Is There Cake?
It is said that “there is no cake,” that, “the cake is a lie,” but this isn’t true. The cake you were promised may be a lie, but there is cake. Sweet delicious cake. You are almost there, keep going.*
TIP: This is a page about cake metaphors including the famous Portal “cake” meme (where the promise of cake was used to push the game’s heroine toward an elusive goal, and to make fun of her in the process; see “the plot of Portal“). Portal aside, this page is also about existential journeys, paradoxes, and cake metaphors related to Kafka, Keynes, Marie Antoinette, Gödel, and other famous people who have mentioned cake (or I have attributed cake to). I sometimes tell people “there is cake”, and thus have created this page to explain the joke (and present a list of cake quotes). That may seem pointless, but keep reading, there is cake!**
“A great empire, like a great cake, is most easily diminished at the edges.” – Benjamin Franklin
What makes something “Kafkaesque”? – Noah Tavlin. The search for cake (AKA meaning) in life can be rather Kafkaesque. When people say Kafkaesque they mean, loosely: a bureaucratic, confusing, and nightmarish grind toward an unclear and almost certainly unattainable goal, and then pushing on with maddening fervor toward that goal despite the absurdity of the situation. In other words, the maddening journey of looking for essentialism in “bad faith” in an existential world. So the Cake in Portal, and in Kafka’s works (including my personal favorite the Castle), are loose metaphors for searching for meaning in something meaningless and being motivated toward an elusive and likely unobtainable goal. Sort of like what happens in Portal when the heroine is coaxed through her rather pointless journey with the promise of cake. Read about Franz Kafka’s search for cake..
The average college kid idealistically wishes everybody could have ice cream and cake for every meal. But as he gets older and gives more thought to his and his fellow man’s responsibilities, he finds that it can’t work out that way—that some people just won’t carry their load. – John “the Duke” Wayne
LITERATURE: Franz Kafka. A video on Kafka himself to pair with the above video.
In the quote above Keynes is referring to, “The immense accumulations of fixed capital” built up by the “new rich” during the half century before the war (WWI). Keynes compared the huge capital investment of this golden era to a “cake,” noting how “vital” it was that the cake “never be consumed;” but continue to “grow”. In words, “cake drives capitalism in a regulated free-market”, “the carrot on a stick isn’t meant to be eaten (hoarded)”…. As it isn’t from the benevolence of the butcher that we get our meal, it is simply the fact that meat spoils and money is more economically useful than rotten meat (thus he participates in the market). Musing on Keynes, we have to ask ourselves, what are consequences of taking the cake of the post-WWI German people, leaving them with little but crumbs? Some might say the answer is underlying WWII. What happens to the velocity of money when people hoard more cake than they can eat? Some might say wealth inequality in its most persistent and problematic form.
“Finally I recalled the stopgap solution of a great princess who was told that the peasants had no bread, and who responded: Qu’ils mangent de la brioche Let them eat brioche.” – Rousseau from his Confessions (Amazon). Confessions is a somewhat fabricated autobiography published in 1782, a decade before Marie-Antoinette was executed. It was written in 1760’s when Antoinette was a little girl and not even yet a Princess… oops!
At some point around 1789 (the year of the French Revolution), when being told that her French subjects had no bread, Marie-Antoinette (bride of France’s King Louis XVI) supposedly suggested “they eat cake” (er, um, brioche, so technically expensive, funny-shaped, yellow, eggy buns… a type of pastry). Although in retrospect it is clear that the sheltered, but likely wiser than to say something like that, Marie Antoinette would have been simply suggesting they give away the extra baked-goods at the castle, the sentiment can be summed up as her missing of the point that the people were starving due to poverty and the high price of bread, and not starving due to a lack of cake. The fact that we can prove she never said that aside, the sentiment was, according to tales, received poorly none-the-less by the pre-Revolution French. While this cake story is most certainly a myth, likely invented (AKA “romanticized”) by Rousseau, the results for Louis, Marie, and about 40,000 others were very real. In August of 1789 The Declaration of the rights of Man and of the Citizen was signed and on 16 October 1793 Marie-Antoinette was sent to the guillotine marking the start of the Reign of Terror, proving once again, “people really dislike it when you don’t share your cake”… and sometimes even if you do. (See the birth of liberalism).
“If you’re trying to create a company, it’s like baking a cake. You have to have all the ingredients in the right proportion.” – Elon Musk
“All the world is birthday cake, so take a piece, but not too much.” – George Harrison
Humor(?) Aside, the Cake Has Deeper Meaning – “The Cake is a Lie, and the Liar Paradox”
As noted above, this page is meant to be humorous, using the cake meme from the video game Portal as a metaphor for the search for the meaning of life, and comparing that to Franz Kafka’s classic The Castle and other interesting historical quotes, works, and events, which deals with similar themes.
With this in mind, there is also an other educational aspect to this page (keeping with the theme of the site). The image of cake below is an example of the liar’s paradox; it is a cake that claims, “the cake is a lie.” Another example of the liar paradox is the following sentence: “this sentence is a lie.”
This is a cake that says there is no cake. It’s an example of the liar paradox and portal meme. Source: Kathleen Franklin via flickr.com
The following video explains the liar paradox and shows how to resolve the contradiction with logic (because ultimately everything is either true or not true, even if we can’t prove it).
For something deeper, see our page on Gödel’s proofs for the liar paradox, or for something less math-y, read the full-text online version of Franz Kafka’s the Castle in the link above. Or buy the Castle (Amazon Affiliate link) There is Cake!***
How to Resolve the Liar’s Paradox.
“Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain.” – Charlie Chaplin (This is true in ways, smiling and laughing really do have health benefits)
Though experiment: Is there a recipe for every conceivable chocolate cake? Answer that question and you are well on your way to understanding Gödel. See Godel: A Life of Logic, the Mind, and Mathematics. Chapter 2. (Amazon) or read a sample on Google Books.