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Thomas Hobbes vs. Leo Tolstoy; Rock advances

First off, I just want to say I made a mistake yesterday dropping Alan Turing in favor of Ed Wood. As Zbicyclist put it, “Ed Wood’s best thoughts are probably on the screen.” And that’s not good at all! So, sorry for eliminating one of the exciting speakers from the list.

I’m also thinking of possible speakers for next year. Here’s a category: People Connected to Stanislaw Ulam. Lots of fun people: Teller, Fermi, Neumann, Feynman, etc. But I can’t include Ulam himself as I then could not really be an unbiased arbiter.

Next we pick the winner from yesterday, the best comments come from a link from Byron to . . . an interview with Chris Rock, who lets off some zingers. Also, Rock has a statistical effect named after him. So he moves to the third round.

And, now, today’s contest: the political philosopher vs. the author of a couple of really long novels.

Maybe both these guys are too serious for this comedy-loving crowd, I dunno? But, in all seriousness, do we really need jokes. Hobbes basically founded modern political science with his crushingly realist view of the world, and Tolstoy was unmatched in setting unforgettable characters in the modern world. All other social novelists pale in comparison. Certainly one of these dudes deserves to advance, no?

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


  1. Gregor says:

    I like the “People connected to Stanislaw Ulam” because if we also have the previously suggested Skeptics and Magicians category it could also include a Teller.

  2. zbicyclist says:

    Tolstoy’s work is iconic enough to figure in this joke:

    “I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.” (Woody Allen)

    I wonder how many of us have
    1. Not read War and Peace
    2. Read it, but only abridged
    3. Read the whole unabridged thing, but in English.
    4. Read the whole unabridged thing, in Russian.

    #2 for me (high school requirement))

  3. Jonathan (another one) says:

    Hobbes is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of philosophers. Any time someone feels he’s been killed off, he’ll be back.

    Tolstoy is the Buster Keaton of novelists. Widely admired, widely studied, and just about obsolete in popular culture.

    Take those observations for what they’re worth. I want to hear Hobbes.

  4. Ethan Bolker says:

    I haven’t read War and Peace. I probably read some Hobbes when I was in college, but don’t remember a thing.

    I’d like to hear Calvin’s Hobbes’ questions for the speaker.

    How about a category next year for that Hobbes and his ilk? Pogo would win it all in a walk.

  5. Xi'an says:

    Tolstoy should be in not only for his literary work, that some may find outmoded, but also for his synthesis of Christian ascetism and of non-violent anarchism. As he directly influenced Gandhi, who still is in the list of would-be speakers, Tolstoy should be there to face Gandhi in a later run!

  6. Nate says:

    Tolstoy would argue that governments have no authority over people, only God has authority. Hobbes was borderline atheistic, and would argue that strong governments are the only thing separating many from a short, violent life. Based on history and current events, religious beliefs seem to cause more destruction than chaos than they prevent. Gotta go with Hobbes.

  7. Patrick Caldon says:

    Hobbes is tricky, but I have to go for Hobbes.

    He was an imfamous circle squarer and trisector – i.e. he spent a lot of time trying to produce geometric constructions of problems which troubled the Greeks. Of course his constructions didn’t work, and the problems were proved impossible in the 1800s.

    But supposedly some friends, having read a draft of his magnum opus, took him aside and suggested that his quadrature was broken. And he mostly drew back from his claims and published that the results that he was writing were “probematical”. The quadrature was meant to sit as the crowning piece of an exposition of his philosophical method “de Corpore”.

    That said, Hobbes went on to spend the next 15 years in a vitriolic war of letters with Wallis – a political opponent who got an early uncorrected copy of his work and proceeded to mock Hobbes relentlessly about it. A wiser man might have just given up.

    Tolstoy strikes me as more consistently wise, and certainly a better, more moral man, but perhaps a less interesting seminar speaker.

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