Practice

Charlie Chaplin demanded 342 takes for one three-minute scene in City Lights. Actress Virginia Cherrill played a blind flower girl who mistakes Chaplin for a wealthy man. Her only line was “Flower, sir?”

Chaplin later called Cherrill an “amateur”; he’d hired her as the love interest without even talking to her. Asked why so many takes were necessary, he said, “She’d be doing something which wasn’t right. Lines. A line. A contour hurts me if it’s not right. … I’d know in a minute when she wasn’t there, when she’d be searching, or looking up just too much or too soon … Or she waited a second. I’d know in a minute.”

But it’s also true that Chaplin often worked out a scene on the set, rather than relying on a finished script. “Chaplin rehearsed on film — he’d try out an idea and do it over and over again,” film historian Hooman Mehran, who narrates the segment above, told CNN. “And since he was the director, he couldn’t see his performance, so he had to record it.”

Misc

  • When written in all caps, the title of John Hiatt’s song “Have a Little Faith in Me” contains no curves.
  • Tycho Brahe kept a tame elk.
  • It isn’t known whether the sum of π and e is irrational.
  • Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, and James Garfield died without wills.
  • “Selfishness is one of the qualities apt to inspire love.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne

The medieval Latin riddle In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (“We enter the circle at night and are consumed by fire”) is a palindrome. The answer is “moths.”

Ballot Measures

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William_Hogarth_031.jpg

If you and I are both well-informed, rational, morally reasonable people, then we should both have the right to vote for our leaders. But what if I’m incompetent, misinformed, or irrational? My vote exerts political power over you — it appoints people to powerful offices and influences the coercive power of the state.

Georgetown University philosopher Jason Brennan argues that, as an innocent person, you should not have to tolerate this. Citizens have the right that any political power held over them should be exercised competently, and giving the vote to everyone violates this right. He advocates replacing democracy with a moderate “epistocracy,” a system in which suffrage is limited to politically competent, well-informed citizens, perhaps through a voter qualification exam. There are objections against this view, but Brennan argues that it’s less intrinsically unjust than our present system and probably produces more just outcomes.

“Just as it would be wrong to force me to go under the knife of an incompetent surgeon, or to sail with an incompetent ship’s captain,” he writes, “it is wrong to force me to submit to the decisions of incompetent voters. People who exercise power over me, including other voters, should have to do so in a competent and morally reasonable way. Otherwise, as a matter of justice, they ought to be excluded from holding political power, including the power to vote.”

(Jason Brennan, “The Right to a Competent Electorate,” Philosophical Quarterly 61:245 [October 2011], 700-724.)

Podcast Episode 94: The Living Unknown Soldier

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pozieres_view_north_28_August_1916.jpg

A quarter million Frenchmen vanished in World War I, leaving their families no clue whether they were still alive. During these anxious years, a lone man appeared on a Lyon railway platform without memory, possessions, or identification. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the strange story of Anthelme Mangin, whose enigmatic case attracted hundreds of desperate families.

We’ll also consider some further oddities of constitutional history and puzzle over an unpopular baseball victory.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Sources for our feature on Anthelme Mangin:

Jean-Yves Le Naour, The Living Unknown Soldier, 2005.

Martha Hanna, “The Tidal Wave of War,” European History Quarterly 38:1 (January 2008), 93-100.

Stefan Goebel, “Review: Beyond Discourse? Bodies and Memories of Two World Wars,” Journal of Contemporary History 42:2 (April 2007), 377-385.

Carole Blair, V. William Balthrop, and Neil Michel, “The Arguments of the Tombs of the Unknown: Relationality and National Legitimation,” Argumentation 25:4 (November 2011), 449-468.

“Unknown Soldier Claimed as Own by 15 Families,” Reading [Pa.] Eagle, March 19, 1926.

Minott Saunders, “Two Mothers Battle for Memoryless War Veteran,” Ottawa Citizen, June 30, 1928.

“French Derelict Is Unidentified,” Eugene [Ore.] Register-Guard, July 2, 1928.

Adam Nicolson, “A Living Ghost From the Trenches Whose Plight Confused a Nation Riven by Grief,” Telegraph, Jan. 16, 2005.

Listener mail:

Hershey Community Archives, in particular the history of the Hershey bar.

Wikipedia, Titles of Nobility Amendment (accessed Feb. 19, 2016).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Keith Noto.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

The Revelation Game

brams revelation game

Is it rational to believe in the existence of a superior being? In 1982, New York University political scientist Steven J. Brams addressed the question using game theory. Assume that SB (the superior being) chooses whether to reveal himself, and P (a person) chooses whether to believe in SB’s existence. The two players have the following goals:

SB: Primary goal — wants P to believe in his existence. Secondary goal — prefers not to reveal himself.
P: Primary goal — wants belief (or nonbelief) in SB’s existence confirmed by evidence (or lack thereof). Secondary goal — prefers to believe in SB’s existence.

These goals determine the rankings of the four outcomes listed above. In each ordered pair, the first number refers to SB’s preference for that outcome (4 is high, 1 is low), and the second number refers to P’s preference. For example, SB prefers the two outcomes in which P believes in SB’s existence (because that’s his primary goal), and of these two outcomes, he prefers the one in which he doesn’t reveal himself (because that’s his secondary goal).

Brams finds a paradox here. If the game is one of complete information, then P knows that SB prefers not to reveal himself — that is, that SB prefers the second row to the first, regardless of P’s choice. And if SB will undoubtedly choose the second row, then P should choose his own preferred cell in that row, the second one. This makes (2, 3) the rational outcome of the game; it’s also the only outcome that neither player would choose unilaterally to depart once it’s chosen. And yet outcome (3, 4) would be preferred by both to (2, 3).

“Thus,” writes Brams, “not only is it rational for SB not to reveal himself and for P not to believe in his existence — a problem in itself for a theist if SB is God — but, more problematic for the rationalist, this outcome is unmistakably worse for both players than revelation by SB and belief by P, which would confirm P’s belief in SB’s existence.”

(Steven J. Brams, Superior Beings, 1983. This example is drawn largely from his paper “Belief in God: A Game-Theoretic Paradox,” in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 13:3 [1982], 121-129.)

Giving Pause

https://pixabay.com/en/clock-face-grandfather-clock-1082319/

Can time exist without change? Aristotle thought not, and David Hume claimed that “’tis impossible to conceive … a time when there was no succession or change in any real existence.” But in 1969 Cornell philosopher Sydney Shoemaker offered a thought experiment that purports to show otherwise.

Consider a universe that consists of three regions, A, B, and C. Periodically a region might experience a “local freeze” in which all processes come to a halt. The inhabitants of a frozen region do not observe the passing of time but resume their awareness at the end of the freeze.

With experience, the inhabitants determine that each freeze lasts exactly one year and that the freezes occur at regular intervals: Region A freezes every third year, Region B every fourth year, and Region C every fifth year. This suggests that all three regions freeze every 60th year.

Shoemaker wrote, “If all of this happened, I submit, the inhabitants of this world would have grounds for believing that there are intervals during which no changes occur anywhere.” It’s true that none of the inhabitants would be able to verify this directly, but given the regularity they observe in the local freezes, the reality of the total freeze seems to be the simplest hypothesis.

Whatever we think of this argument, the example does run into one sticking point: It’s hard to see how a total freeze could end. If nothing in the universe is changing, it seems, then there can be no causes.

(Sydney Shoemaker, “Time Without Change,” Journal of Philosophy 66:12 [June 19, 1969], 363-381.)

Spotted

Ian Fleming never describes James Bond’s physical appearance in any detail, so in December 1962, before the release of the first Bond film, Dr. No, Playboy art director Arthur Paul sent an inquiry to his office. He received this reply:

Dear Mr. Paul,

As Mr. Fleming is away from London I sent him your letter and here now is his description of James Bond:

Height: 6 ft 1 in.
Build: Slim hips, broad shoulders
Eyes: Steely blue-grey
Hair: Black, with comma over right forehead
Weight: 12 stone 8 lb.
Age: Middle thirties

Features:

Determined chin, rather cruel mouth.
Scar down right cheek from cheekbone.
Cleanshaven

Apparel:

Wears two-button single-breasted suit in dark blue tropical worsted. Black leather belt.
White Sea Island cotton shirt, sleeveless.
Black casual shoes, square toed
Thin black knitted silk tie, no pin
Dark blue socks, cotton lisle.
No handkerchief in breast pocket
Wear Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch

I hope this information is sufficient for your purpose.

Yours sincerely,

[unsigned]

Secretary to Ian Fleming

From Henry Chancellor, James Bond: The Man and His World, 2005.

Inspiration

http://www.google.com/patents/US2948069

Here’s an odd invention from 1960, a “device for stimulating the mental processes,” patented by Darrell M. Johnson of Thomson, Ga. Johnson wanted to help people in creative but solitary occupations who feel inhibited “before a microphone, telephone, television camera or in other stimuli-lacking situation, or where the psychological environment is of a character to create tension and dissipate thought and concentration and thereby dispel the ability to create ideas.”

The answer, Johnson decided, is a lifelike human figure that seems to respond with intelligent interest when it detects a sound. The eyes glow and the eyelids move to create the impression of an active, encouraging listener. The dummy “may be inanimate but may be animated to portray a feeling of life, participation, and cooperation to thereby stimulate expression relative to the topic or subject under consideration with resultant improvement and intensity of such expression.”

Even outside a professional situation, users might find it helpful “when alone to obtain the resultant benefits as well as the release of pent up feelings, accompanying tensions, and emotions and the satisfaction obtained from such expression.” Here as elsewhere, I get the feeling that there’s a real human story behind this, but I suppose we’ll never know what it is.