Isaac Asimov answered this question rather neatly, I thought. I can't remember in which of his many books I read it (it was a long time ago), but the gist of his argument was this: A universe in which there exists such a thing as an irresistible force is, by definition, a universe which cannot also contain an immovable object. And a universe which contains an immovable object cannot, by definition, also contain an irresistible force. So the question is essentially meaningless: either the force is irresistible or the object is immovable, but not both.

This was my first introduction to philosophy. It was also my first introduction to the notion that ideas which are actually incoherent, when analysed, can nevertheless be extremely useful metaphors. I can think of no better way to describe some encounters between two-year-olds and their mothers, for example.

The ancient Greeks had a neat myth dealing once and for all with the irritating semantic paradoxes this type of question presents:

After raping Europa, Zeus left her with a keepsake: the magical hound Laelaps, who was able to catch anything he was set on. Laelaps passed to Europa's son king Minos, and thence to Procris and her husband Cephalus, who lent it to Hercules' stepfather Amphitryon, who proceeded to do something exceedingly stupid.

He set the dog on the trail of the Teumessian Vixen which was at that time plaguing the vicinity of Thebes. The funny thing about this fox is that Hera had decreed that it could never be caught. Cephalus thought that he had located a loophole.

However, the gods will go to exorbitant measures to avoid mere mortals messing with their poorly-conceived absolute and contradictory creations. Before the argument was solved, Zeus stepped in just as Laelaps was about to bite down on the fox's neck and got Hephaestus to turn them both to stone. One myth has this explaining the presence of the unusually life-like statue of a dog found in the Parthenon at Athens' Acropolis, but more traditionally Zeus, out of some sense of responsibility for the creation of the innocent mutt, brought him into heaven and placed him among the skies as Canis Major, the big dog.

The correct set-up would be "What would happen if an immovable object were confronted with an unstoppable force." We will have to further define out unstoppable force as having infinite momemtum (right?) and the immovable object having infinite inertia (right.) Therefore, our unstoppable force would have an infinite energy (measure this in joules/calories/whatever) and the unstoppable force would be able to absorb infinite energy.

There would be an endless transfer of energy.

The two would appear as if they are resting, but are actually transferring their infinite energies from one to the other. Equilibrium or a relation would never be establieshed since we're dealing in the infinite regarding energy.

Sad, but true
(In the Marvel Universe)

One point that has failed to emerge is where exactly we are going to acquire these unstoppable and immovable objects. Conventional physics seems to imply that all things are both moveable and stoppable. Perhaps a black hole is very nearly immovable, but there is an entirely different set of physics rules for them (or at least their event horizons, but this is not a discussion on black holes, at any rate). What would be ideal would be objects large enough to see, but not so huge that you cannot see them all at once from a short distance. To get to my point a little quicker, two individuals gifted with super powers concerning their inertia would be perfect.

Juggernaut, or as he is aptly called, The Unstoppable Juggernaut, cannot be hindered by any means. He can crash right through anything he chooses, be it vegetable, mineral, animal or anything else you care to throw in his way.

The Blob, aka The Immovable Blob, can prevent himself from being moved an inch by simply willing himself not to. He is also one of the few members of the Marvel universe who is male, yet has no bulging muscles. He’s a big fat guy, in short. But, we are shopping for immovable, not abdominals on which to grate cheese.

With these two we could test all our unstoppable versus immovable theories. Simply have Blob brace himself and have Juggernaut charge at him. I suspect that upon colliding, aside from most likely triggering the kind of quantum event that rips the universe into five or six newer and weirder ones, the Blob and Juggernaut would cancel each other out. And, since we are in the Marvel universe here, we would after a few panels of some very weird shit indeed, be witness to the birth of a brand new superhero…one that I like to think would be called Blubberjuggs. We can scarcely dare to imagine what his (or, hopefully, her) powers would be, but it is a safe bet that Blubberjuggs would be an entity that is constantly in motion, while at the same time not really going anywhere. Use your twisted imagination.

The only issue with using these super heroes to test the immovable versus unstoppable thingy is that they turn their abilities on or off by choice. They might simply think better of slamming into one another at the last second, and the Blob might allow himself to be moved, or Juggernaut might allow himself to stop. The best way to avoid this would be to get them really mad at one another, or better yet, to rip off Juggernaut's helmet and have his psychically gifted brother Charles Xavier control both him and the Blob, and force them to crash into each other with powers in full effect.

A side note
I am informed that on one occasion, within the panels of a comic, this actually occurred, Juggernaut did indeed crash into the Blob, with both powers in full effect. Apparently the only end result was that a large chunk of pavement and ground, namely the chunk directly below the Blob, was uprooted. I choose to believe the Blubberjuggs version, personally, as it seems a lot more fun than merely ripping up the street a bit.

The unstoppable force has never been challenged. It has no purpose, no reason for existence until it encounters the immovable object. The same is true of the immovable object. It has never been challenged or had a reason for existence until it encounters the unstoppable force.

Both the unstoppable force and the immovable object have a desire to be true to their nature. They do not know challenge, so they will by nature seek to fulfill their empty purposes. Yet, they will remain in balance, because otherwise neither will be able to fulfill their purpose. To be unstoppable. To be immovable.

From this initial struggle develops mutual respect and an attraction. They will seek to understand each other, at first under the guise of overcoming the other's power. As that respect grows into understanding and eventually love, the natural desire will be to acquiesce to the other in order to demostrate the level of respect and admiration they have for each other and their purpose. Love, at its highest level, takes on the nature of sacrifice. Of giving everything one is capable of giving. The focus shifts from the lower, animal tendency to focus on one's desires and ambitions to helping the other fulfill theirs.

Unless they remain in balance, one would by definition be destroyed by the "surrender" of the other. So, they must acqueisce at the same time. Because they are perfectly matched, the yin to the other's yang, they would not allow the other to destroy itself, which would happen if one acquiesced before the other.

In order to give what is needed by the immovable object, the unstoppable force will come to rest. The immovable object would allow itself to be moved. In doing so simulataneously, the natures of the force and the object are changed, reflected by the needs of the other.

In allowing themselves to be changed by trusting and respecting each other, the unstoppable force and the immovable object will grow and become more than their original purpose granted. They come to realize that being unstoppable or immovable means nothing. They grow, evolve and become something greater than what they were by learning from and teaching each other.

Some people are unstoppable forces. They will keep going, unchecked and defying any and all who might try to stand in their way. Other people are immovable objects, refusing to change, refusing to grow, adapt or evolve. Sometimes they need to challenge each other, to learn respect and love for one another before they can become more than what they were. An unstoppable force has no real purpose outside of maintaining its perceived sense of power. An immovable object had the same problem.

If they do not allow the change, then they have only arrogance and ego to carry them. If that is all they have, then they are little more than the lifeless concepts you originally considered them to be.

What would happen if an immovable object were confronted with an unstoppable force?

TO PARAPHRASE THE NODE TITLE:

When an irresistible force such as you,
Meets an old immovable object like me,
You can bet, as sure as you li-i-i-ive;
Somethin's gotta give
Somethin's gotta give
Somethin's gotta give

- Lyrics as delivered by Ella Fitzgerald

Something's Gotta Give (1955)

Music and Lyrics by Johnny Mercer

(a.k.a. "Immer Noch Einmal")

From the 1955 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture Daddy Long Legs featuring Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron


When a fan of the Great American Songbook spots a nodeshell with a title like this, it's kinda like when ornithologists stop their car on the side of a precarious ridge or busy highway, whip out their telephoto lenses, and capture the elusive "Yellow-Throated-Thrusted-Throttling-Thicket-Thrush." One just can't resist.

However, how close, and how relevant are the nodeshell title and the subject of this writeup? Only popularity will out.

Now, this writeup will not deal with Johnny Mercer. Suffice it to say that Mercer had (and now the Georgia State University Library, to which he left his papers, recordings, etc.) has the habit of crediting Mercer alone as "composer" to many, many fabulous songs even though, in fact, he was only the lyricist. That's at least confusing and at worst, well, cheating; not giving credit where credit's due. Suffice it to say that this is not an objective writeup.

Enough chit-chat. On to the song in question:

Although sung in the 1955 movie by Fred Astaire (dubbed - 'cause during the song he was dancing up a storm with Leslie Caron) the lyric "Somethin's gotta give" said three times fast; literally, were too much for Astaire, not to malign his singing. This Mercer tune sang out its siren song to every jazz singer who heard it. Many purists argue that Ella "owns" this song, as a popular single and eventually as part of her immense Songbook oeuvre.

Among the other interesting popular and jazz artists who've grappled with this swinging, lyrically exciting bagatelle are (a selected listing in alphabetical order):

Rosemary Clooney
Sammy Davis, Jr.
Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme
Jack Jones (ecch!)
Dame Cleo Laine
Buddy Greco
(The composer himself)
Frank Sinatra
Frank Stallone (again - ecch!)
Mel Torme and
Dinah Washington

The cool thing about this type of clashing of seeming celestial proportions (or something in a particle accelerator or a nuclear reactor or black hole as so many E2 writers are wont to relate to) is that the result is delightful at least, and erotically stimulating at best:

When an irrepressible smile such as yours
Warms an old implacable heart such as mine
Don't say no, because I insist
Somewhere, somehow, someone's gonna be kissed

HAVE I REACHED MY 250 WORDS OF COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL YET?

Fight fight fight (fight fight) it with all of your might
Chances are that some heavenly star-spangled night
We'll find out just as sure as we live
Somethin's gotta give
Somethin's gotta give
Somethin's gotta give

In closing, advice to the novice listener are to hear Torme swing it really, really easy first; then Sinatra makes love to the tune (to a nice arrangement). But save the piece de resistance (pun intended) for last. Select a swingin' Ella Fitzgerald cut and dance the night away (hopefully not thinking about particle accelerators, black holes, etc.).

SOURCES:

  • The Georgia State University Library: http://www.library.gsu.edu/spcoll/mercer/songs.asp?action=info&ID=849 (accessed 11/23/06)
  • The inimitable IMDB: www.imdb.com (accessed 11/23/06)
  • The ASCAP ACE search page: www.ascap.com/ace/ (accessed 11/23/06)
  • The writer's familiarity with the composer.
     

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