Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Kurt Gödel & Orson Welles

Kurt Gödel (Austrian-American mathematician) showed that all but the most trivial systems capable of arithmetic must always be either inconsistent or incomplete.

One of his incompleteness theorems is related to the liar paradox.

The liar paradox is as follows: 

"This sentence is false."

The sentence cannot be true, since then it is false.

It also cannot be be false, since then it is true.

In a previous post, I mentioned Charlie Munger's observation that: "if the mathematicians can't get the paradox out of their system when they're creating it themselves, the poor economists are never going to get rid of paradoxes, nor are the rest of us."

Expect to run into to some paradox and messiness during the investment process. Sometimes useful insights reside near where there's incompleteness and inconsistency; they reside where something  just doesn't quite fit. Munger also said:

"When I run into a paradox I think either I'm a total horse's ass to have gotten to this point, or I'm fruitfully near the edge of my discipline. It adds excitement to life to wonder which it is."

So what does this have to do with Orson Welles?

There's a scene in the 1949 movie, The Third Man, where Welles delivers a pivotal monologue.

Here's a good setup from filmsite.org for the monologue by Welles:

With murderous fluency, he [Harry Lime played by Welles] contemplates the greater productivity of a warring, strife-ridden culture and civilization that is plagued by warfare and violence, versus a peaceful one. The corruptible Lime cynically justifies his black market criminal activities by recognizing that despite appearances, good and evil (black and white, peace and war, up and down, etc.) are complementary concepts.

...and a key part of the monologue as delivered by Welles (with a smug grin):

"In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed - but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The Cuckoo Clock."

Unlike Citizen Kane (1941), the movie was not written by Orson Welles but, apparently, he did come up with that monologue.

Adam

* The actors in this scene [Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles] both first appeared together in Citizen Kane.
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