Matthew Meyer

Date of Award


First Advisor

Pat Dragon

Second Advisor

Stuart Levine

Third Advisor

John Musall


In modern mathematics, there exists the notion of a "formal proof," the idea that propositions can only be reliably determined as true or false by way of a rigorous mathematical model of symbols. This allows mathematics to make what are known as formal systems, where mathematics only derives new information using theorems that are completely provable in the system. However, by the incompleteness theorems of Kurt Godel, we know that formal systems are not as perfect as they are treated to be, drawing into question the notion of what a "formal system" is. Having questioned the mathematical formal system, we see that the real "formal system" exists in other fields of thought. Two unanticipated examples of this existence - Theatre of the Absurd and the psychology of compliance - are described here, in attempt to show structural and logical similarities between all three. When exploring Theatre of the Absurd and its subset Parabolic Theatre, we see that separating the information that exists inside of the play script and regarding it as a formal system makes the parables of Michael Bennett's Parabolic Theatre walk a similar line as Godel's incompleteness theorems, simultaneously speaking inside (to the play) but also outside (to the audience). Through observing psychology of compliance it becomes clear that use of this formal deduction is not always optimal, as empirical interpretations of Stanley Milgram's obedience results focus too much on being logical deductions that they ignore the most basic structures of a formal system - the limits of the "inside" of the system. Together, the explorations of these three different fields allows for the conclusion that previously disjointed aspects of academia, while still distinct in nature, share common ground where the obtaining of new information is done similarly. This realization does not immediately impact how each of the fields (mathematics, theatre, or psychology) exist individually, but does create a bridge where they can interact in an intellectual way.

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