A Question to Keep You Occupied, 8/27/12

Because I have lots to do today but don’t want you bored.


You have the ability to, for one night, reanimate any two historical personages (“historical” = “not currently alive”) and have them discuss/debate a topic of your own choosing. Which two historical personages do you choose, and what subject do you have them discuss/debate?

My choice: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, on the topic of what is, and how to engage in, a just war.

Your choice?

(And please, do give it some thought and try to avoid the usual suspects; the world doesn’t need three dozen people clamoring for a debate between Jesus and Ayn Rand on any topic, as an obvious example. I thank you in advance.)

315 Comments on “A Question to Keep You Occupied, 8/27/12”

  1. Quick rules for the thread:

    1. Thread is for answers to the question, not commentary on the choices. Comments that are not a direct response to the question will likely get Malleted once I swing back around.

    2. Please don’t change the parameters of the question to include a live person; I asked for historical personages for a reason, and one reason is to avoid a whole raft of “Jesus vs. Richard Dawkins” or “Mitt Romney/Obama vs. [whomever]” bits, because that would be tiresome to deal with.

    3. As the site’s recently been infested with the sort who confuse trolling with actual discourse, if someone posts an answer here I find to be a thin cover for stating their personal views in an obnoxious, trollacious way, I’ll go ahead and Mallet that, too. This will not affect the large majority of you, I am sure.

    Have fun!

  2. Elizabeth I and Victoria to discuss being a female leader of an empire \/country in a male dominated world.

  3. Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Wollstonecraft – discussing the rights and role of women. I think I would trade a year off the end of my life to hear that.

  4. Mary Shelly and Bram Stoker to discuss the role of the “other” in science-fiction and fantasy as a way of understanding/depicting people who exist outside societal norms.

  5. William Shakespeare and Bob Anderson (fight choreographer for “The Princess Bride,” among many others) on staging violence–focusing on technique, aesthetics, historical accuracy vs. theatricality, the “story of the fight.”

  6. Sorry if this is one of the obvious ones, but I actually thought of this the other day. Franklin D.Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan discussing whether our country is better served by coddling the ultra-wealthy or supporting the workers and laborers.

  7. LOL, @ Jesus and Ayn Rand.

    Abraham Lincoln and George Washington on their thoughts of what they really think the role of the federal government is.

  8. Alexander Hamilton and Woodrow Wilson to discus the effects of the United States Federal reserve on the economy, and possibly how to fix the problem.

  9. Thomas Edison vs. Nichola Tesla on AC vs DC for widespread electrical power delivery. (Less about the topic than me just wanting to see the sparks fly.)

    Emma Goldman vs Lucy Parsons on anarchism and socialism.

  10. I want to break one rule, sorry. I want all the signers of the Constitution reanimated to debate the cost/benefit ratio of slavery. Holding the debate today would be OK but I’d prefer it be held in Atlanta in 1866

  11. The Egyptian pharaohs Cleopatra VII and Hatshepsut. Subject: Power — how to get it, how to keep it.

  12. Can I ask one clarifying question? Many historical figures changed their point of views dramatically throughout their life. Can we pick the point in time that we are pulling them forward to talk or are we stuck with their points of view at the end of their life?

  13. Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein on which two historical personages should have a debate, and on what topic.

  14. Julius Caesar and Richard III on the topic of the dangers of leaving enemies alive – would they do it again?

  15. Thomas Jefferson and Mother Theresa, on the proper place of religion in society.

    Or Mother Theresa and Mark Twain, same topic.

    Heck, forget the nun. Let’s just have Twain, on any topic he chooses.

  16. Topics and debaters that spring to mind:

    1. Pierre Trudeau and Jack Layton on what constitutes a just society.

    2. Charles I and Oliver Cromwell on the role of the executive in the British States. I’d pick the Charles of 1649 and the Cromwell of 1658 so that they would both have experience as war-leaders and statesmen.

    On reflection, Charles would probably refuse to debate Cromwell (he put up no defense at his own trial when this was a major issue) I wouldn’t mind hearing each of them give a lecture on the subject.

    3. Teller (of Penn & Teller fame) and Marcel Marceau on comedy.

  17. Fermat and Ramanujan on Fermat’s last theorem, and what that goddamn elegant proof was.

  18. Peter the Great of Russia and Stalin on how to govern a country, specifically with the goal of economic modernization.

  19. 1) Miles Davis and Frank Zappa on the role of bandleader and general discussion on music as art
    2) Admiral Horatio Nelson and Adm Chester Nimitz on naval strategy

  20. Francisco Pizarro and Socrates.
    Subject: critical commentary of the Robert Silverberg novella “Enter a soldier. Later, enter another” (Asimov’s magazine, june 1989)

  21. Teddy Roosevelt and Abe Lincoln to comment on the current state of affairs of the GOP and government role in general.

  22. Albert Einstein and Francis Bacon on the potential of scientific inquiry to help people

  23. 1) Malcolm X and MLK on the state of inner city America, and the status of African-Americans in the big cities.

    2) Horace Mann and Thomas Jefferson on the American public education system.

  24. I’d like to hear Charles Darwin and maybe Thomas Henry Huxley discuss the effects of technology on the evolution of species. Not just man’s effect on man, but also nature via animal husbandry up through genetic manipulation.

  25. These are all wonderful and thought-provoking.

    I’d like John Lennon and Ludwig von Beethoven on the subject of rhythm and chord changes.

  26. Genghis Khan and Alexander of Macedon on acquiring and administering Empires.

    (It was probably before your time, but Steve Allen hosted a show about 20+ years ago called “Meeting of the Minds,” where he did exactly this.)

  27. This thread reminds me of the Epic Rap Battles of History on Youtube.

    George Carlin
    Darth Vader

  28. Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow on the responsibilities of journalists in the modern era.

    Alternately, just reanimate them as flesh-eating zombies and toss ’em into the Fox News headquarters.

  29. Beethoven and Bach on modern music, starting with equal temperament and moving on to modernist composers, jazz and all its variants, rock and roll and all its variants.

  30. Shakespeare and Cleopatra on the balance between image and fact. Actually this exercise reminds me of Steve Allen’s wonderful series Meeting of the Minds

  31. 1) The Dutch East India Company and the British East India Company on the legal definition of a person.
    2) Edith Piaf and Marilyn Monroe on happiness.
    3) Harpo Marx and Emily Post on socially acceptable reactions to “winds of unknown providence”.
    4) Hannibal and Subutai on tactics versus strategy.
    5) Buddha and Jesus on identity theft (or brand recognition).

  32. Douglas Adams and Jack Webb, on radio drama and why it is so awesome. If they wanted to take a little time to dramatize, say, a Dirk Gently story or record a Pat Novak For Hire script, I’d certainly be the last to complain.

    Alternatively, Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury, on, well pretty much anything they choose, though I like to think “life in the midwest”, “writing”, “role of fiction in society”, and “Curiosity rover” would probably come up.

  33. Definitely Galileo for one. The only question then is who else. I kind of like the idea of getting Pope Urban VIII as well, so Galileo can show him pix from Hubble and Cassini and the various extraplanetary rovers and shout the Renaissance Italian equivalent of “In your face!”

    However, if I’m feeling not so childish, then I would get Galileo and Darwin together. (If we could get Newton in there, even better, but you said only two.) Both of them advanced scientific thought in massive ways, completely changing how people understood the world and opening up whole new areas of research that are the foundation for virtually everything we can do today. I pick Darwin over Newton, because Newton was really following on Galileo’s work, whereas Darwin was in a different area of scientific inquiry. It would be cool to hear if both G and D knew they were coming up with something radical, and what they thought it might mean to go public with it.

    The interesting thing for me is that Galileo was tromped on in his own time, while Darwin was lauded. Whereas nowadays, there are relatively few people still stuck on a heliocentric view of the universe, but millions of people who completely ignore or elide the mountains of evidence supporting the idea of evolution.

    Really, I’m not so sure I’d need them to have a conversation. I would be happy just to take them to the Smithsonian and the Museum of Natural History and show them what they accomplished. Especially Galileo. Dude got totally screwed by history. He deserves to know he was right and his jailers were wrong.

  34. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison: “Given the current technological state of weapons development and the current state of American society, should the Right to Keep and Bear Arms be infringed upon?”

  35. Great Topic.

    @ Michael Victorine: Ayn Rand would be interesting on intellectual legacy as well
    @ Janet Wayne: Hear hear to Mark Twain on anything he damn well liked. The other personage? Fenimore Cooper could show up, and watch
    @ Nicolas: “Enter a Soldier, Later Enter Another” was the first thing I thought of when I read Mr. Scalzi’s post. Awesome story. Pizarro holds his own, does he not?

    My own humble contribution: Ben Franklin and Jonathan Edwards on secularism vs religion in the State. They did very well the first time around, but to see it live . . . . One of my greatest memories is seeing my high school English teach do up “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” on a blustery Halloween day. Black cape and everything.

  36. For those of you saying Beethoven… I suggest googling ‘epic rap battle beethoven’ He lays the smack down on Justin Beiber. Has some language so its not work safe.

  37. Any two fairly well off farm wives from 9th century Denmark and Norway to compare/contrast clothing from the two areas. With examples.

  38. Jim Henson and Richard Hunt. Or maybe Jim Henson and Jerry Nelson. So they could make more of what they always made: magic.

  39. Zhou Enlai and Niccolo Machiavelli on the value of political independence for leaders in partisan situations.

  40. I’d just start working my way through Van Loon’s Lives, which is built on pretty much that situation.

  41. My Mum vs. Mother Theresa on birth-control. Or, in the Jim Henson league … Ms. Piggy v. Elmo on Being Nice.

  42. Alan Turing and Oscar Wilde on how prevailing attitudes towards sexual identities impacted their work.

  43. Henry Ford and Utah Phillips on labor and unions.

    And John, of any time you needed a “like” button, this is it. I understand why not, but still.

  44. Let’s see… Socrates and Issac Asimov. Not necessarily debating any one topic and just discussing anything they want while we all sit in awe of two brilliant and entertaining minds.

    I originally considered Socrates and someone like Ayn Rand or L Ron Hubbard because knowing how Socrates operated, it would be beautiful seeing one of these creators of failed ideologies get taken to town, but really it would be too short lived and not nearly as satisfying as listening to two amazing people converse.

  45. My first thought was Emmy Noether and Sonia Kovaleskaya on whether it’s more annoying to be considered attractive or not, as a female mathematician. But I guess they would quickly agree that looks would be irrelevant if one could get rid of all the misogynist assholes, and end up quarreling on whether analysis is more or less fascinating than algebra :).

    Second choice: Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde on humor in literature. Wodehouse would be a welcome addition, if a third personwere allowed.

  46. James Madison vs. Thomas Jefferson on the appropriate role of the federal government today. Obviously, they’re going to need some tutors to bring them up to speed on the one or two changes since their time, but I think this would be quite fascinating.

  47. Albert Einstein and Max Plank to discuss the relationship of Eistein relativity and quantum mechanics. Imagine what else we could accomplish if we could unite these two theories!

  48. Charles Darwin and William Jennings Bryan, on faith, observation, and the scientific method.

  49. William Shakespeare and Walt Disney on Inspiration, Creativity and Productivity.

    Followed by a round table discussion by Disney, Chuck Jones, Dr. Seuss and Jim Henson on Legacy.

  50. John Maynard Keynes and F.A. Hayek on the origins of and solutions to the 2007 financial crisis. (Yes, I’ve seen the Econstories.tv rap battles…)

    John Marshall and Earl Warren on the proper role of the courts in America.

    Carl Sagan and Werner von Braun on the possibility of colonizing other worlds.

    Martin Luther and Thomas Aquinas on faith vs. works in Christianity.

    C.S. Lewis and George Orwell on anything they damn well pleased.

  51. Yeshua ben Yussef (of Nazareth and Jerusalem) and Adam Smith (of Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh) on the historical impact of partial- or mis-quoting of key texts.

    — Steve

  52. And we are reminded why Whatever is awesome.

    I’ll go with Dave (@dmaddock1) with slight change: J.R.R. Tolkien and Carl Sagan on the value of religion as myth vs science as myth.

    Would love to have been at ancient literature’s greatest smackdown: Moses vs the Pharaoh. Liberty vs tyranny, Jewish magic vs Egyptian magic, and winner looses plagues.

  53. Eleanor Roosevelt and Susan B. Anthony on the current state of women’s rights in the United States. Preferably in a forum *cough*Republican National Convention*cough* where the eyes of the entire nation could see them.

  54. Cole Porter and George Gershwin on the current state of the Broadway musical. Discussion to be moderated by Stephen Sondheim, which I hope isn’t too severe a violation of the “no one living” rule.

  55. I’d like to see any 2 young and talented persons that killed themselves (OD or other). I’d prefer Cobain and Jimi, but would settle for River Phoenix, Heath Ledger, James Dean, Janis Joplin.

    Subject: How do you feel about the perception of you now versus what you thought you were. And during the discussion, they should also cover how they think that would be different if they were still alive.

    As a bonus third, I’d like to see a 3-way talk with someone who lived a full rewarding career: Sinatra comes to mind, but Lucille Ball would be cool too.

  56. Sir Walter Scott and Mary Wollstonecraft on the good, the bad and the ugly of the San Domingue revolution.

  57. Such a great question, so many excellent choices, and glad to see Steve Allan’s Meeting of the Minds remembered.

    Socrates and Gandhi, the ethics of suicide and euthanasia.
    H.L.Mencken and Irving Stone, in current American politics, is it worthwhile to vote?
    Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Clements, is the experiment of the USA revealed to be a failure?
    Robert Heinlein and John W. Campbell, have we passed the golden age of humanity?
    Dorothy Parker and Phyllis Diller, the role of women in America.

  58. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien on Christianity before Tolkien’s conversion to same.

  59. Wait…or was it the other way around? Before Lewis’s conversion? I never can remember. Interesting either way! : )

  60. Jesus and Joseph Smith – on the location of the Garden of Eden, and the Big JC’s “trip” to “the Americas”. And then maybe the power of Parable in conveying Truth.

  61. We know achingly little about the lives of ordinary citizens in Rome. For example, there are zero books by women and only a few words from comic plays on the struggles of the slave in the pasture or the nameless brute in the street. In glaring contrast almost all the words have are from those who could (and I jest here but not by much) afford to “raise Armies” from funds out of their personal pocketbooks. I think we could gain a tremendous sense of the otherness of the Roman World by chatting up the Baker Eurysaces (his monument is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomb_of_Eurysaces_the_Baker) or if we could talk with the soldier who was smashed face down (all bones broken) in the streets of Herculaneum when Vesuvius blew up on August 24th, 79 AD. (http://bit.ly/Ns8mh9). I’d like to ask him about his missing front teeth over a pale of ale, I would.

    P.S. The bit.ly URL points to: http://books.google.com/books?id=ZVgQB0jDIOcC&pg=PA193&lpg=PA193&dq=soldier+at+herculaneum&source=bl&ots=-6ItvzJv-N&sig=OWeKOxvrccwT8xUr78rB9OnRdqs&hl=en#v=onepage&q=soldier%20at%20herculaneum&f=false

  62. I’m withdrawing my suggestion at 11:32 am because one of the people is still alive – my bad! (And I did read the instructions too!) OK, John Woolman and Rachel Carson on the best way to protect the environment. And Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Richard Doll, on problem-solving.

  63. Napolean Bonaparte and Adolph Hitler; topic: Hey let’s invade Russia and stay for the winter.

  64. St. Thomas Aquinas and Charles Darwin on the merits of focusing on the needs of others over self.

  65. Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte on their rises to power and prominence: How to become an emperor and have your people love you for it.

  66. French theologian John Calvin and English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, on the underlying themes of the comic strip.

  67. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Robert Goddard on the last 50 years of space exploration.

  68. Lyndon Johnson and Abraham Lincoln on when the use of military force or government intervention is necessary.
    William Shakespeare and Alfred Hitchcock on which is more important to storytelling, the word or the image.

  69. Jesus of Nazareth and Pope John Paul II on the role of human institutions in the relationship between God and the individual

  70. There’s a graduate education in this thread already. I’m impressed.
    My contribution is Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov discussing the shape of the future. If Ray Bradbury wanders by, that would be all right.

  71. Robert Heinlein and Richard Feynman on the interrelationship between science and society.
    John Lennon and Malcolm X on activism versus pacifism.
    Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton on the nature of time.
    Thomas Jefferson and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on race relations.

  72. Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill to discuss the art of communication – I just want to sit back and listen to them try to top each other with funny stories.

  73. Douglas Adams and John Scalzi on the importance of humor in science fiction. Oh, wait! You said dead people. Just use my answer tomorrow.

  74. There’s an awful lot of Oscar Wildes on the list, but here’s another
    Wilde and Andy Warhol on the nature of art, and whether one should be permitted to wear a t-shirt with obscenities on it on an airplane.

  75. I would like to see Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II discuss the sanctity of marriage, because I think irony is delicious.

  76. Talleyrand and Woodrow Wilson Topic “Is honesty desirable in politics?” or Our Late soverign Lord Henry(VIII) Tudor and Thomas Jefferson on “The correct way to handle the relationship between church and state”

  77. Darwin and George C. Williams to discuss group selection, while (reanimated) Stephen Jay Gould and (living) E. O. Wilson are ball-gagged and made forced stenographers.

    Cantor and Ramanujan discuss infinity. Not sure what would come of it – they are wildly different types of mathematicians.

    Shakespeare and Mark Twain to discuss tragic fate.

    Lincoln and Marcus Aurelius to discuss duty.

    Epicurus and Confucius to discuss a live well lived. They would probably talk past each other.

  78. Audra: How about a round table? Abigail Adams, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hatshepsut, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elizabeth I, Catherine de Medici, Catherine the Great, Margaret Sanger, Susan B. Anthony and Boudicca on women and government

    My personal amusement would be a debate between Hypatia of Alexandria and Melvil Dewey on the selection and curation of library materials.

  79. Jane Austen and George Elliot on the depiction of women in fiction aiming for realism or romantic fiction during their time and now, how it’s changed and what it signifies.

  80. Orval Faubus and all of his anti-desegregationist cronies versus the people who compelled Native American children to go to boarding schools.

    Topic: how to apologize and make amends when you realize you were dead wrong.

  81. I think I’d get too tied up in the morality of this experiment to actually decide who I’d want to reanimate. What if they’d rather not be alive again just to have it taken away in one day? If you’ve only got one day to catch up with potentially hundreds of years of civilization, do you really want to spend that just sitting in a room debating somebody? If you wanted the people to agree to the debate you might have to bring them back in some limited capacity, so they’re not aware that they’re dead and going to die again quite soon, which has morality issues of its own.

    …Yep, I’m definitely missing the point. Is this an interesting angle and valid discussion point or should I not have said anything?

  82. Hank Williams and Elvis on what they would have wanted their legacies to be
    Sun Tzu and Osama Ben Laden on how to fight an overwhelming force
    Einstein and Jefferson on the morality of womanizing

  83. Mark Twain and Dr. Seuss on the use of humor as social commentary, especially when it features or is geared toward children.

    Spartacus and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on violence vs. peaceful methodologies as the mechanism for social change.

    Dr. Marie Curie and Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin on (a) the role of women in science, (b) whether Nobel recognition makes it easier or harder to continue research in a male-dominated profession, and (c) how best to restructure the current system to encourage and support a greater influx of women into the upper levels of science.

    Maria Montessori and Horace Mann on educational styles and how early education affects the development of the electorate.

    Also, applause for pretty much every pairing and topic I’ve read about so far. I’m hoping that when John gets back and has some time, he’ll answer his own question!

  84. Sir Walter Scott and Eleanor Hibbert (pen name Jean Plaidy among others) on writing historical fiction. How true should it be?

  85. Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Wolsey debate the role of religion in government and politics and the idea of the separation of church and state.

  86. I would have Julius Caesar and Emperor Xuan meet to discuss maintaining Western and Eastern style empires (almost to acknowledge each others existence).

  87. William Hazlitt and Samuel Taylor Coleridge both c.1817 on the latters Church of England apologia and abandonment of earlier principles. Hazlitt did actually savage Coleridge in several brilliant essays at this time, the poet struggled to respond.

  88. Thomas Jefferson v. Justice Earl Warren on the intent, construction and extrapolations of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

  89. P.G. Wodehouse against Himself on whether or not he should have been a golfer or a writer.

  90. Happy: Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein on which two historical personages should have a debate, and on what topic.

    I have only gotten this far, but I think you might win.

  91. Oscar Wilde and Dorthy Parker, talking about anything, really, but if I had to nail them down, I’d like to hear them talk about the art of a well worded insult. And while I can’t find any evidence to back this up, I feel like Eleanor Roosevelt would be a delightful addition to that particular conversation.

  92. Napoleon and Hannibal on military strategy and tactics. Listen to half an hour of this and I think you’d be qualified to lead an army into battle. Listen for one hour and you’d win that battle.

    Bach and Frank Zappa on improvisation in music (finishing with the single greatest performance in music history).

  93. Oscar Wilde and Dorothy Parker, discussing the balance between humor and earnestness in art and in life. Or anything else, honestly. I’d just like to see them interact.

  94. Mine would be

    Marshal G Zhukov and Maxim Litvinov debating “how to survive working with Stalin, and prosper”

  95. Thomas Jefferson and Karl Marx on the state of the modern capitalistic democracy.

  96. Archimades and Da Vinci on whatever their little genius hearts like; though I’d be interested in Archimades’ thoughts on Da Vinci’s helicopter.

  97. [Deleted because it’s very clearly two live people. Come on, folks. The rules are pretty clear — JS]

  98. Florance Nightengale and Mother Theresa on the care and treatment of the dying and injured.

  99. What CaseyL said: Genghis and Alexander on empire, with specific addenda on infrastructure development, managing family ties, and horsemanship.

  100. Richard Feynman and Alan Turing, discussing nanotechnology. And if we’re allowed to bend the rules a bit, I’d like to have the two of them address questions posed by 3 moderators, namely K. Eric Drexler, Greg Bear, and Neal Stephenson.

  101. Lenny Bruce and George Carlin. I don’t care what they talk about. I’ll make popcorn!
    Marshall McLuhan and Hunter Thompson on media and journalism.
    (Some of the suggestions above are absolutely BRILLIANT!)

  102. Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Jefferson on hagiography, the applicability of modern interpretations of historical “direction,” and the divergence of rule vs autonomy.

  103. Lincoln v Douglas on any topic just to listen. Same for Jefferson v Adams who would always find something to disagree on. Or, going lowbrow, Gilda Radner and Phil Hartman on how to fix SNL.

  104. Charles Darwin and Pjotr Kropotkin on what drives evolution, individual or collective struggle, and whether it’s even a meaningful dichotomy.

  105. I’d bring back Buddy Rich and Art Blakey and have them debate whatever they wish
    via their drums.

  106. Episcopa (Bishop) Theodora and St. Catherine of Sienna on the role of women in the priesthood.

  107. John Kennedy Toole and Tennessee Williams on their versions of New Orleans—people, culture, history, and whatever else they had to say about the city.

  108. Marvin Hamlisch & Arnold Schoenberg: Is it possible, practical, or even desirable to both challenge an audience and cater to it?

  109. Already posted a serious one earlier, but thought of this one just to be silly:

    Abraham Lincoln and Bram Stoker on the practicalities of vampire-slaying. ; )

  110. Also: the first shaman and the last priest on the nature of divinity and the afterlife.

  111. Oh my…tough question.
    Gandhi and Andrew Jackson, on the role of colonialism/national expansion.

    Carl Sagan and Da Vinci, on…really, just about anything.

    Marie Curie and Margaret Meade on the challenges of women in science and popular culture (Sally Ride would be a good third for that).

    Henry Ford and Charles Dickens on the merits of mechanized business practice.

    Several other fun, interersting pairings have already been suggested: Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, and Mark Twain could probably pair with just about anyone and be worth the effort.

  112. Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein on which is more likely to get you laid, looks or brains?

  113. Charlie Parker and Baby Dodds, on whether Louis Armstrong or Dizzy Gillespie was a better trumpeter.

  114. Wendy Wasserstein and Aphra Behn discussing theatre.

    And how about Jonathan Larson and Cole Porter? Would love to hear any kind of discussion, especially about music and theatre together!

  115. Helen Gurley-Brown (the longstanding editor of Cosmoplitan magazine and author of “Sex and the Single Girl”, who tragically died last week) and John Calvin, on the subject of sex. I expect this would end with Calvin becoming more and more outraged until finally re-expiring in an apoplectic fit. (This would work with Helen G-B and pretty much any other old-time Bible-thumper).

    Bonus addition if we could have three people: add in Eleanor of Aquitaine!

  116. Julia Child and Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin on how to prepare a dinner party for a group of people with different palates (ie gourmands and culinary scaredy cats).

    1963 John Lennon and 1980 John Lennon discussing songwriting.

  117. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson on the nature of government: on fair taxing, equitable distribution of wealth, and more on what they meant in the constitution.

  118. Newton and Asimov on exploration of the universe, from the very small to the very large. Moderated by Stephen Colbert and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

  119. Christine de Pisan and Martin Luther on the role of women in family and in society.

  120. Machiavelli and Heinlein. They could talk about societal issues, especially those concerning the individual’s debt to his society.

  121. Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison on modern technology and where they might see it go in the future.

    Raymond Chandler and Richard S. Prather debating Serious and Comic content in detective stories.

    E.E. Smith and Robert Heinlein on super-science vs. hard science as storytelling devices

  122. Charles Dodgson and Alice Liddell on the source of inspiration and the missing diary pages. This discussion presupposes a certain postmortem omniscience and willingness to forgo Victorian conversational morality.

  123. Rex Stout and Arthur Conan Doyle on writing distinctive characters, or on how to limit the knowledge of POV characters to sustain mystery in a novel.

    (With a side topic of how best to sustain a series.)

    — Steve

  124. My answer: A generic Moravian peasant girl circa 900 AD vs. an Egyptian slave circa 2550 AD.

    Question: Who has a worse life?

    Sorry, late to the discussion.

  125. Johannes Gutenberg and Henry Ford about optimization of work processes, as well as output quality vs. production speed. Maybe Ford could convince Gutenberg that his first business plan hadn’t been completely bad (mass production of mirrors with the processes split into simple tasks).

  126. C S Lewis and Robert Heinlein on how morals impact the future of mankind

    Marilyn Monroe and Anna Nicole Smith on Sexuality vs Sensuality.

  127. Nikila Tesla and James Cash Penny on the importance of[ or lack thereof] selling jewelry to consumers. I understand that the sight of a woman wearing jewelry repulsed Tesla. Just my image of a fruitful debate. Yeah, i might have a sick sense of humor.

  128. Kassia and Hildegarde of Bingen to discuss the place of women in Christian religious music. It is unfortunately likely that they don’t have a language in common, but since this is about wishful thinking let’s have them able to speak modern english too.

    Both are women who wrote significant early Christian music, Kassia in Constantinople around 800AD and Hildegarde in Bingen around 1200AD. It is possible but unlikely that Hildegarde knew of Kassia. They were astonishingly smart women who wrote on philosophical topics as well as music and both pushed the boundaries of what they could do at the time.


    The bonus of being able to interrogate them for details of where and when they lived would be considerable.

  129. Francis of Assisi and Mitt Romney (or any top-level Republican, really) on compassion and charity.

  130. Since we’re talking about historical figures and looking backwards, it would possibly be sensible to listen to historians from ancient times. That way we get the maximum benefit of their insights and can learn things that they either didn’t write down or we lost the records. So Herodotus (Greece, 500BC) and Sima Qian (China, 150BC) would no doubt be fascinating, especially as they argued about which was the real empire and whose view of what history-the-discipline is, is more useful. I suspect they would also greatly enjoy talking to each other as they were trying to do fairly similar things in very different environments. And both would probably be very, very grumpy at later generations lack of care for important documents.

    Again, they didn’t have a language in common so let’s pretend they also speak modern english (even though the cultural assumptions embedded in the language, and the learning required to understand modern concepts would change their worldviews immeasurably. Just teaching them about the language used by modern historians would blow their minds…).

  131. I thought of another one today while I was at work:

    Molly Ivins and Dorothy Parker, on the philosophical implications of the Groucho Marx quote “I would never belong to any group that would have me as a member”.

  132. Richard Feynman and Archimedes on the nuances of pursuing and teaching natural studies.

  133. Groucho Marx and George Carlin on comedy (can I add Gilda Radner so it’s not a complete sausage party?)

  134. As much as I’d like to work Feynman in since he is the person I’d most like to have a conversation with, given current events I’ll go with Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis on uniting a divided nation.

  135. Will Rogers and Molly Ivins on politics (where we would all be ROTFLMAO)
    Stan Rogers and Kate Bush on folk singing (hopefully with examples)
    Mr. Rogers and Dr. Seuss on teaching children empathy and ethics
    (sorry, I was into the second pair when I realized I had a recurring theme going…)

  136. Jim Morrison and Amy Winehouse on the role alcoholism plays in musical creativity.

  137. Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln on US federalism and the pros/cons of a powerful executive branch.

  138. Thomas Jefferson and Antonin Scalia on the “originalist” interpretation of the US Constitution.

    Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet on the required nature of the noir hero.

    Susan B Anthony and Sally Ride on women’s role in society.

    Charles Schultz and Bill Waterson on cartoon humor for adults and what is the difference between what is suitable for adults and what is suitable for children.

    Bowdler and Sendack on the value of (or lack there of) of censorship for childrens literature.

  139. Here is an addendum to what I wrote earlier. Da Vinci and Monet: is Warhol’s “Soup Cans” art?

    Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. Music, of course. That would probably be cool.

  140. Pope Celestine V (aka Peter Morrone), and King Henry VIII, to discuss the appropriate handling of ecclesiastical authority vs. temporal politics.

  141. Ingrid Bergman and Greta Garbo on creating a mystique and European vs. American cinema
    Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley on the nature of cool
    Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte on the modern novel

  142. Selfishly: My grandfather, Ernest J. Strain Sr. and great-grandfather, Leo Strain, just talking about their lives, how they grew up, and how they lived.

  143. William Tecumseh Sherman and Abraham Lincoln on the desirability of harsh war and generous peace.

  144. Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison on creativity, the inventor as entrepreneur, and the modern economy

  145. I’m pretty sure I mean Coventry.
    Churchill and Hitler. What would you do to save a war?

    Since this is scientifiction we can assume that the magic
    (or very advanced tech) what could bring ‘um back to life
    will also magically give ’em knowledge and languages.

  146. Mark Twain and St. Francis, on humanism with and without religion. (Extra bonus points if St. Francis does it all with a bird on his head!)

  147. Bill Shakespeare and David Eddings on building a great story and characters out of archetypal plots and cliches.

  148. Mark Twain versus George Carlin on the the intricacies of the English language.
    Juvenal and Persius on modern satirists.
    Sun Tsu against Aeneas Tacticus on the use of disinformation in modern political campaigns.

  149. Roger Zelazny and Robert Jordan on pacing and character development, as well as proper length of a novel

  150. Socrates and Jules Verne discussing Humanity’s potential and whether they are living up to it.

  151. Ovid and Shakespeare. I wouldn’t suggest a topic so much as ask them to kick back and brainstorm ideas. I’d keep a very large notebook handy.

  152. My wife just suggested Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy debating the Vietnam War.

    My suggestion, Abraham Lincoln and Confucius debating the importance of modern governments to their societies.

  153. John Calvin vs Germaine Greer on the role of women (admittedly the main attraction of this one is the headsplosions)
    Yeshua bin Yosef vs Alexander of Macedon on being the son of god.
    A velociraptor vs a dodo on species extinction (assuming that the resurrection machine also grants them human-like intelligence and a common language).
    Ghandi vs Ghengis on “what is best in life?”
    Nietzsche vs John Calvin on free will vs. divine will.
    Mad Jack Churchill vs Sir Isaac Brock on being a badass.

  154. @ Fletcher: Awesome call on bringing in Jack Churchill. The guy was unbelievable. Forget having him argue with someone, I want to talk to him myself.

  155. @ Scott: Yeah, I had trouble finding an appropriate badass to pair him with; Sir Isaac Brock is pretty crazy fearless, but I’m sure someone could name a more badass badass. Chuck Norris doesn’t count on account of being a) alive and b) a washed-up hasbeen whose reputation is overinflated by Internet fanboys.

  156. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson and the significance, importance, and meaning of the Bill of Rights.

  157. Or, apropos of the NEXT post, Neil Armstrong and Steve Jobs on which was the bigger game changer in modern society: going to the moon, or cell phones.

  158. Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway: define Great American Novel

    Alan Turing and Von Neumann: What will the post-singularity world look like?

  159. 1) Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton and Gertrude Bell on the Middle East (to be attended by Presidents Obama and Putin, Prime Ministers Cameron and Netanyahu, and any other heads of state who care to attend).

    2) (Bending the rules) Sir Isaac Newton, Richard Feynman, and Stephen Hawking on physics.

    3) Samuel Pepys and Mark Twain on anything they want to talk about. And I’d really like to be invited to the H.L. Mencken/Hunter S. Thompson dinner.

  160. Thoreau & Wittgenstein on any of the following:
    The self and society. Corporal punishment in primary education. Engineering & design.

    @htom – “OK, who died that I thought was Hal Holbrook?”

    Mark Felt?

  161. Kurt Vonnegut and Mark Twain, on the Afterlife. The irony would have amused both of them to no end. Plus, I think Vonnegut would really have appreciated being able to meet Mr. Clemens.

  162. Cleopatra and Catherine the Great on women and power.

    Will Rogers and Oscar Wilde on wit.

  163. 1. King Louis XIV and Socrates on politics

    2. Robert Heinlein ca. 1928 and Robert Heinlein ca. 1965 on the proper role of government

  164. Jeremiah (author of Lamentations) and Jesus on “modern Israel: Yahweh’s reward or Allah’s punishment?”. Jeremiah was a big fan of the “god is punishing us for being sinful” approach to disaster, while Jesus is more into peace, love and mung beans. Both are influential prophets of all the Abrahamic religions that followed them.

    I like the idea of putting Jesus in the position of being both the new prophet who overwrote chunks on the old religion, and the old prophet being overwritten by the new one (Mohammed), while in theory having no real horse in the race (jews vs islamists). Hearing Jeremiah on the role of institutionalised religion would be interesting (he was one of the early Abrahamic enthusiasts for the primacy of an individual relationship with god) and what he has to say on the idea of using military force to contest god’s will would be interesting.

    (note that the above is written as though I accept the existence and claimed actions of two possibly fictional characters as real when that’s not the case. But putting in all the caveats made the paragraph three times as long and even more unreadable)

  165. Samuel Johnson and William Wordsworth on the nature and function of literature, poetry, and criticism. The Neo-Classic sensibility vs. The Romantic sensibility… you know, the kind of thing that’s still going on today.

  166. The one thought that seems to be missing from many of the posts is the idea of a ‘debate’. To me, that suggests two individuals who hold opposing (or at least perpendicular) views. While I have no doubt that many fascinating discussions would result from these talks (and I would love to attend any of them), I find myself thinking of something like:

    J.S. Bach (with his emphasis on formality) and W.A. Mozart (a freer musical spirit) debating the merits of the Black Eyed Peas
    L. Olivier (Have you ever tried acting, dear boy?) vs M. Brando (method man) debating ‘reality’ television performers

    though I find myself somewhat stymied because virtually all of the historical personages I’d be interested in seeing reanimated have generally similar viewpoints.

  167. The wealthiest person and the smartest person of the year 2200 AD* on what could’ve been done better and how in the 21st century.

    * I hasten to point out that neither are likely alive right now and both will almost certainly make it into the history books.

  168. Hendrick Van Loon and Steve Allen, on which of them did a better job with this topic.
    (Suggested point of debate: Why do all the famous women of history look like Jayne Meadows?)

  169. Lucille Ball, Phyllis Diller, Steve Allen, Groucho Marx, Bob Hope, George Carlin, John Belushi, Milton Berle, George Burns, Graham Chapman, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore on Comedy – to be moderated & guided by Johnny Carson with occasional laughter and comments from Ed McMahon.

    I’ve been around professional funny people when they start talking comedy – they cannot not riffing & make jokes. This would be true ROFLMAO material, as well as food for thought on the nature of what is funny & why.

    I totally love this thread – thank you so much John for the carry-in feast for thought. I totally heart with a hearty heartness TheMadLibrarian’s epic suggestion, & would pay good money to listen & take notes at ULTRAGOTHA’s talk between the two 9th century ladies, being a historical textile geek myownself.

  170. Freud and Rousseau on human nature.
    Karl Marx and Martin Luther King Jr on the place of religion in oppression. (I would pay so much money to see that one.)

  171. So much awesomeness: I vote Christopher Hitchens and Mark Twain, discussing the modern political landscape and whether or not it is more toxic than that of years past.

    And by the way, when you think someone is dead, but they are still alive, that’s a phenomenon called “premorse”.

  172. Bert Jansch, Davy Graham, John Martyn, Syd Barrett, Alexis Korner, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny, Jackson C. Frank on 1960’s London, in particular the Soho after hours folk/blues/jazz/psychedelia scenes. Hosted by John Peel, and scheduled to run well into the night.

  173. Sir Walter Scott and Virginia Woolf discussing how factually true something has to be to feel emotionally true.

  174. Maximilien Robespierre v. Augustine of Hippo,
    “Forming the Perfect Society”

  175. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison on the part religion should play in government (including the wisdom, or lack thereof, of legislating biblical law)

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