Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Real Zeal

OK, gimmicky title.  But there we are.  I want a gimmicky title.  I want to write one of those upbeat, chatty, pro-positive art essays that makes people cheer.  But I’ve no idea what to say past the desire to say it.  I need to explicate the desire itself, I guess. 

I came to poetry through genre fiction and 70s singer-songwriters.  It started probably around 1981 or so, when I finally got into an honors English course, the only honors course I ever took.  We did 20th Century poetry.  I remember Eliot and Cummings mostly, as well as a light brush up against Stein.  Something in this made me slowly turn from Louis L’Amour westerns and Robert Heinlein sci-fi.  But not the music.  I’ve kept up with music as closely, or perhaps more closely, than I have poetry.  There was a day in class where the teacher, Mr. Lovett (Love it!), had us each bring in a song to share.  I chose Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes.” 

I’m typing this on Saturday morning listening to Bob Dylan’s new album, Tempest.  It’s his 35th, and it’s good, even if it’s being over-praised.  I understand the desire to over-praise Bob Dylan, to see in a new Dylan album the possibility that there’s hope for ourselves (“I pay in blood, but not my own,” he’s singing right now, and then “The more I die, the more I live.”).  If Dylan (or Leonard Cohen or Neil Young or Ian Hunter [the former lead singer of Mott the Hoople], these rock and roll singer-songwriter boys) can be a genius in his 70s, then maybe I can too.  Maybe I can be that rock and roll boy one more time.  And then the pitch: the new album from Ian Hunter (the lead single is at the bottom of this post), which is going over-looked by nearly everyone so far, is a loud, rock solid, rock affair.  Please love it.  Please love all of it.  I’m over-praising.  So we over-praise the new Bob Dylan album.  The nation turns its lonely eyes to you, as they say.  Or something like that. 

Bob Dylan, “Early Roman Kings”

That’s my favorite track from the new Dylan album.  There’s hard work in art.  There’s the hard work (or the obsessive work, maybe, which isn’t necessarily hard, but it is a long road) of making art.  And there’s the hard work of what you do with it after you make it. 

In a recent NYTimes article, Stephen Burt is a lover:

And what poet wouldn’t want to be a part of that?  The positive (some say over-positive) embracing of “what I like.”  I want the world to like what I like.  I want, by extension, for the word to like me in that way as well.  I want to love and to be loved. 

I want you to go out and listen to the new Ian Hunter album, the new album from Amy Cook, the new album from David Byrne and Annie Clark (St. Vincent).  I want you to read Mary Ruefle’s new book of essays.  David Dodd Lee’s poetry.  Cole Swensen.  Of course, I want, through this, to have you like me as well, that my association with the things I like will be my connection to you.  We will be there together, where being there together is enough, to kind of quote Wallace Stevens. 

Bob Dylan is singing, “Set ’em up Joe,” and Ian Hunter counters with, “Laugh because it’s only life,” and then, “Easy come, easy go, it’s just another Rock and Roll show.”

I’ve put together a little query manuscript of Michael Benedikt’s poetry to send to potential publishers, hoping to interest one of them in publishing a selected poems.  It’s an excellent collection.  It’s going to be an excellent collection.  But, for me, there’s more to it than that.  Michael Benedikt was in many ways at the top of the literary world by the end of the 70s.  He’d published five books of poetry, edited two important anthologies of poetry (among other things), and was poetry editor of The Paris Review.  Important dude.  And then, on or about 1980, he just turned off.  Like a light-switch.  Poof.  No more books.  No more editing.  A poem here or there in journals for the next 27 years.  By 2007, when he died, there were no remembrances, no panels at AWP.  Gone daddy gone.  Everything he's ever written is out of print.

That’s another possibility.  So we over-praise the new Bob Dylan album and we forget whomever it is we forget this week.  It’s why we sometimes feel this need to go back, or at least why I’m feeling this need to go back. 

Making art is one thing, and then what happens to it?  Stephen Burt believes that the role of the literary critic is to be the lover, to talk about what makes you cheer, to cheer, and in cheering, bring people into that moment.  The things one doesn’t want to cheer for, one passes over in silence. 

I have children, and so silence rarely fills our house.  But sometimes I feel this silence, this silence of passing over.  It’s also the silence of being passed over.  The story of Michael Benedikt haunts me, not because he’s largely forgotten, but because I find so many of his poems compelling.  He made good art, at times great art. 

All artists feel this silence at some point.  The pressure is to dress up as a carton of milk and go on Let’s Make a Deal: “Pick me Monty!”  Monty Hall was his stage name.  He was born Monte Halperin in 1921.  He’s retired now, I suppose.  I really don’t know what he’s doing.  His legacy includes The Monty Hall Problem, though, also called the Monte Hall Paradox (from Wikipedia):

“Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1 [but the door is not opened], and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, "Do you want to pick door No. 2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?

Vos Savant's response was that the contestant should always switch to the other door. If the car is initially equally likely to be behind each door, a player who picks door 1 and doesn't switch has a 1 in 3 chance of winning the car while a player who picks door 1 and does switch has a 2 in 3 chance, because the host has removed an incorrect option from the unchosen doors, so contestants who switch double their chances of winning the car.” 

So we should switch our guess, even as it seems, logically, nonsense.  When we choose Door Number One from three doors, we’ve a one in three chance of being right, but once door number three is taken out of the equation, we should switch to two, because we’d then have a 50/50 chance of being right.  Who would have thought? 

Either way we want to pick the car, and we want to be the car that others pick.  In a recent post on VQR, Sean Bishop writes about trying to increase one’s odds of getting one’s poetry published:

It is, as he says, the factory approach.  Something inside me wants to have a problem with it, just as something inside Bishop wants to have a problem with it.  It all just sounds so depressing.  But the distribution of art has always been depressing. 

I ramble because I’m flighty and conflicted.  That begins the art act.  But then, some other being has to take over.  Someone with an MBA or something.  Spreadsheets and catalogues.  Over-praise and mass-forgetfulness.  And above it all a desire in each of us to notice and to be noticed. 

Ian Hunter, “When I’m President”

Things are going to be different then.


At 9/15/2012 8:53 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

John, in your good post you say about Burt:

>Stephen Burt believes that the role of the literary critic is to be the lover, to talk about what makes you cheer, to cheer, and in cheering, bring people into that moment. The things one doesn’t want to cheer for, one passes over in silence.

But his position--at least based on what he's written elsewhere--isn't quite so tidy. There are, according to him, certain circumstances where "blistering" assault is preferable to indifferent silence. Here's the last paragraph of his reply, a couple years back, in the 32-poet forum that responds to my essay "Some Darker Bouquets," where I called for the injection of more negativity, satire, and polemic into the generally gentle culture of poetry reviewing (the first sentence in his response, actually, states, "Almost everything Kent Johnson says here seems true to me").

>And here's one more reason so little poetry attracts negative reviews: it's not worth writing a negative review of a book that will sink without a trace, which most poetry books do. Negative reviews in poetry these days only seem worthwhile when they attack (a) examples of bad trends or (b) people who are very famous and don't deserve it . In both of these cases, a bad poet (a poet I consider bad) is worth "taking down" (seems to me worth a negative review) because bad poetry, praised in high places, really distorts the sense of the art the younger generation gets; such praise, uncountered, makes it harder for new readers to like the good stuff. Under the right circumstances I would write a blistering attack on any of about eight very famous or widely respected poets, with my name attached (you get a cookie if you can guess which poets). I write negative reviews when editors ask me to review poetry I don't like and when it falls into one of the categories above. But I almost never solicit work for review that I know I won't like, and I certainly won't write really negative reviews of poets who aren't already well-known. It doesn't seem worth my time, or theirs.

At 9/15/2012 11:12 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

On the other hand, maybe negative reviewing doesn't pay. Since it's a public appeal Michael Robbins has put out on the internet, I see no reason to not help in sharing it. I'm going to send him some cash. Anyone else?

>I bought a car—I needed one, I was living in Mississippi, & assumed I’d continue to do so. Then I did not have the job. So money I owe on the car, or she is repossessed. And there are other bills. Bills, student loans, Christ. I am in a serious financial crisis, like the one you have read about, except on a tiny poet scale. Plus it has nothing to do with mortgage-backed securities, as far as I know.

I’ve been trying to sell the car for months, for less than I owe. It’s not a sellers’ market. No one’s even made an offer.

I’m hoping to raise $12,000, which is the bulk of what I owe on the car, by asking you to look into what passes for hearts these days. Love.

Yeah, I know. Bestselling Penguin poet, waaaaaahh. But believe me when I say I’m not making any bank off the book. I’m teaching four classes as an adjunct, & believe me when I say that is not a high-paying gig, either. I have no insurance, & my cat has been sick, so I’ve had astronomical vet bills. (I love my cat very, very much.)

There are people with real problems who deserve yr help more than I do. But I’m asking for it because I don’t know what else to do. If you can, please donate something by clicking on the PayPal button over there on the left. I accept any amount of money, from $1 to $infinity.

Anyone who donates over $100 gets a signed copy of Alien vs. Predator with a little doodle of, I don’t know, probably a jellyfish dog is the only thing I know how to draw. Just leave an address in my “don’t ask me anything” box.

You know, I’m as embarrassed about this as you are. Thank you.

At 9/15/2012 12:36 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Thanks to John and thanks to Kent for the attention! I stand by what I told Kent about negative reviewing, and I'll check out the Ian Hunter-- I had no idea.

John, you should switch to door #2 not because your chances are now 50-50 but because they are not 50-50-- they are 2/3 to 1/3 in favor of your switching doors (because they were 2/3 to 1/3 before Monty Hall opened the door, and they don't change just because he opened the door).

I didn't know about Robbins's situation at all. Ugh. I should contact him.

At 9/15/2012 2:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Benedikt was quite bitter at being fired from the Paris Review post, at being replaced there by Tom Clark . . .I remember hearing MB express great dismay over it, and I'm sure he must have spoken to others . . . he obviously felt he had been doublecrossed in some way . . . that may be one reason why he stopped writing and publishing, but there must have been other reasons that caused him to drop out of the poetry scene altogether and mole-like go underground— I always thought he would re-emerge with new work at some point, but that didn't happen— someone must know more about what led to his catastrophic silence— ...

At 9/15/2012 6:54 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Damn damn double damn dingle damn, you're right. It's 2/3 not 50/50. I even sat and thought I got it and then boom went right back to the wrong answer. It's the kind of problem I like to cite, but ALWAYS get wrong.

Anyway, really, I hope you like the Ian Hunter, SB. I like very much the idea of maybe turning you onto him, if you din't know him already. He mattered, and, to me at least, still does, in a frustrating, necessary way. But I grew up heavy into Mott the Hoople, T-Rex, David Bowie, and Lou Reed. In my mind, at least, it fit well with Dylan and Neil Young. Not all that many people agreed with me.

Moving on, I can see the there doesn't need to be a contradiction between what the NYTimes writes and what Kent quotes above. And I agree with both stances. Depending on the day, more one than the other.

Meanwhile, anon, I'm left with the Benedikt story. I didn't know he was fired from PR. Makes sense that he might go Mole after that, but I have an interview Naomi Shihab (later Nye, I'm guessing, but I'm a bad guesser) did with him in 1977, where he said that once the Gustav Mahler/Choo Choo book came out he was going to stop everything for a while. I can see how his own desire to participate by not participating might get a bump from a bad scene at PR (which seems to have bad scene after bad scene over the years). It's a shame. But he didn't stop writing! Not at all. Laura Boss is sending me one of his unpublished manuscripts, Family Curses, Family Blessings (not a great title, I admit), next week. I know of at least two others, one of which, OF:, is partially available online, though the formatting is messy and the versions aren't definitive (I think).

At 9/17/2012 9:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Early Roman Kings is good but I prefer Duquesne Whistle.

At 9/17/2012 10:40 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

"Duquesne Whistle". Yeah, there are several good songs on this album. They all feel a little over-familiar to me, as he does the same sort of move, the apocalyptic narrative. It's the same sort fo thing. "Duquesne Whistle" is a little different, and that's nice too. Good album.

At 9/17/2012 10:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apocalyptic narratives: now more than ever

At 9/17/2012 10:55 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Yes. What felt possible in the late 60s feels probable now.

At 9/19/2012 10:44 AM, Blogger underbelly said...

Ok, critics can skewer a) examples of bad trends and b) people who are very famous and don't deserve it.

Fine and well, but these categories seem to emphasize critic-as-tastemaker in the thumbs-up, thumbs-down school of public reviewing. There's obviously a demand for this role but I suspect it isn't the highest station a critic would aspire to.

I like criticism that teaches me stuff, that makes my world bigger. There are a lot of ways positive criticism can accomplish this (which I gather is one reason there's such an emphasis on it). But the category of negative criticism that accomplishes this is neither of the above ... it's criticism that goes after c) work with the potential to do something great, but disappoints.

This is the category in all the arts that gets me the most worked up. I don't rant much about bad movies .... there are too many of them and too little to say about them and I manage to avoid most of them anyway. But the ones that demonstrate potential, or make a promise of greatness ... when these fall flat, I want to vent, I want to disect, I want to know how and why. There is much to be learned from these examples, and critics can help.

At 9/19/2012 1:16 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Stephen Burt said:

“And here's one more reason so little poetry attracts negative reviews: it's not worth writing a negative review of a book that will sink without a trace, which most poetry books do. Negative reviews in poetry these days only seem worthwhile when they attack (a) examples of bad trends or (b) people who are very famous and don't deserve it . In both of these cases, a bad poet (a poet I consider bad) is worth "taking down" (seems to me worth a negative review) because bad poetry, praised in high places, really distorts the sense of the art the younger generation gets; such praise, uncountered, makes it harder for new readers to like the good stuff.”

My question is: what exactly does this say about editors and publishers today? This is also an example of the terrible hypocrisy in the poetry culture. I have noticed that even the self-proclaimed ‘anti-Po-biz’ faction and the so-called ‘Foetry’ people address only the ‘published’ poets, whether from a small college literary journal or a large house. Poetry Magazine brags that “We find great work before anyone else. Since its founding in 1912, Poetry has been famous for discovering poets very early in their careers.” Yes, assuming the poets submit to the magazine, that is.

I call this hypocrisy because it seems that nobody who claims to truly love poetry itself has any real interest in ‘discovering’ or reviewing poets who happen to be self-published, regardless of the quality of the poetry. It is so easy to simply review the submissions and choices of others rather than do the work of finding new poetry that is actually “good”. This is tragic because many of our greatest poets originally self-published (list below). How much would we have missed if left in the hands of our current poetry establishment?

Following are some poets who originally self-published:

Alexander Pope
William Blake
Walt Whitman
E. E. Cummings
Ezra Pound
T.S. Eliot
Edgar Allan Poe
Robert Bly
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Robinson Jeffers
Alfred Lord Tennyson
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Robert Service
Carl Sandburg

Jeez! Where the hell is Ezra Pound when you really need him?

At 9/19/2012 1:30 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

That’s such a wide swath, isn’t it. A lot of poetry falls into it, and I think a lot of what people call “positive” reviews are less positive than they are ambivalent. Burt is more outright positive, but that’s because he’s (I think) making a case for some poets to get wider attention. He can select reviews, then, mostly. Most of the “whatever happens next” reviews I read in literary journals and such are, well, I guess category d), then, this ambivalence, with some praise and some quotes, and some “huh?”

I think it was Matthew Zapruder who was once making the case that poetry reviews shouldn’t be positive or negative, but descriptive. That’s another category, e). And quickly it becomes a very large elephant.

At 9/19/2012 1:48 PM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

It's 50/50 whether you switch doors, or not.

The car could be behind door 1 or door 2. That's 50/50.

Taking away door 3, brings the odds from 1/3 to 50/50, but *switching doors* cannot possibly change the odds, because we don't know whether the car is behind door 1 or door 2: 50/50.


At 9/19/2012 2:03 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

If you switch, it's 2 in 3 chance of winning. But please don't believe me:

It doesn't seem right, but a lot of things that are right are counter-intuitive.

At 9/19/2012 2:03 PM, Blogger underbelly said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9/20/2012 7:25 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

Granted, it's an interesting mathematical paradox, but you absolutely do not increase your odds of winning by switching doors.

Look at it this way: If you were choosing from 4 doors instead of 3 and Monty exposed a wrong door and gave you a chance to switch with 4 doors but not so with 3 doors, your odds of winning the car are always better with the '3 doors, no option to switch' scenario than with the '4 doors, Monty shows you wrong door, option to switch' scenario.

If you want, I'll play it with you guys sometime. Give me 3 doors and no option to switch, you can have 4 doors with the option to switch. In the long run, I will win and you will lose.

At 9/20/2012 7:57 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

You did read the proof, right? It's been done already. You lose.

Granted, what you're saying sounds right. It's what I thougth, too, but, you know, the smarter people have already bet and lost. Or won.

At 9/20/2012 9:26 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

Speaking of reviews with more polemical slant and of how anonymity may help push a more vibrant review culture forward, the New Orleans Review is about to launch a new website (apparently in part prompted by the Mayday letter and responses I mentioned earlier) devoted to short anonymous reviews of poetry. The editor is Mark Yakich. Should be interesting to see what happens.

At 9/20/2012 9:42 AM, Blogger underbelly said...

Thomas, I love that you insist you're right even when faced with a mathematical proof. This one is unambiguous. It's been an undergrad-level probability test question for the last fifteen years.

You don't even have to understand the math. Get a partner and do the challenge on paper. It will only take about 30 trials to show that ... the math is right and your instincts are wrong.

I'm working on a similar theorem to shed light on your theory of poetics.

At 9/20/2012 12:35 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...


I think it's mostly an issue of time. The contemporary poetry scene is already bursting at the seems with writers, magazines, blogs, collectives, etc. It's taken me years to have any sort of grasp on it, and even then, I only feel like I have a very loose handle on a small slice of it.

I'm not saying it shouldn't be a consideration, but where does one start? I haven't a clue.

Out of curiosity, how many contemporary self-published poets can you name that you stumbled upon while looking for talent in those pastures? I only ask because I've seen you roll out that list before and the its curiously devoid of names I would have to google.

At 9/20/2012 12:37 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9/20/2012 1:43 PM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

I did go back and look at the Monty Hall problem and it looks like everyone is convinced that the odds increase to 2/3 when you switch doors.

But they are wrong!!!

I did it on paper and saw how it does look like the odds increase to 2/3 but I still wasn't convinced and now I've solved the problem.

It's nothing but a parlor trick.

Go back and read all the Monty Hall explanations and notice how every time they put the loop in *threes.* If you look at 3 situations, the problem is forced into 1/3 or 2/3 and not 50/50, which it really is.

My solution is simple. Since I'm a bit of a baseball stats geek, I looked at the problem from the standpoint of facing a pitcher who has 3 pitches---if you guess the pitch correctly, you get a hit. As the pitch is coming to the plate, the pitcher tells you one pitch it is not.

I looked at every scenario, such as 'you choose changeup, he tells you it's not a fastball.' There are only 6 such scenarios and in each case, it's 50/50, so there are actually 12 possible results. What the Monty Hall guys do is produce 9 possible results---they put everything in terms of three, and this is where the trick is. The problem is NOT resolved in terms of 3, but 4, since there are 12 possible results, not 9. But you always get 9 when you look at the problem the way the Monty Hall guys want you to look at it.

This was driving me crazy all day, and I've solved it. Do it yourself. Use 3 pitches instead of 3 doors, with the batter trying to guess the correct pitch. Write out all the possible scenarios and you'll find it's 50/50, not 2/3. Then go back and match the pitches with doors and it still works.

At 9/20/2012 2:55 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

No, you're still wrong. To check the math you add the probability of each door. In your equation, the three fractions you're working with are 1/3, 1/2, and 1/2. You can't add those without converting allow them so they have the same common denominator. In this case it is 6. This changes those fractions to 2/6, 3/6, and 3/6. If you add those up, you get 8/6, which is why it can't be 50/50, because we were only working with 100%.

At 9/20/2012 4:59 PM, Blogger Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Fuzz, you said:

“I think it's mostly an issue of time. The contemporary poetry scene is already bursting at the seams with writers, magazines, blogs, collectives, etc. It's taken me years to have any sort of grasp on it, and even then, I only feel like I have a very loose handle on a small slice of it.
I'm not saying it shouldn't be a consideration, but where does one start? I haven't a clue.”

I will concede this point. The poets on the list are only the ones that I could actually verify were originally self-published. There may be more. And, I agree, self-publishing may have been the only option at one time. Still, SOMEBODY eventually noticed, sooner or later.

Then you said:

“Out of curiosity, how many contemporary self-published poets can you name that you stumbled upon while looking for talent in those pastures?”

Only one, I’m afraid.

But my original point is still valid. If there is so much published poetry out there that is awful and terrible (what I once saw characterized as a “sea of crap”), what does that say about editors and publishers today? It’s not just the MFA glut and the quantity of poets…somebody is still publishing all this “crap”.

At 9/20/2012 6:53 PM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

Fuzz, but 1/3 and 1/3 and 2/3 don't add up to 100 % either.

At 9/20/2012 8:31 PM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

Unless you say the 'no switch' is 1/3 and the 'switch' is 2/3.

But you can't say that. Mathematically that's nice: 1/3 and 2/3 = 1. But that doesn't reflect what's happening, because once Monty reveals a door, you introduce a new scenario that cannot be encompassed by 1/3 + 2/3.

The 50/50 odds, because a door has been taken away, represents a new scenario---which the neat 1/3-2/3 formula distorts. The switch is more effective because the choice has been narrowed to 2 doors, but here's the thing: we assume the 'non-switch' does not gain from the new 2 door scenario, but it does: it must, and even though it does not 'switch' it still must benefit from having its choice narrowed to 2 doors---it does, in fact, 'switch' because the act of choosing not to switch is a 'switch' because it occurs in the new scenario of 2 doors. This is what the math of the Monty Hall problem is not able to reflect. The math fails the reality, and so does the computer program run on that (false) mathematical reality. My pitcher/batter examples shows up the flaw because as the pitch comes at the batter, one of the pitches is eliminated, but in each case there are still two pitches to choose from. It's 50/50 throughout the 12 possible results. The Monty Hall math is not so much wrong as unable to fully reflect the reality, which I believe I have demonstrated by exposing the flaw of 1/3-2/3, which is a false whole.

At 9/20/2012 11:49 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

Each door represents 1/3. There is no new situation.

At 9/21/2012 4:39 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


As Wikipedia is crowd-sourced, I suggest you just go to the Monty Hall Problem page and add your counter-argument. I’m sure you would find the resulting debate amusing!

At 9/21/2012 5:14 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

There is a new situation, because of a door taken away and the option to switch. The essence of this parlor trick is precisely in pretending there is no new situation, as you are doing, Fuzz. Tempting, that neat 1/3-2/3 situation, but it won't wash. Wow, felt good to crack that problem.

John, I will take this debate elsewhere; I won't burden you and your readers anymore with it. Unless there's a real mathematician who hangs around your blog...

At 9/21/2012 6:23 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Not at all! I’m finding this exchange quite interesting and illuminating on several levels. I’m just thinking that, if it turns out you’re right, the textbooks will have to be re-written. So, by all means, keep the debate going here. I’m just thinking you might also consider the larger stage.

At 9/21/2012 7:08 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...


There is new information, but no new situation. You still have three doors, two of them are empty (or have a goat or something) and one has a car. You just know what one of the empty rooms is.

Your insistence that it's 50/50 is wrong because it ignores one of the options. When determining probability, all the numbers need to be accounted for. This is a basic mathematical principle.

At 9/21/2012 10:24 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...


You can't have your cake and eat it. You can't have the three door universe turn into a two door universe and pretend it's still a three door universe. That's the deception here. The Monty Hall problem math is fooling people but that doesn't make it real. The only reality is that it's fooling people.

Imagine a particle flying towards three doors---right before the particle arrives at the doors, one door vanishes, so the particle now must choose from the two remaining doors---and *not* the door that a second particle has chosen, that particle also having seen the third door eliminated. This is a new situation! Note that the basis of the whole trick is a false *competition* between two strategies originating in a 3 door universe---which is allowed to continue existing (math-wise) in a 2 door universe. The scenario has changed from three doors to two. The real choice of *either one of the particles* is based entirely on 1) 2 doors, not 3 and 2) not choosing the door which the other particle has chosen. Forget for a moment, 'switch' or 'not switch' (this is also what is throwing everyone off and is part of the parlor trick deception). Do these two particles, in the scenario just described, both have a 50/50 chance of choosing the door with the car? Yes. 50/50. The whole error resides here: to import the 3 door universe (1/3, 2/3) into the 2 door universe. That's what the Monty Hall trick is doing, and one can get away with this *mathematically,* but not in reality. The math is falling short of reality; but reality must always trump math. You have to look at the problem in the right way. Math will not "solve" it. Because math can move a 3 door reality into a 2 door reality does not mean it is correct. It's a mathematical illusion. The odds are 50/50 in both cases. The 1/3 --2/3 is a false residue from the previous 3 door universe scenario which disappears the instant that third door disappears. It *is* a new situation. We feel sorry for that particle which is not allowed to 'switch' and thus is cheated--or we *think* it is---however, it is *not* cheated, for it exists now in the same 2 door universe that the other particle exists in. We get fooled because the *competition* between the 'switch' and 'non-switch' particles is completely illusory, and allows us to come up with the fake default odds of 1/3 and 2/3.

At 9/21/2012 10:56 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

This is a math problem. You cannot remove any part of it without destroying the integrity its logic.

Math can be used to do all sorts of thing that are not possible in real life. There are proofs that show Winston Churchill is a carrot, and it makes sense if you add up the numbers.

At 9/21/2012 11:05 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I should further add it seems absurd that you would say

"Math will not 'solve' it "

while arguing about probability.

Yes, math will solve it, because one cannot talk about probability without using math. If your proof doesn't add up, and it doesn't, it means your answer is wrong.

At 9/21/2012 11:12 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

Someone made a game you can play to demonstrate this.

It tracks wins. As a proof, play 100 times, switching every time.

Then play 100 times, never switching.

Compare your win-to-lose ratio for each.

At 9/21/2012 3:56 PM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...


OK, I was finally able to see the Monty Hall problem with three (actually four) coins on a table. It's really like check-mating a king who is on one of three hidden squares. You 'check' one of the three squares and Monty, like an opponent in chess, is hand-cuffed because he cannot move the square you have checked AND cannot move the king, but is forced to take away one of the squares. Switching traps the king 2 out of 3 times, and not switching merely gets him once. When you are facing the king, you only get him once, but when you don't face the king, you get him twice, because there's no where for him to hide. Both of the empty square option-choices are closed to him, and the other empty square has been taken away by Monty. I see that now. If one sees Monty as an opponent with limited options of escape, it becomes much clearer. I 'see it' when I visualize trapping a king in chess, so to speak, rather than choosing from a couple of hidden doors.

Good. I can sleep again.

Ah, sleep.

Thanks, Fuzz.

At 9/23/2012 4:51 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...

I wonder if this means that if you marry a second time, you have twice the chance of being happy.

My admitting I was wrong and 'changing doors' happened at the last minute and just in time. I feel rejuvinated.

I am curious: I think my checkmating a king on three squares is the best explanation I've yet seen of the problem.
If you have 100 doors and Monty revealed just one door and then you switched, would your odds improve, also? That I cannot visualize. 1/100 when you first choose, and then, what? 99/100 after a single door is revealed? How does it add up to 100% after only one door is shown?

At 9/23/2012 3:27 PM, Blogger underbelly said...

"I wonder if this means that if you marry a second time, you have twice the chance of being happy."

Perhaps relatedly, no one ever mentions the true weakness on the Monty Hall problem, by which it's possible to win 100% of the time: suppose you actually want the goat.

At 9/24/2012 6:37 AM, Blogger Thomas Brady said...


So when Monty reveals the door with the goat, you say, yes, I'll switch to that door, please.

I found much pleasure in throwing myself at this problem. I feel like I'm alone in the world, though. It seems like everybody just wants to cite some authority and not really think through a problem themselves. Yhe way the Monty Hall problem was explained was really poor, but people didn't seem to care. It's counter-intuitive, man. Shrug. Why don't people want to get to the bottom of things themselves? Fear of being wrong, perhaps? Fear of their own minds having to think something through? We want to share poems and mix tapes with friends, but we don't want to be critical or analyze. Are people just too prickly and thin-skinned? I know, I know...There's too much to enjoy in the world, so let's just enjoy all the things to enjoy. That's hard to argue with, but why do people who follow this advice always seem so dull and miserable? Can't we do both? Enjoy and be critical? I can do it. I guess I just don't get most people. The goats driving the cars.

At 9/24/2012 7:09 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Well, in my case, Tom, I thought as you did at first, and then I read the explanation. The thought experiment provided, once I sat with it visually a moment, was persuasive. And then I posted it on my blog incorrectly and Burt tagged it and then I remembered, yes, that’s correct. But you seemed so intent on your answer that I thought, sure, it’s not worth it to argue about something I can barely follow. But now, in the end, we all agree. Right? No need to make it a new argument?

At 9/24/2012 7:16 AM, Blogger underbelly said...

"So when Monty reveals the door with the goat, you say, yes, I'll switch to that door, please."

Is it possible that in all the years of the show it's never happened?


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