyes.
Chorus: Your eyes.
Professor: My eyes. [increasingly dramatic music] Wait a minute. [music stops] I told you I was going down the road, the old man died of a heart attack, you knew he had heart trouble, only likely. That Sphinx was a twisty character, she tricked me into saying it. And then you forced me to marry the queen.
Chorus leader: That's true.
Professor: It's not my fault!
Crowd: [shouting] It's not his fault!
Professor: [shouting] It's not my fault!
Crowd: It's not his fault!
Professor: It's not my fault!
Professor: So you see, my dear students, the lesson that we learn from this is that Man has free will, but tragic poets do not, and Art is not Nature.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Intro [Eugene Troobnick]: And now, ladies and gentlemen, Professor Walter von der Vogelweide will present "A Short Talk On The Universe."
Darden: Now, why, you will ask me, have I chosen to speak on the Universe rather than some other topic. Well, it's very simple, heh. There isn't anything else!
Now, the Universe we examine through what Spinoza has called "the lens of philosophy". He called it this because he was a lens grinder. Heaven knows what he would have called it had he been, for example, a pudding manufacturer.
Now, into three branches is philosophy divided: ethics, esthetics, and metaphysics. Now, ethics is that branch of philosophy which is neither esthetics nor metaphysics. Esthe—well, I think you follow.
This evening I have decided to take the jump. Heh heh. Metaphysics.
Now, metaphysics is—what IS everything—ANYHOW? And what's more—is more than what's less—generally. Now, in the universe we have time, space, motion, and thought.
Now, you will ask me, what is this thing called time? [7 seconds of silence] THAT is time.
Now, you will ask me, what is space? Now this over here—this is some space. However, this is not all space. However, when I said that was time, that was all the time there was anywhere in the universe—at that time. Now, if you were to take all of the space that there is in the universe and CRAM it into this little tiny place, this would be ALL the space there was! Unless of course, some leaked out. Which it could—and did! Heh. Hence the universe!
Now, the early Egyptian astronomers (there were no late Egyptian astronomers) looked up at the stars and with these they measured time. But the Greeks, who were very exact—sometimes to the point of tediousness—came along with this question: is time the measure of motion, or conversely, is motion the measure of time?
Viz. I have in my hand a stopwatch—imaginary—and coming through the room is a railroad train—also imaginary, heh heh. If it was a real railroad train it would kill us (and besides, it would be very expensive). Now—I'm timing the train now. Is time the measure of motion—click—[makes train noise and runs across stage]—click—or is, conversely, motion—now I'm going to be for you a grandfather's clock [swings arm]—tick—tock—tick—tock—the measure of time? Now, with the arrival in the 20th century of Planck's constant and the theory of quantum mechanics and with Heisenberg's uncertainty principle—I think—we still don't know.
However, we might very easily turn to the pre-Socratic philosophers (who were always good for a laugh) for assistance.
Now, take Heraclitus. Dr. Jose Benardete, by the way, has said in his book "Coming and Becoming", he has quoted Heraclitus incorrectly as saying that "time was a river which flowed endlessly through the universe." He didn't say this at all. He said, "time was LIKE a river which flowed endlessly through the universe." Aha, there you are, Benardete!
Nonetheless, he discovered this one day, and he went home to his wife, Helen. That was her name, Helen Heraclitus. That's two H's, like Hugo Haas—Herman Hesse—Harry Haller—Herbert Hoover—Heinrich Himmler—oh, that whole crowd, ja.
Anyhow, he went home to his wife, Helen, and he said "Time is like a river which is flowing endlessly through the universe, and you couldn't step into the same river twice. Helen."
And she says, "What do you mean by that, Heraclitus? Explain yourself." That means you could go down to the Mississippi River, for example, and you could step in, and you could step out, and then you could step in again. But that river that you stepped in has moved downstream, you see, it's here. And you would only be stepping in the Mississippi River because that's what it's called, you see? Not only all that water, but if something were on top of the water—for example, a water bug—if it was there, it would be downstream. Unless, of course, it was swimming upstream, in which case it would be older and it would be a different bug.
So, anyhow, Heraclitus went home to his wife with this news, and he said "Time is like a river which flows endlessly through the universe, and you couldn't step into the same river twice."
She said, "Don't be an ass, Heraclitus. You could step into the same river twice—if you walk downstream at the same rate as the river."
He was amazed!
So he went down to the agora, or marketplace, where there were a lot of unemployed philosophers (which means philosophers who weren't thinking at that time). And they had a few drinks first and they went down to the river, and into the river they threw a piece of wood just to test how fast the river was going. And so Heraclitus saw how fast the wood was going. So he stepped into the river, and ran and stepped and ran and stepped and ran, and finally he ran out into the Aegean Sea and was drowned.
So much for time.
Now we come to another pre-Socratic, Zeno, for time and motion, and Zeno's Paradox. Now, a paradox is something which when it isn't, it is, paradoxically. And Zeno's Paradox is that if Achilles, the great Greek hero and athlete, were to get into a race with a tortoise, that he couldn't win. Silly, isn't it.
Well, if, for example, the tortoise was here and he would give the tortoise, say, a 10-foot head start, just to be fair to the beast, and there would be—it would take, say, Achilles, 1 second to go 1 foot. So at the end of 9 seconds, he would have one foot to go in one second, ja? And in a half of a second, he would still have a half of a foot to go, you see? And in a hundredth of a second he would have a hundredth of a foot to go. And in a millionth of a second, he would have a millionth of a foot to go. And since time and space are both infinitely divisible, he would never pass the turtle! Heh heh.
But this is ridiculous! Anyone in this room could win a race with a turtle, you know, and we're not great heroes and athletes. Even for example, some old, very dignified person, like Bertrand Russell, HE could win a race with a tortoise. And if he couldn't win it, he could outsmart it, ja?
Nonetheless, I have discovered possibly the meaning for this paradox. I was reading recently a book called "Greek Pots In Polish Museums" by John Davidson Beazley. 8vo, $9.75 and worth every penny of it. Big wide margins—er, I'm getting off my point. Anyhow, in there is a picture of a pot that has on it a picture of a ripe archaic tortoise of the kind that Zeno would have known about. Now, it isn't a little, flat American tortoise. IT'S A LITTLE BULLET-SHAPED TORTOISE WITH LONG, SINEWY LEGS, ABOUT 4 FEET LONG, AND IT COULD RUN LIKE CRAZY!
Now this would seem to explain it, ja? But it doesn't! Because Homer, who never lied about anything, said that Achilles could, if he wanted to, beat any man or beast in a foot race. Now what does this mean, "if he wanted to"? You know how some people can't step on the line in the sidewalk? Achilles couldn't pass a tortoise! He was a very sick hero!
For centuries philosophers have told us that thought cannot be seen, it cannot be heard, cannot be felt, smelled, cannot be tasted. It is not in the key of G—or F. And it is not blue—nor is it mauve. It is not a pot of geraniums. It is not a white donkey against a blue sky. Or a blue donkey against a white sky. Nor does it have aspirations to become archbishop. It is not a little girl singing an old song. Thought is not a saffron-robed monk pissing in the snow. IN OTHER WORDS, PHILOSOPHERS CAN TELL YOU MILLIONS OF THINGS THAT THOUGHT ISN'T, AND THEY CAN'T TELL YOU WHAT IT IS! AND THIS BUGS THEM!
But you are out there and you're thinking and I'm up here and I think that you're thinking, and we think, and we think that the Sun comes up in the morning, pouring forth its beautiful bounty of light, and as Shakespeare said, "What a piece of work is man!"
Are there any questions?
I would really like to answer any questions that you might have. Now, I don't have anyone planted in the audience. Occasionally friends of mine who are in the audience throw up some hideous thing. They know the areas in which I am weak! Only in this sense do I have someone planted. So if you could ask me anything that you might not know about the universe.
Q: What is the relation between space and time?
What is the relation between space and time? Well, let's see, I thought I had covered that. Now the relation—well, space, for example, it is a thing which is occupied by matter. Ja? Whereas time occupies space, as we all know. Have you ever, for example, had any time pass when there was no space? I mean, have you ever been no place for a long time? It couldn't happen! It could, theoretically, of course. But I mean, even with a lot of equipment it would be difficult.
Could I have another question?
Q [Bill Mathieu]: Do fish think?
Well, that's a very good question, but it's not in the realm of metaphysics. Now I had a fish once—name was Louise, as a matter of fact. Small, fat fish. And every day at the same time I would go to the edge of the pond—a little iron tank in my house—and throw it a bunch of grapes. You know? Every day at the same time the fish would be there. After a few days she knew at 1:45, grapes, bam! Fish! However, I began making it 15 minutes later every day, you see. And then when I was there at 2 o'clock, she'd be there at 1:45. She was 15 minutes behind. After a while she was hours and days behind! And she starved to death. Yes, fish think—but not fast enough!
Could I have another question, please?
Q: [German accent, much thicker than Darden's] Professor, what is truth?
Oh, ja. Mm-hm. An accent.
Well, truth is very difficult to explain. It is not merely the opposite of falsehood. When I say I am here, that is true temporarily, but it is not always true. And certain truths are immutable. Like for example, I am not elsewhere, which is just as true here [walks across stage] as it is over here. You see? I am still not elsewhere. No matter where I go I can't get away from me! Sort of frightening—that that should be called truth!
Could I have another question?
Q: Will the Sun rise tomorrow?
Yes. Next question?
Monday, March 30, 2009
Below are links to recordings of his classic routines at Second City from 1961.
Transcripts on Google Groups. Also in succeeding posts.