kaspar vs. the professor of logic

just watched herzog’s every man for himself and god against all or as it’s known here the enigma of kaspar hauser. fine little flick about a fascinating historical footnote the real life kaspar hauser. if you’re not familiar with his story i recommend you check out wild child of europe or the fortean times article on hauser called a new theory. it’s an interesting story though i don’t plan to recount it here. just wanted to share a bit from the film i found amusing.

just to set the stage let me sum up kaspar quickly- he was a teenager who showed up on the street in Nuremberg in 1828 holding an anonymously written note. he couldn’t say much and could hardly stand. it turned out he had been locked in a dungeon of some sort his entire life and had never seen another human. as a somewhat unique example of the “feral child” (in that he didn’t adapt to animal culture but was completely without culture of any kind) he became a bit of a sensation both in society and in the tabloids. a few years later he was murdered, dying as mysteriously as he’d arrived.

here’s an illustration of kaspar as he is said to have looked on his arrival in nuremberg along side an image of bruno s. (a whole other story there) as kaspar in the film.

anyhow the encounter which amused me in the film came about half way through when kaspar is visited by a professor of logic. they sit at a table and the professor, intent on figuring out this “feral child’s” capacity for logical reasoning, poses a question (all paraphrased):


professor: lets say there are two villages. in one of the villages all of the inhabitants constantly lie. they lie about everything, always. it is a village of liars. the second village is a village of truthtellers. all of the inhabitants always tell the truth. always. now lets say there are roads leading out of each of these villages and that the roads meet at a fork.


professor: now lets say you come across a man standing at this fork in the road and you want to figure out which village he came from. what question do you ask?


professor: it’s a thorny problem. if you ask “are you from the village of truthtellers” a man from either village would answer “yes.” one because he always tells the truth and one because he always lies. in fact there is a single question you could ask that would reveal which village the man came from. one single question only which could accomplish that.


professor: if you can’t figure it out i’ll tell you, you would ask the man this- “if you came from the other village would you answer ‘no’ if i were to ask you whether you came from the liars village?”


professor: you see by means of a double negative the liar is forced to tell the truth!

kaspar: i know another question.

professor: but that is the one and only question that would enable you to ascertain the man’s true origin. there is no other question.

kaspar: well, i know another question.

professor: ok, fine what question would you ask the man?

kaspar: i should ask the man whether he was a tree-frog.


haha. needless to say the professor of logic found this question unacceptable. in the commentary herzog said that though most of the movie was based on hauser’s diary and other accounts there was no factual basis for this particular encounter. herzog wrote it and just stuck it in there.

anyway that’s it, just thought it was amusing.