Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Mathematics is the abstract study of topics encompassing quantity, structure, space, change, and others. Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through space and time, along with related concepts such as energy and force. They do this using mathematics. Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. That is, they study a subset of physics, using a subset of physics. Biology is the subset of chemistry that is concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy. Psychology is the study of mental functions and behaviors, why living things do what they do individually, which makes it a subset of Biology. Sociology is the study of society, or, the study of groups of people and their interactions, which sounds an awful lot like taking the skills of psychology and applying them to a large group of people.
Now, mathematics has the classifications Pure mathematics (the maths you learned in school, and the subject of the field of maths,) and Applied mathematics (physics, chem, and so on.) Taking this to its logical extreme, the comic arranges the six scientific fields according to the Hierarchy of science, represented by a person on a chart of purity, saying that a field is 'more pure', than the fields depending on it. This is a topic often used in jokes between scientists of various fields as to who is more important. The physicist, Cueball, of which everyone else's work is based upon, feels that he is at the top... but is ultimately upstaged by the mathematician, Blondie, whose field is so pure that ultimately everything else could be seen as derived from it. After all, physics could not exist without math, thus ultimately everything can be expressed as a mathematical equation. Thus, the mathematician snobbishly says that she didn't even see any of the other fields standing so far over to the left on the graph. Alternatively she is not snobby - she is just so far detached from the real world - that she doesn't even understand that there could be a comparison between her field and other fields. That is if she even knows about these other fields (what are you doing over there...)
The title text points out that math all by itself is not connected to the real world and is only done for your own pleasure. Physics involves interactions with other objects and can create a result, but only by applying mathematics to the real world. This leads to a comparison between sex (physics) and masturbation (mathematics), implying that physics is applying mathematics, just like people having sex likely rely on experiences they have had while masturbating, i.e. sex as applied masturbation. (See also the title text of 1158: Rubber Sheet.) This also gives a new meaning to the physicist comment that it is nice to be on top!
In the main comic Randall clearly ranked mathematicians higher than physicist, but in the title text he turns this around, and notices that the physicist would then notices that mathematics is very pure, but believes that it is not very interesting without something real to apply it to.
Blondie appearing as the mathematician could mean she is supposed to represent Miss Lenhart, but since Lenhart is defined as a teacher, which she can not clearly be said to be here, it is uncertain.
- [Six characters are standing on a line with small ticks under each person. Above the two persons most central in the comic is an arrow pointing right. There are labels both above and below the arrow. Beneath each tick is a label. All the labels are listed here in order]
- Fields arranged by purity
- More pure
- [Above each of the six tick there is a person. The last person to the right is the mathematician, she stands at the far right edge of the comic, with much further distance between her and the second last person going right. The first four spaces between the first five persons are of equal distance. Except for the least pure sociologist they all say something addressed to the less pure person(s) on their left. The first mute person above the Sociologists tick is Megan. The second person above the Psychologists tick is a bald man with glasses and goatee beard holding a book under one arm. The third person above the Biologists tick is a Cueball-like guy with a squirming octopus in his hand. The fourth person above the Chemists tick is Ponytail holding up a test tube with bubbles coming out of the top. The fifth person above the Physicists tick is Cueball standing with his hands in his sides. Farthest out the final and sixth person above the Mathematicians tick is Blondie. She waves to the other five.]
- Psychologist: Sociology is just applied psychology.
- Biologist: Psychology is just applied biology.
- Chemist: Biology is just applied chemistry
- Physicist: Which is just applied physics. It's nice to be on top.
- Mathematician: Oh, hey, I didn't see you guys all the way over there.
add a comment! ⋅ add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ refresh comments!
See Comte's hierarchy of the sciences from his law of three stages: Mathematics; Astronomy; Physics; Chemistry; Biology; Psychology; Sociology. --22.214.171.124 07:20, 3 December 2012 (UTC)
In addition to Comte, Randall's tweaking P.W. Anderson's 1972 article "More Is Different." Anderson gives a similar list and then says "But this hierarchy does not imply that science X is "just applied Y*" 126.96.36.199 22:47, 2 January 2014 (UTC)
Shame it leaves out Engineering running parellel to all of them - maybe Engineering is just too busy getting shit done? -- 188.8.131.52 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- What can we learn from this? - Actually as an Engineer I have a different view point to 184.108.40.206. We are implementers of original ideas and a few of us are lucky to be original idea generators. As a successful full time Engineer I still find time to be a philosopher and aspiring teacher (who simply didn't want to be poor, which is hard to do when specializing in the other two professions). How ever I do keep asking myself often who wrote the laws that mathematicians and theoretical scientists keep re-discovering for us... - E-inspired (talk) 17:04, 28 February 2013 (UTC)
"More is Different", written by Nobel laureate P.W. Anderson, is an insightful critique of constructivism. Quote:
But this hierarchy does not imply that science X is "just applied Y." At each stage entirely new laws, concepts, and generalizations are necessary, requiring inspiration and creativity to just as great a degree as in the previous one.
Allenz (talk) 02:20, 7 August 2013 (UTC)
This one resonated around the Internet quite a bit more than average, and deservedly so. I'd think it'd be almost as far-reaching as the grownups one. I did wonder, after I saw this, how one would take into account things like linguistics, logic, and philosophy. Then I read Gödel, Escher, Bach and returned to normal. --Quicksilver (talk) 03:58, 21 August 2013 (UTC)
Could one argue that Mathematics is applied Philosophy? NikoNarf (talk) 15:27, 14 November 2013 (UTC)
- Physics and mathematics
Physics, chemistry, biology, earth science,... are science on how things work. Mathematics and philosophy are science on how things can be predicted to work. 220.127.116.11 10:08, 22 November 2013 (UTC)
A friend of mine compared the math-physics relationship to linguist-regular person. A linguist researches all the little details in a language that a normal person merely uses in his everyday life without giving the language itself much thought.18.104.22.168 08:09, 24 January 2014 (UTC)
Before we get into an edit war here, I'd just like to say that "physics is the real joy in the world" would make absolutely no sense to me if I was not a native English speaker or I simply wasn't getting the comic's point in the first place. Not only does it have shades of grammatical incorrectness, it does absolutely nothing to actually explain how mathematics and physics can be compared to sex and masturbation. Thus I've changed the title text around to a compromise between my edit and what it was before. I hope this is more acceptable. Jetman123 (talk) 13:06, 10 March 2014 (UTC)
- I'm still not happy with the title text explain:
- The explain implies that masturbation "is all just in your head" and not "involves interactions with real objects". Isn't a vagina/penis also a real object?
- My last edit on this wasn't perfect as well, so it still needs an enhancement. The joke is more like this: Math/maturbation gives only satisfaction to the subject acting on this — Physics/sex are related to the real world (applied science/babies). And this is surely exaggerated by Randall because physics couldn't exist without mathematics — those faculties just joking about each other. --Dgbrt (talk) 20:13, 10 March 2014 (UTC)
Some experts say the universe is a computer. Some other experts say all computers can be hacked. If both groups are right, then it follows that physics is one stack-overflow exploit away from being reduced to applied computer science. Promethean (talk) 23:48, 14 April 2014 (UTC)
From: The psychology of the pure mathematician
- "On the other hand, physicists like to say physics is to math as sex is to masturbation."
- Are physicists born with particles- or are they implanted because they are born without balls?
- Would a mathematician have much better analogies than orgasms?
I wouldn't know.
- Math is to physics as,
- drugs are to prostitutes,
- green eggs are to ham,
- quod erat demonstrandum is to cogito ergo sum,
- masterbating is to shakespearing,
- coffee is to sugar,
- Spock is to House,
- category theory is to Kama Sutra,
- Cicero is to Caesar.
Sorry physics, but it seems to me that your particle accelerators are gluttonously huge scientifically unnecessary and totally useless particle-crunchers, functionally comparable to fastest-known super-computer designs for discovering new large prime numbers. I wonder if physicists are actually the heaviest consumers of funding that would otherwise be available to support mathematicians, who are obviously the lightest consumers of research funding and also the most productive of new discoveries. Mathematicians can actually tell the difference between an arbitrary mathematical information computational process, and an orgy of man-boy physicists playing with their tiny balls in a spaceship-submarine with a warp-core that could give anyone an involuntary geek-gasm easily shrinking physics to the size of sex. QED.
Thanks for the joke, any offense taken it was not my intention to return. I just felt the need to point out that, although I agree that physics is a respectable second-best, sexy is a long way from first.
Nafindix 22.214.171.124 06:02, 20 May 2014 (UTC)
Random side note: One could argue that mathematics is applied philosophy (if we take philosophy as a way to create an understanding of the world), and that philosophy (as a product of human societies) is applied sociology. It's a weak argument, but the circular-ness is appealing. 126.96.36.199 15:41, 14 March 2016 (UTC)
- Equivocation!--Troy0 (talk) 06:54, 24 July 2016 (UTC)
Last night, I passed around my phone in a discussion group, and it showed the philosopher both on the left, and again WAY OVER on the right, with a "Whoa!" This morning, it is back to how it is presented above. Randall, are you messing with me? Knechod (talk) 17:28, 31 August 2017 (UTC)