GROUCHO MEETS RUSSELL from I THINK, THEREFORE I LAUGH, Columbia University Press by John Allen Paulos (copyright)
Groucho Meets Russell Groucho Marx and Bertrand Russell: What would the great comedian and the famous mathematician-philosopher, both in their own way fascinated by the enigmas of self-reference, say to each other had they met, Assume for the sake of absurdity that they are stuck together on the 13th metalevel of a building deep in the heart of Madhattan.

GROUCHO: This certainly is an arresting development. How are your sillygisms going to get us out of this predicament, Lord Russell. (Under his breath: Speaking to a Lord up here gives me the shakes. I think I'm in for some higher education.)

RUSSELL: There appears to be some problem with the electrical power. It has happened several times before and each time everything turned out quite all right. If scientific induction is any guide to the future, we shan't have long to wait.

GROUCHO: Induction, schminduction, not to mention horse-feathers.

RUSSELL: You have a good point there, Mr. Marx. As David Hume showed 200 years ago the only warrant for the use of the inductive principle of inference is the inductive principle itself, a clearly circular affair and not really very reassuring.

GROUCHO: Circular affairs are never reassuring. Did I ever tell you about my brother, sister-in-law, and George Fenniman?

RUSSELL: I don't believe you have though I suspect you may not be referring to the same sort of circle.

GROUCHO: You're right, Lordie. I was talking more about a triangle and not a cute triangle either. An obtuse, obscene one.

RUSSELL: Well, Mr. Marx, I know something about the latter as well. There was, you may recall, a considerable brouhaha made about my appointment to a chair at the City College of New York around 1940. They objected to my views on sex and free love.

GROUCHO: And for that they wanted to give you the chair?

RUSSELL: The authorities, bowing to intense pressure, withdrew their offer and I did not join the faculty.

GROUCHO: Well, don't worry about it. I certainly wouldn't want to join any organization that would be willing to have me as a member.

RUSSELL: That's a paradox.

GROUCHO: Yeah, Goldberg and Rubin, a pair o' docs up in the Bronx.

RUSSELL: I meant my sets paradox.

GROUCHO: Oh, your sex pair o' docs. Masters and Johnson, no doubt. It's odd a great philosopher like you having problems like that.

RUSSELL: I was alluding to the set M of all sets that do not contain themselves as members. If M is a member of itself, it shouldn't be. If M isn't a member of itself, it should be.

GROUCHO: Things are hard all over. Enough of this sleazy talk though. (Stops and listens.) Hey, they're tapping a message on the girders. Some sort of code on the girters, Bertie.

RUSSELL: (Giggles) Perhaps we should term it a Godel code, Mr. Marx, in honor of the eminent Austrian logician Kurt Godel.

GROUCHO: Whatever. Be the first contestant to guess the secret code and win $100.

RUSSELL: I shall try to translate it. (He listens intently to the tapping.) It says "This message is . . . This message is . . .

GROUCHO: Hurry and unlox the Godels, Bertie boy, and st, st. . stop with the st-st-stuttering. The whole elevator shaft is beginning to shake. Get me out of this ridiculous column.

RUSSELL: The tapping is causing the girders to resonate. "This message is . . .


RUSSELL: ". . . is false. This message is false." The statement as well as this elevator is ungrounded. If the message is true, then by what it says it must be false. On the other hand if it's false, then what it says must be true. I'm afraid that the message has violated the logic barrier.

GROUCHO: Don't he afraid of that. I've been doing it all my life. It makes for some ups and downs and vice versa, but as my brother Harpo never tired of not saying: why a duck?

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