From the Rosenberg Memorial Lecture, 1992

Voluntary Interagency Transference Strategies: Cash or Card?

by Count Elsinor de Sellby FRS




As you all know by now, the original problem was: are commodities objects or events? The whole science of shopping seems to founder on this question. Tins were thrown and concussion recorded - supporting the object theory, but at the same time labour, caring, information, sex and so forth, all of which were unquestionably accepted as commodities, seemed to constitute no more than an amorphous fog around consumers out of which no measurable drop could be distilled - supporting the event theory. Positivists argued that the concussion effect could be observed in both cases, but such appeals were regarded as fatally anecdotal. (SLIDE)

Two of the prizes awarded to previous winners of the international Rosenberger forum for social engineering and enterprize. Right: A lefthanded cigarette holder awarded to Radovan Karadzic in 1992, and Left: An all purpose snuffbox awarded to Vladimir Zhirinovsky in 1993.



It remained for Erwin Schrodinger's celebrated thought experiment to show beyond dispute that NOTHING can be said about WHETHER there is really something on television or not unless the damned thing is switched on and somebody (or something - a bishop would probably do) is watching. He therefore proposed that when the set is switched OFF there both is and is not something on, or rather, that the set is broken and in perfect working order. I mean, it's in a statistical state of indeterminacy. So. Only when you switch it on is there something there or not. Right. So, in this reading the set is merely the box in which the actual - or virtual - commodity is embodied. And it must be said at this point that, to date anyway - and in spite of repeated experiments - no single information particle has ever been detected, which implies, contrary to what I just said, that the commodity is in fact no object, but merely a process. (SLIDE)

For a while a compromise, in the shape of Niels Bohr's `Copenhagen Interpretation' was widely accepted, namely that commodities were material or immaterial depending on the shopper: this seemed obvious. I mean, commodities were what you shopped for. It was left to Einstein, Rosen and Podolsky, the celebrated Princeton String Trio, to prove in a brilliant paper that the tin you couldn't see because it was behind another tin on the same shelf still existed anyway even if no one was looking for it . Unfortunately no one would buy this because of the tin in front (Bohr's). Bohr also introduced the notion of complementarity , or free gifts and, in a final stroke of pure genius, proposed that not only trousers, gloves and shoes but all commodities came in pairs (like exchange and use value) so that, for instance, when you knew the price exactly you had no way of knowing if it would work or how long it would last once you got it home. (SLIDE)


Now the violin, of course, is essentially a TV set: a box you can use as a substitute squash racket or bug killer at a pinch but whose commodity value lies arguably not in the object but in the stuff that comes out of it. I think this has set the stage sufficiently for the introduction of string theory. (SLIDE)

String theory, as you will recall, was initially developed by the elder Rosenberg to account for the unclear strong reaction observed at his early performances. Put simply, string theory stated that everything in the universe consisted of short lengths of catgut which vibrate the phenomenal appearance of whatever universe we infer into existence. When sceptics asked "Oh yeah, where are they?" Rosenberg countered brilliantly that they existed in 11 dimensional timespace, the extra seven dimensions being curled up in a ball in the wriggly bit at the end where the tuning pegs are. Against an initially hostile climate, string theory started to attract more serious attention after the now-legendary Buenos Aries concert, where half the audience fell asleep while the other half burned the theatre to the ground. But - and you may well ask, if you are smart enough to think of it - what has the unification of the strong and weak reaction got to do with shopping? Well, for instance, sales of pistols and machetes rose by 43% in the week before the next Rosenberg concert and alcohol sales more than trebled. (SLIDE)


There are analogies too with the example quoted at the head of this lecture: where are the notes on the violin ? In the absence of frets notes are necessarily indeterminate, yet the quantum theory of notes states clearly that tones move in measurable steps and when the finger leaves the string altogether, a sound energy level is attained beneath which a player may not go. This is why violins don't easily collapse into black holes (where no sound can escape the instrument at all and the rest of the orchestra gets sucked in through the f-holes). The black - properly tone - hole was discovered by Philip Glass when he observed the induction of a total vacuity in the vicinity of Laurie Anderson. Where was I? (SLIDE)

The quantum theory then was applied mainly to the prediction of melody and tonal discontinuity; but no amount of arm twisting could reconcile it with Albert Einstein's great work on relativity (inspired, like Rosenberg's own, through an addiction to the violin) and the luminous insight that any note played on its own has to be in tune . In a series of remarkable experiments carried out at a honeymoon hotel in West Vermont, Einstein observed that a man falling down a lift shaft past a violinist would hear a note bowed perfectly evenly as a glissando - an effect indistinguishable from that produced by the same player moving his finger up or down the neck a bit while somebody else (let's call him Carl Hauptmann) sat in a train that had broken down with a sack over his head. This amazing result reconciled a paradox which had long baffled the world of armchair shopping. This paradox, following from the results of a critical experiment conducted at Cleveland University, was as follows:


On March 14 1899, Michael Morley sent out for two mail order violins - one from the Chang Lee People's Violin Factory in Shanghai, the other from a music store just across the street from the university. Of course everyone expected that the one from across the street would arrive first. In fact they both arrived at the same time.
Where was I? Oh at the end already.

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