Monty Python’s “Argument Clinic” Sketch Reenacted by Two Vintage Voice Synthesizers (One Is Stephen Hawking’s Voice)

Feel­ing irri­ta­ble, feisty, hos­tile, even? Feel like get­ting into an argu­ment? No prob­lem at all! Just hop on the social media plat­form or com­ments sec­tion of your choice, and with­in sec­onds you can be caught in a rag­ing dust­up with a total stranger—or sev­er­al total strangers at once! Isn’t the inter­net fun?!

But how did the argu­men­ta­tive ever get by before Twit­ter wars and oth­er con­tentious online inter­ac­tions? Needling peo­ple in casi­nos, road­hous­es, and cock­tail lounges? Ruin­ing hol­i­days with scream­ing match­es over the cen­ter­piece?

Many a barfight and fam­i­ly feud might have been avert­ed had Mon­ty Python’s bril­liant idea for an argu­ment clin­ic exist­ed in real life. In prin­ci­ple, it seems so civ­i­lized.

But in the sketch itself, as you can see above, vis­it­ing the argu­ment clin­ic turns out to be a lot like vis­it­ing the com­ments section—only with­out the racist and sex­ist slurs and occa­sion­al spam. Mild-man­nered Michael Palin stops in to have an argu­ment. He first stum­bles into the room reserved for “abuse,” where Gra­ham Chap­man yells nasty things at him. How famil­iar. When he reach­es the argu­ment room, 12A, he meets John Cleese, who pro­ceeds to flat­ly con­tra­dict every­thing he says.

Per­haps you’ve had the same expe­ri­ence: Palin patient­ly explains what an argu­ment is sup­posed to be, “a con­nect­ed series of state­ments intend­ed to estab­lish a propo­si­tion.” To which Cleese replies, “no it isn’t!” It’s like argu­ing with a child, an espe­cial­ly child­ish adult, or an inter­net bot with a very lim­it­ed set of respons­es. Or—as you can see at the top in the recre­ation of the sketch by two vin­tage voice synthesizers—like an argu­ment between two rudi­men­ta­ry machines.

One of these machines will sound very familiar—the small, black DECTalk Express has pro­vid­ed the voice of Stephen Hawk­ing for many years. The other—the old­er Intex Talker—is a crud­er instru­ment, and much less intel­li­gi­ble. So it’s right­ly cast in the John Cleese role. Can machines think? We’ve yet to sat­is­fac­to­ri­ly answer that ques­tion. But we know they can argue—if argu­ment means spit­ting out abu­sive phras­es and con­tra­dic­tions. How­ev­er, if we define an argu­ment as Palin/DECTalk Express does—as “an intel­lec­tu­al process”—the machines have like­ly got ways to go. As do most humans.

Sharp­en your own skills with some Intro to Crit­i­cal Think­ing videos, or with anoth­er humor­ous exam­ple of how not to argue.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read An Illus­trat­ed Book of Bad Argu­ments: A Fun Primer on How to Strength­en, Not Weak­en, Your Argu­ments

Daniel Den­nett Presents Sev­en Tools For Crit­i­cal Think­ing

32 Ani­mat­ed Videos by Wire­less Phi­los­o­phy Teach You the Essen­tials of Crit­i­cal Think­ing

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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