Updated: Feb 18, 2021
No computer has ever been designed that is ever aware of what it's doing; but most of the time, we aren't either. - Marvin Minsky
In season 3 episode 3 of the TV show Fargo, “The Law of Non-Contradiction,” Gloria Burgle goes in search of answers about the mysterious past of her stepfather, Ennis Stussy. In a previous life, he was a science fiction author named Thaddeus Mobley, and Gloria starts to read one of his books called The Planet Wyh.
Interestingly, in the fictitious story, The Planet Wyh, a robot and a man crash on a planet. The man is dying and tells the robot, MNSKY, to contact their home world to report that it wasn’t all for nothing. MNSKY, whose programming was never completed, can only say “I can help.” Yet, MNSKY cannot help the dying man and is programmed only to observe and record. This is only one of many contradictions and ambiguities in this episode and the entire season.
MNSKY thus wanders around the planet, searching for meaning, while civilizations rise and fall, hope turns to despair, and 2.8 million years pass. The android ponders, “From small beginnings, big things arise” while watches life-forms living and dying in “numbers too large to calculate.” 2.8 million years later, beings from outer space come down to the planet and for some reason kill everyone. The beings take MNSKY back to their ship and honor him for his service—but request that he shut himself down. MNSKY complies by opening his head and turning himself off. Before he does so, the beings note that he is likely the oldest sentient being in the universe, and that his data could help them decode the fabric of the universe.
Back to reality, Gloria finds a “useless” box in her room that parallels Minsky’s switch.
Naturally, like the useless box, MNSKY has a function but not a purpose. MNSKY is really a tribute to Marvin Minsky who was well-known at MIT for creating many different “useless” machines. About the useless box, Arthur C. Clarke once wrote, “There is something unspeakably sinister about a machine that does nothing—absolutely nothing—except switch itself off.” People, take note.
It is apparent that the episode and the entire season is telling us that we all live in states of apparent contradiction. Ennis was both an author and not an author. MNSKY says he can help, but he cannot—yet, in the end, he does. Gloria hears a story about a married couple, yet they are not married. Gloria is still the police chief, yet she is not. The series ends on a contradiction without resolution.
The Law of Non-Contradiction is one of three classic laws of thought. It essentially states that “A cannot be both A (what it is) and non-A (what it is not) at the same time and in the same relationship.” Yet, we find these logical contradictions throughout life. Many of us live these contractions without a second thought.