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Richard Pryor (1) vs. Karl Popper

The top-seeded comedian vs. an unseeded philosopher. Pryor would be much more entertaining, that’s for sure (“Arizona State Penitentiary population: 80 percent black people. But there are no black people in Arizona!”). But Karl Popper laid out the philosophy that is the foundation for modern science. His talk, even if it is dry, might ultimately be more interesting.

What do you think?

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


  1. Jonathan (another one) says:

    I’m going to go for Popper, but only if his talk is confined to “Popper on the Climate Change Debate.” I take the basis for this seminar to be the following quote from I love Pryor, but nothing he talked about could be more interesting than this, at least to me. I apologize for being serious today…

    “Mach, always suspicious of the selfregarding character of scientific élites, found a new champion in Popper, who held that science is much too important to be left to scientific discretion. The growing authority of scientists in society offers
    too many opportunities for the corruption of science. Philosophers are thus needed to ensure that scientists remain true to the normative ideal, ‘Science’ with a capital ‘S’, a stern taskmaster who demands that scientists be critical of even their
    most cherished beliefs. From this impulse came Popper’s falsifiability principle as the scientific ethic.
    Kuhn’s sensibility could not be more different. For him, an activity is not a proper science, unless the community of inquirers can set its own standards for recruiting colleagues and evaluating their work. Just as public oversight had no role in
    Planck’s science policy, philosophical oversight cannot be found in Kuhn’s theory of scientific change. One might think that such an élitist vision would have no place in today’s world, where thecosts and benefits of science loom as large as those
    of any other public policy. Yet, Kuhn managed to succeed simply by ignoring the issue, leaving his readers with the impression – or perhaps misimpression – that, say, a multi-billion-dollar particle accelerator is nothing more than a big scientific playpen.
    Popper and his followers were unique in seizing a glaring weakness in Kuhn’s theory: Kuhnian normal science was a politically primitive social formation that combined qualities of the Mafia, a royal dynasty and a religious order. It lacked the sort
    of constitutional safeguards that we take for granted in modern democracies that regularly force politicians to be accountable to more people than just themselves. Scientists should be always trying to falsify their theories, just as people should be
    always invited to find fault in their governments and consider alternatives – and not simply wait until the government can no longer hide its mistakes. This notoriously led Popper and his students to be equal opportunity fault-finders across the natural and social sciences.”

  2. Seth says:

    According to wikipedia, Popper once said that a good moral rule was “Not to threaten visiting lecturers with pokers,” when Wittgenstein got heated during an argument and started gesticulating with a fire poker. That’s entertaining. Also he apparently inspired at least one person to use violence and that’s entertaining too.

  3. tom says:

    Do you realize your picture is not Richard Pryor, but Gene Wilder?

  4. Steve Sailer says:

    Richard Pryor on what he learned from talking to a large sample of Arizona State Penitentiary inmates.

  5. Manuel says:

    Popper. We would learn more from falsifying the hypothesis that Popper’s talk is boring than what we would learn from falsifying the hypothesis that Richard Pryor’s talk is uninteresting.

  6. Dalton says:

    “It takes a certain talent, genius (if you will) to insult 17,000 people – black, white, male, female, straight, gay, rich and poor – at one time.” – on Richard Pryor’s “performance” at the Hollywood Bowl:

    That sounds like kind of talent this contest needs.

  7. Luke says:

    I vote Richard Pryor.

    Not sure if I agree that Karl Popper laid out the philosophy that is the foundation of modern science. Popper didn’t believe that there were such thing as gradations in the credibility of scientific theories. It didn’t matter how many times a certain finding was replicated, it was just as suspect and just as easily falsifiable as a novel discovery.

    I don’t think any scientist believes this, certainly not a Bayesian, no?

  8. Eric says:

    Is this really a question?


    Honky Honky!!

  9. Torbjørn says:

    Popper can surely be entertaining as well as informative. His work on logic and probability might be try, but not his work on political philosophy and the problems in social science. His discussion of the theories of Plato and Hegel as the roots of fascist thinking is brutal, and he did not hesitate to accuse Hegel of being a charlatan of philosophy and Plato of advocating genocide to put himself on the political throne. One might not agree with him, but it is not dry.
    His dry remarks could be snidey. In a debate on German sociology, he translated the core of Adorno’s ideas as: “Society consist of social relations. Somehow this reproduces society”, followed by this characteristic about Habermas: “Most of what he says is trivial, and the rest seems to me mistaken”. (Backing it all up with clear arguments of course). And do not forget: before 10 minutes of a famous seminar had passed, Witgenstein got so angry that he picked up a poker from the fireplace and threatened Popper with it.
    Popper might not be as funny as Pryor, but I think he can be even more entertaining. I would love to hear Popper speak of contemporary challenges in politics, climate change, or whatever. He would probably have sensible things to say about probability, bayesian methods and causal inference too. It is far from obvious whether he would be a bayesian or a frequentist, but he would surely be ready to cut the crap in any camp.

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