A clip of  Charles Fleischer,  a stand-up comic, wearing an endigitted blazer and performing a routine with a lot of numerology in it:

I think the very first joke in this is funny and concise, but it quickly degenerates into a kind of sub-Robin-Williams “I talk loudly and quickly and change accents a lot and am kind of manic, is it funny yet?  No?  LOUDER, QUICKER, MORE ACCENTS!” schtick.

But the joke is on us, because Fleischer’s not kidding about his theory of “moleeds.”  In 2005 he gave a TED talk about it.  This is a weird and in some ways uncomfortable thing to watch — the audience still thinks they’re watching a comedy routine, and just keeps chuckling while Fleischer argues, with ever-increasing fervor,  that the equation 27 x 37 = 999 somehow explains mirror symmetry and the theory of Calabi-Yau manifolds.

The talk doesn’t cast TED in the best light, to be honest.  Don’t they have someone on staff who can do some minimal vetting of talks that claim to be about math?

(Note:  there is always the possibility that Fleischer’s whole act is an extravagantly thorough Kaufmannesque send-up of people’s tendency to attach themselves to meaningless patterns and theories.  But it doesn’t read that way to me.)

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12 thoughts on “Moleeds

  1. DG says:

    That’s Roger Rabbit for ya…

  2. JM says:

    The only numerology thing that ever has stuck with me is the prime numbered Republican president theory, which just made me more fatalistic about the Florida recount.

  3. tao says:

    OMG jordan you’re so right about Robin Williams. I’ve ALWAYS said exactly that about Robin Williams but everyone looks at me like I’m crazy. Everyone I know thinks Robin Williams is incredibly funny and talented, and I’m the only one who realizes how unfunny he is. Just talking really fast and doing a series of bad accents doesn’t make you funny.

  4. tao says:

    Oh, and one more thing, about TED, I lost all my trust and respect for TED when they featured a lecture by Garrett Lisi, the “surfer physicist” who came up with some dumb E8-based theory about the universe. Apparently they let any crackpot give lectures

  5. Armond Aserinsky, Ph.D. says:

    Thank you for your explanation of “Moleeds” and your astute review of Mr. Fleischer’s presentation at “TED”.

    I am a Clinical Psychologist with a rather modest academic background in the “hard” sciences. Having grown up in the home of a Neurophysiologist (with a Ph.D. from the U of Chicago) I am equipped with a reasonably “scientific” mind, and the “Moleeds” thing didn’t sound kosher. Lacking real training in these matters however, I was unable to rule out the possibility that the presenter was offering us a humorous look at a very arcane and “advanced” mathematical construct.

    Regarding the TED presentations in general, I can say that they often fail to make the kind of distinction that Richard Feynmann once made when asked why he dismissed the possibility that UFO’s are visitors from other worlds. This occurred on a radio call-in show, and the caller asked in an irritated way whether Feynmann wasn’t being rather closed-minded. Feynmann replied that it is important to distinguish between having an “open mind” and having a “hole in one’s head”.

  6. CB says:

    This is a JOKE. The TED talk is pointing out how easily people make things up to suit their crazy theories.

  7. JSE says:

    As I said in the post, CB, I looked at some of Fleischer’s writing and I don’t think he’s joking.

  8. Keel says:

    what you all are failing to realize is that TED is not some stuffy professorial event, it stands for freaking ‘Technology Entertainment Design’. None of you sound actually familiar with TED. Whether he’s serious or not doesn’t actually matter, I found his routine very clever, thought provoking, and funny, which is precisely what TED Talks are supposed to be.

  9. MacMorton says:

    I just want to know wtf is going on in this talk. I found it incredibly entertaining. I have studied geometry and what people refer to as sacred numbers because I find it interesting. I study a lot of stuff most people consider to be on the fringe because I am constantly striving to better understand how people work. I believe in the possibility of a lot, universe is infinite after all, but I am skeptical about all the information I receive. That being said, near the end of the lecture, which I will watch again asap, I stopped listening and just took in the images. It seemed to my ignorant mind that there was an incredible continuity in the math/geometry he was playing with. So my question is: WTF?
    Is Mr Fleischer the funniest physicist ever? or the geekiest of all stand-comedians? Either way, he is a genius in my book.
    I hope someone reads this who knows a thing or two. Also, to those who think that that the Fibonacci/phi/pi is some ancient mumbo, when people like Tesla and Schauberger talk about the importance of this mathematical principal perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to write it off. Just putting that out there.
    Be seeing you…

  10. jayarama says:

    strange symmetrical patterns and relationships in whole numbers are of course very real. it’s not a joke. how we interpret the presence of that symmetry and inter-relatedness (i.e. their philosophical implications) is another thing.

  11. mac morton says:

    I love that this thread still love. Moleeds will be stamps some day!

  12. […] And in the end, I found the restrictiveness of the format to be really useful.  It’s like a sonnet.  Sonnets are, in certain ways, all the same, by force; and yet there’s a wild diversity of sonnets.  So too for TED talks.  No two of the talks at TEDxMadison were really the same.  And none of them was really like Steve’s TED talk (though I did read a poem like Steve) or Amanda Palmer’s TED talk or (thank goodness) like the moleeds TED talk. […]

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