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Severn Darden's "Metaphysics Lecture"

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demento fan

Dec 27, 2007, 8:02:19 PM12/27/07
This is a transcript of the classic routine from the earliest days of
Second City. I've edited it very slightly, and in a couple of spots I
had to guess what was said. I'll be (re)posting the mp3 in
alt.binaries.sounds.mp3.comedy shortly.


Intro: And now, ladies and gentlemen, Professor Walter von der
Vogelweide will present "A Short Talk On The Universe."

Darden: Now, why, you will ask me, have I chosen to speak on the
Universe rather than some other topic. Well, it's very simple, heh.
There isn't anything else!

Now, the Universe we examine through what Spinoza has called "the lens
of philosophy". He called it this because he was a lens grinder.
Heaven knows what he would have called it had he been, for example, a
pudding manufacturer.

Now, into three branches is philosophy divided: ethics, esthetics, and
metaphysics. Now, ethics is that branch of philosophy which is neither
esthetics nor metaphysics. Esthe--well, I think you follow.

This evening I have decided to take the jump. Heh heh. Metaphysics.

Now, metaphysics is--what IS everything--ANYHOW? And what's more is
more than what's less--generally.

Now, in the universe we have time, space, motion, and thought. Now,
you will ask me, what is this thing called time? [7 second pause] THAT
is time.

Now, you will ask me, what is space? Now this over here--this is some
space. However, this is not all space. However, when I said that was
time, that was all the time there was anywhere in the universe--at
that time. Now, if you were to take all of the space that there is in
the universe and CRAM it into this little tiny place, this would be
ALL the space there was! Unless of course, some leaked out. Which it
could. And did! Heh. Hence the universe!

Now, the early Egyptian astronomers (there were no late Egyptian
astronomers) looked up at the stars and with these they measured time.
But the Greeks, who were very exact--sometimes to the point of
tediousness--came along with this question: is time the measure of
motion, or conversely, is motion the measure of time?

Viz. I have in my hand a stopwatch--imaginary. And coming through the
room is a railroad train--also imaginary, heh heh. If it was a real
railroad train it would kill us--and besides, it would be very
expensive. Now--I'm timing the train now. Is time the measure of
motion--click--[makes train noise and runs across stage]--click--or
is, conversely, motion--now I'm going to be for you a grandfather's
clock [swings arm]--tick--tock--tick--tock--the measure of time? Now,
with the arrival in the 20th century of Planck's constant and the
theory of quantum mechanics and with Heisenberg's uncertainty
principle--I think--we still don't know.

However, we might very easily turn to the pre-Socratic philosophers
(who were always good for a laugh) for assistance.

Now, take Heraclitus. Dr. Jose Benardete, by the way, has said in his
book "Coming and Becoming", he has quoted Heraclitus incorrectly as
saying that "time was a river which flowed endlessly through the
universe." He didn't say this at all. He said, "time was LIKE a river
which flowed endlessly through the universe." Aha, there you are,

Nonetheless, he discovered this one day, and he went home to his wife,
Helen. That was her name, Helen Heraclitus. That's two H's, like Hugo
Haas--Herman Hesse--Harry Halle[?]--Herbert Hoover--Heinrich Himmler--
oh, that whole crowd, ja.

Anyhow, he went home to his wife, Helen, and he said "Time is like a
river which is flowing endlessly through the universe, and you
couldn't step into the same river twice. Helen."

And she says, "What do you mean by that, Heraclitus? Explain
yourself." That means you could go down to the Mississippi River, for
example, and you could step in, and you could step out, and then you
could step in again. But that river that you stepped in has moved
downstream, you see, it's here. And you would only be stepping in the
Mississippi River because that's what it's called, you see? Not only
all that water, but if something were on top of the water--for
example, a water bug--if it was there, it would be downstream. Unless,
of course, it was swimming upstream, in which case it would be older
and it would be a different bug.

So, anyhow, Heraclitus went home to his wife with this news, and he
said "Time is like a river which flows endlessly through the universe,
and you couldn't step into the same river twice."

She said, "Don't be an ass, Heraclitus. You could step into the same
river twice--if you walked downstream at the same rate as the river."

He was amazed!

So he went down to the agora, or marketplace, where there were a lot
of unemployed philosophers (which means philosophers who weren't
thinking at that time). And they had a few drinks first and they went
down to the river, and into the river they threw a piece of wood just
to test how fast the river was going. And so Heraclitus saw how fast
the wood was going. So he stepped into the river, and ran and stepped
and ran and stepped and ran, and finally he ran out into the Aegean
Sea and was drowned.

So much for time.

Now we come to another pre-Socratic, Zeno, for time and motion, and
Zeno's Paradox. Now, a paradox is something which when it isn't, it
is, paradoxically. And Zeno's Paradox is that if Achilles, the great
Greek hero and athlete, were to get into a race with a tortoise, that
he couldn't win. Silly, isn't it.

Well, if, for example, the toroise was here and he would give the
tortoise, say, a 10-foot headstart, just to be fair to the beast, and
there would be--it would take, say, Achilles, 1 second to go 1 foot.
So at the end of 9 seconds, he would have one foot to go in one
second, ja? And in a half of a second, he would still have a half of a
foot to go, you see? And in a hundredth of a second he would have a
hundredth of a foot to go. And in a millionth of a second, he would
have a millionth of a foot to go. And since time and space are both
infinitely divisible, he would never pass the turtle! Heh, heh.

But this is ridiculous! Anyone in this room could win a race with a
turtle, you know, and we're not great heroes and athletes. Even for
example, some old, very dignified person, like Bertrand Russell, HE
could win a race with a tortoise. And if he couldn't win it, he could
outsmart it, ja?

Nonetheless, I have discovered possibly the meaning for this paradox.
I was reading recently a book called "Greek Pots In Polish Museums" by
John Davidson Beasley. 8vo, $9.75 and worth every penny of it. Big
wide margins--er, I'm getting off my point. Anyhow, in there is a
picture of a pot that has on it a picture of a ripe [?] archaic
tortoise of the kind that Zeno would have known about. Now, it isn't a
little, flat American tortoise. IT'S A LITTLE BULLET-SHAPED TORTOISE

Now this would seem to explain it, ja? But it doesn't! Because Homer,
who never lied about anything, said that Achilles could, if he wanted
to, beat any man or beast in a foot race. Now what does this mean, "if
he wanted to"? You know how some people can't step on the line in the
sidewalk? Achilles couldn't pass a tortoise! He was a very sick hero!

Now, thought.

For centuries philosophers have told us that thought cannot be seen,
it cannot be heard, cannot be felt, smelled, cannot be tasted. It is
not in the key of G--or F. And it is not blue--nor is it mauve. It is
not a pot of geraniums. It is not a white donkey against a blue sky.
Or a blue donkey against a white sky. Nor does it have aspirations to
become archbishop. It is not a little girl singing an old song.
Thought is not a saffron-robed monk pissing in the snow. In other
words, philosophers can tell you millions of things that thought
isn't, and they can't tell you what it is! And this bugs them!

But you are out there and you're thinking and I'm up here and I think
that you're thinking, and we think, and we think that the sun comes up
in the morning, pouring forth its beautiful bounty of light, and as
Shakespeare said, "What a piece of work is man!"

Are there any questions? Thank you.

I would really like to answer any questions that you might have. Now,
I don't have anyone planted in the audience. Occasionally friends of
mine who are in the audience throw up some hideous thing. They know
the areas in which I am weak! Only in this sense do I have someone
planted. So if you could ask me anything that you might not know about
the universe.

Q: What is the relation between space and time?

What is the relation between space and time? Well, let's see, I
thought I had covered that. Now the relation--well, space, for
example, it is a thing which is occupied by matter. Ja? Whereas time
occupies space, as we all know. Have you ever, for example, had any
time pass when there was no space? I mean, have you ever been no place
for a long time? It couldn't happen! It could, theoretically, of
course. But I mean, even with a lot of equipment it would be

Could I have another question?

Q: Do fish think?

Well, that's a very good question, but it's not in the realm of
metaphysics. Now I had a fish once--name was Louise, as a matter of
fact. Small, fat fish. And every day at the same time I would go to
the edge of the pond--a little iron tank in my house--and throw it a
bunch of grapes. You know? Every day at the same time the fish would
be there. After a few days she knew at 1:45, grapes, bam! Fish!
However, I began making it 15 minutes later every day, you see. And
then when I was there at 2 o'clock, she'd be there at 1:45. She was 15
minutes behind. After a while she was hours and days behind! And she
starved to death. Yes, fish think--but not fast enough!

Could I have another question, please?

Q: [German accent, much thicker than Darden's] Professor, what is

What is...?

Q: Truth.


Q: Truth.

Oh, ja. Mm-hm. An accent.

Well, truth is very difficult to explain. It is not merely the
opposite of falsehood. When I say I am here, that is true temporarily,
but it is not always true. And certain truths are immutable. Like for
example, I am not elsewhere, which is just as true here [walks across
stage] as it is over here. You see? I am still not elsewhere. No
matter where I go I can't get away from me! Sort of frightening--that
should be called truth!

Could I have another question?

Q: Will the sun rise tomorrow?

Yes. Next question?

Thank you.

Mar 17, 2013, 1:26:19 AM3/17/13
This is wonderful. I've been looking all over for the audio. I had it on cassette 20 years ago. Called Second City and they don't have a way to get the audio, if they have it at all. Any thoughts?


Mar 22, 2013, 11:22:44 PM3/22/13
Thank you for posting this! My father was such a devotee that he gave a cassette copy to all his kids' fiances before we were married.

Mar 26, 2013, 7:53:30 PM3/26/13
On Friday, March 22, 2013 11:22:44 PM UTC-4, wrote:
> Thank you for posting this! My father was such a devotee that he gave a cassette copy to all his kids' fiances before we were married.

Would love a copy of this, been hunting everywhere for it

May 13, 2013, 8:13:50 PM5/13/13
Would like to actually hear it again as the delivery is part of the genious ... and I know there are audio copies out there...send a tape or CD

May 13, 2013, 8:18:53 PM5/13/13
Would like to hear it again as the delivery is part of the genious...and I know there are recordings out there..

Apr 29, 2014, 1:22:45 AM4/29/14
David, I have it on a Second City LP, perhaps it has been reissued. Also they play it on "The Midnight Special" periodically ( Saturday 9pm to 12 central time) this program has been broadcast for SIXTY YEARS! Try the website they have a searchable playlist on that site that goes back plenty far. Search the Chicago playlists, you will find it there. Good luck & Have Fun! - Juliet
Message has been deleted

Jun 9, 2014, 12:01:27 PM6/9/14
I have an mp3 of this sketch. Email me (alexmwolf) if you'd like me to send it to you.

Jul 12, 2014, 4:02:53 PM7/12/14

Oct 15, 2017, 7:38:21 PM10/15/17
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