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Martin Luther King (2) vs. Sigmund Freud

We didn’t get any great comments yesterday, so I’ll have to go with PKD on the grounds that he was the presumptive favorite, and nobody made any good case otherwise.

And today we have the second seed among the Religious Leaders vs. an unseeded entry in the Founders of Religions category. Truly a classic matchup. MLK perhaps has the edge here because he can talk about plagiarism; on the other hand, Freud is an expert in unfalsifiable research theories. I imagine that either one would be an amazingly compelling speaker. King would have a lot to say about Middle East wars, globalization, and economic and social inequality; and Freud could wittily diagnose all of society’s problems. I’d love to have them both—but that’s not allowed. So who’s it gonna be?

P.S. As always, here’s the background, and here are the rules.


  1. A Reader says:

    Freud has to win. Civilization and its Discontents is the best short book of the last century.

  2. Dalton says:

    No great comments? I’m insulted (mildly).

    I used to date a woman who had collected a bunch of old vinyl records of MLK’s speeches. She listened to them much as some people might listen to their favorite music while cooking dinner or doing housework. It wasn’t so much the great historical significance or the moral case being argued, but the cadence and the voice that got her going. So I’m going to have to go with MLK, just because he could read the phonebook and make it sound compelling.

  3. Does your auditorium have enough couches for a talk by Freud?

  4. Tom says:

    King: ‘I have a dream’
    Freud: ‘I can tell you what it means and how it relates to your mother’

    Really – I want to hear the dream.

    King all the way

  5. Doctor Huw says:


    1. Anecdotage. A good seminar requires that students be able to get instructors diverted on long, meandering anecdotes. Freud is hands-down the winner here. (Yes, MLK has the nail-biter anecdotes, but SF has the smirks, knowing looks, and barely missed sidelong glances.)

    2. Reflexivity and self-referentiality. This is closely related to the debate-inspiring mind-fcuk. Very important.

    3. Location. If this were happening in Rick Scottsboro or “I can bring my gun to seminar!” Texas, then it would be MLK by a hillbilly country mile. But I’m assuming this is happening in part of the country that is within spitting distance of the 21st century.

  6. Seth Green says:

    Who is going to be hosting the seminar?

    Some people might say that theory is getting lost in the identification revolution. Freud didn’t have that problem. If you’re going to have causal inference focused people, Freud would be a great counter-balance.

  7. anonymous says:

    Freud has to win. Anyone who says otherwise is clearly in denial about the greatest thinker of the twentieth century.

    • Anonymous says:

      Nobody denies Fraud was the greatest stinker of the twentieth century.

      • Jeremy Fox says:

        We get it Anonymous. You hate psychology and philosophy and the people who do them.

        Don’t suppose there’s any chance that you’d like to get into the spirit of Andrew’s lighthearted tournament and express your views more wittily? Or at least less repetitiously? Because that “Fraud” pun sucked the first time, and isn’t improving with age.

        • Anonymous says:

          It was wrong of me to so serious. Please replace my previous comment with: “we have strong evidence (p-value less than .01) that there existed stinkers of greater magnitude in the 20th century than Herr Doktor Sigismund Schlomo Freud”.

  8. zbicyclist says:


    Is Freud perhaps one of those ‘scientific’ thinkers who made a net negative impact on the progress of science?

    Can’t have those ideas spread any farther.

    Plus, this sets up a possible Gandhi vs King match two rounds further.

  9. Jonathan (another one) says:

    Freud dropped out, refusing to participate in a tournament that would have him as a participant. MLK by default.

  10. Manoel Galdino says:

    I think we should pick Freud as the typical economist (except for the lack of math in his work), which are under-represented in this contest. Arguably, both have a silly theory of human action and a huge impact on our society nonetheless.

  11. Ken says:

    In the interest of avoiding the possibility of an epic argument about semantics between Freud and the two argumentative behavioral economists in the audience, I go with King. Sometimes you just want to hear the talk, get a “free” lunch, have good substantive discussions, and get back to the regular grind without having to deal with the speaker’s idiosyncratic theories.

  12. A.P. Salverda says:

    If he does not advance, we would miss out on Freud audaciously exposing your true motivations for eliminating him–especially if this happens in the first round.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Did Sigmund Fraud initiate the tradition of therapists being crazier than their patients, or does that predate him?

  14. Patrick Caldon says:

    Freud. Many undergraduate students still have to read his stuff even though everyone thinks it stinks. So if it looks like the seminar will be lightly attended you can still plausibly force hordes of undergrads to go “for credit” and so not end up with an embarrassing empty auditorium. Just remember not to give the undergrads any drinks vouchers.

  15. Erikson says:

    Freud, for sure. He can tell us how he predated the use of Gibbs sampling in the form of free associations to infer properties of hidden variables, the unconscious complexes.

  16. Hernan says:

    Freud would just ask the audience, “but what are _you_ thinking?”, and then give you a long psychoanalytic stare. I would still choose that over MLK, who sounds a bit too preachy and alliterative.

  17. Guest2 says:

    King has his own holiday. That outta count for something, right?

  18. Edward De Vos says:

    Martin Luther King may indeed have had a dream, but Siggy was prepared to analyze it. For this blog and audience, Siggy is the clear pick.

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