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Carl Friedrich Gauss (1) vs. Nora Ephron; Voltaire advances

Yesterday I was all set to go with fractal-man, following Zbicyclist’s comment:

Why go with a guy whose most famous for something he didn’t say? Let’s go with a guy who can give a short, pithy lecture that can blossom into a whole structure of knowledge as we repeat it!

But then I was persuaded by Phil’s list of Voltaire’s admirers. This French philosopher and wit seems to have influenced just about everybody. From wikipedia (as quoted by Phil):

Jorge Luis Borges stated that “not to admire Voltaire is one of the many forms of stupidity” . . . According to Will Durant: “Italy had a Renaissance, and Germany had a Reformation, but France had Voltaire; he was for his country both Renaissance and Reformation, and half the Revolution.”

So let’s go with the Great Tolerator.

Today’s bracket features the top-ranked mathematician, vs. an unseeded, but still very funny, wit. My favorite of Nora Ephron’s works is Heartburn (both book and movie), but her early essays are great too. I think either of today’s choices would be fine, as long as we don’t have to see Nora trying to prove a theorem or Carl complaining about his neck.

Again, the full bracket is here, and here are the rules:

We’re trying to pick the ultimate seminar speaker. I’m not asking for the most popular speaker, or the most relevant, or the best speaker, or the deepest, or even the coolest, but rather some combination of the above.

I’ll decide each day’s winner not based on a popular vote but based on the strength and amusingness of the arguments given by advocates on both sides. So give it your best!


  1. Yuling says:

    Gauss has also made some contributions to Stan by providing the Gaussian proposal, and he is not deeply involved in hydrogen bomb I suppose.

    Nora Ephron, on the other hand, has a quote: “What are you going to do? Everything is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications.” I think she is referring to the random walk metropolis in an implicit way, and Gauss can express this proposal using one calligraphic letter and two numbers. We need a concise speaker.

  2. I’m going with Gauss. Ephron would show up in his office, and say, “I’ve got this great idea for a screenplay”; she’d really lay on the charm and work on her sales pitch. After she’d finish, Gauss would go back to his filing cabinet, aimlessly rifle through his least interesting shelf, pull out a sheaf of papers, and casually drop the screenplay for When Harry Met Sally on the desk in front of her. “Not even worth publishing” is how Gauss would think of it.

  3. zbicyclist says:

    Gauss would be a magnetic speaker!

    When I was running a large research group, I discovered one application in quasi-production had been written by a departed employee using the Gauss software package. (not written by Gauss, who died in 1855).

    This was a problem, since nobody else knew Gauss (which means he shouldn’t have been allowed to use it for an application clients could customize, for gosh sake). So, for some months we had a “deGaussing” project — not to remove unwanted magnetism, but to remove unwanted software.

  4. Jonathan (another one) says:

    Isn’t Gaussian just a synonym for normal? Who wants a normal speaker? Or even a standard deviant? We need someone significant, and not just one time on 20… we only get one shot.

  5. Bobbie says:

    Yes, yes, all the other comments are mostly about how brilliant Gauss was. Ephron was brilliant, too. And funny.
    More important, Ephron would bring food.

  6. Jan says:

    According to Wikipedia, Nora Ephron was named after a character from a play by Ibsen. I am not sure I want to watch a seminar given by someone from an Ibsen’s play.

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