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Monty Python's John Cleese Almost Explains Our Brains

Friday, April 05, 2013 - 09:27 AM

You've met them, I'm sure. People who are so learned, so scholarly, so deeply invested in what they're doing, that you can't understand a word they're saying — well, maybe you catch a familiar word or two, but the gist? No. They seem to be speaking a language near yours, like the Sims in "SimCity." The sounds are right, but the words are beyond you. In this video John Cleese gives us a short introduction to the anatomy of the brain. It's complete nonsense. There is only one complete sentence. It comes at the very, very end.

Pity The Poor Closed Caption Robot ...

If you think you're having a stroke — or maybe hearing problems — you're not. He's just THAT good. But for a real giggle, as you listen, click on Closed Caption button at the bottom of the YouTube window. That poor translator bot is like a drowning man in very rough seas; all it can do is fling up words that sound like Cleese's, but its guesses make no sense, have no grammar, and sometimes it just ... freezes. It gives up and goes blank.

In a way, this the real lesson here: John Cleese's brain is so agile (coming up with words and cadences that sound convincingly English, but aren't) and artificial intelligence is so un-agile (not aware it's being duped), that you should be proud, proud, proud to be an intelligent mammal. It will take silicon chips another thousand years to do what Cleese does. So we're safe. For a little while.

Thank you, "Professor."


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Comments [3]

Edath from Woodland, WA 98674

It doesn't really matter whether he's talking gibberish or not! It's funny! Sometimes scientists have to remember to appreciate the funny!

Oct. 31 2013 11:34 AM
Ross Bennett from Kilgore, Texas

That is an impressive piece. What makes it most brilliant of all is that it's not gibberish.

Not entirely, at least. It's heavily laden with jargon and he seems to have worked in as many anatomical structures and functions (principally of Greek etymology or eponymic origin) as could be managed, then worked them together with mildly-periphrastic conjugations and constructions. There might even be a few coinages in there, strictly speaking, but it's mostly not gibberish.

Even better, the structures he points to correspond to the names he mentions.

Apr. 10 2013 07:02 PM

I'm not sure about that last paragraph... Our brains (or at least mine) tries its hardest to find words just like the closed caption computer. It seems to me that both human brains and computer code are baffled by the nonsense words. I'm not sure how the language from the Sims is generated, but if it's done by a computer, isn't that essentially the same as what John Cleese did? I don't see any real justification for the dichotomy set up in the last paragraph...

Apr. 10 2013 05:55 PM

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