Notes from a fascinating world.
The world is like a bazaar, full of interesting odds and ends, and I've been exiled into it. This is my all-over-the-map (literally and metaphorically) attempt at capturing some of the world's many wonders.
Kenneth Arrow died last week.
Professor Kenneth Joseph Arrow of Stanford, naturally the son of immigrants (in this case Romanian Jewish ones), in his lifetime won the John Bates Clark Medal for best economist under 40, the John von Neumann Theory Prize, and, oh yes, the Nobel Prize for Economics. In fact, he remains the youngest person ever to win that particular award.
Arrow was 95.
I discovered Arrow in college, as so many other did as well. It was hard to study social science, any social science (political in my case), without coming across Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem. And for a college sophomore coming across the Theorem for the first time, the idea of it is deeply disturbing, like tremors beneath your feet where you didn’t realize there was ever a fault line.
Here’s Wikipedia’s summary of Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem:
The Chinese language contains many phrases known as chengyu (成語), literally “fixed expressions,” what in English we’d call cliches but which are an indispensable part of Chinese.
One fixed expression goes, “three in the morning, four in the evening” (朝三暮四). Today the expression is used to describe someone who is mercurial, hot and cold, inconstant. But that’s not what it originally meant.
Many fixed expressions have fun origin stories. This one goes back to ancient Taoist philosophy. In Zhuangzi, a foundational text of Taoism named after its author and published in the third century B.C., there’s a cute fable in “A Theory on the Equality of All Things” (莊子‧齊物論) about a man who raised monkeys and could talk to them. The man came to the monkeys and said, “How about I feed you three fruits each in the morning, and four in the evening?” The monkeys protested that this was not enough food. The man nodded and went away. A little while later he returned and made another proposition: “How about I feed you four fruits each in the morning, and three in the evening?” The monkeys now cheered and accepted the proposal.
Writer, traveler, lawyer, dilettante. Failed student of physics. Not altogether distinguished graduate of two Ivy League institutions. Immigrant twice over. "The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of getting home."