Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
|Pale Blue Dot|
Title text: Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. There is no road out of this oblivion; we must embrace it. We must join with the darkness. Ba'al the Annihilator offers us no happiness, no answers, naught but the cold embrace of the void. To imagine any other end is delusion. We must give in to the will of Ba'al, for he will one day consume us and our world alike. I therefore call on Congress to fully fund space exploration, and to join with Ba'al, the Eater of Souls. Thank you.
The Pale Blue Dot is a picture of the Earth taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft at a distance about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles). It was part of the Family Portrait, a series of images of the entire Solar System from beyond it.
The picture was taken at the request of Carl Sagan, a well known space scientist at that time. In 1994 Sagan wrote the book "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space" inspired by this picture. In the book, Sagan waxed eloquent about the picture in a widely-quoted passage. The complete passage can be found illustrated in this Zen Pencils comic.
Cueball quotes from a condensed version of this passage until he is interrupted by an argument over which speck in the picture is actually the Earth. When Cueball cries out in exasperation that it doesn't matter, then the entire authenticity of the image is called into question. This pokes fun at the fact that the Pale Blue Dot picture has very little visual attractiveness, apart from the intellectual interest relying on the viewer's knowledge that the central speck is actually our home planet seen from a great distance.
The first two sentences of the title text are also a quotation from Sagan's paean to the Pale Blue Dot picture, but then the text veers humorously into non-scientific mysticism that starkly contrasts with the attitude and intent of the original work.
The title text evokes Cosmicism, a philosophy developed and exemplified by the fictional Cthulhu Mythos. This Mythos is expounded in fantasy/horror works of H.P. Lovecraft and, later, August Derleth, and features a cosmology in which humanity is depicted as inconsequential within a greater existence that is unknowable and frightening. Cosmicism asserts that humanity is doomed to destruction through the workings of vastly more powerful supernatural forces beyond our understanding. There are many instances in the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft of factions that embrace the destruction of humanity and actively work towards bringing about that end through the invocation of the unknowable and powerful forces that supporters of Cosmicism believe surround everything.
The text also references Ba'al, originally a Semitic deity that has been since associated with demonic or otherwise evil forces. The name Ba'al, and other variants of the same, has been included in many other fictional works often as a villain or antagonist. For example, the fictional System Lord Ba'al from the television show Stargate. The title text supplants all of the supernatural forces associated with Cosmicism in the works of other authors with Ba'al. The speaker in the title text is acting as a Cosmicist and is calling on the United States Congress to which he is speaking to fund the space exploration program as a means to join with Ba'al, the Eater of souls. The fact that a Ba'al cultist would be speaking in front of Congress in such a manner is absurd and thus hilarious.
- [Cueball stands on a podium, the Pale Blue Dot picture is behind him.]
- Cueball: Consider this Pale Blue Dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. Everyone you love, every human being who ever was, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived out their lives on this mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. All our-
- [Heckling]: I think that's a stuck pixel. We're the speck on the left.
- Cueball: ...Ok, this Pale Blue Dot is everything you-
- [Heckling]: No, you were right before. That one is earth.
- Cueball: Look, it doesn't matter!
- [Heckling]: I knew it!
- [Heckling]: I think this is just a lens cap picture.
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- At the time when this comic was published NASA did reveal two other pictures, showing our home planet from a long distance, Saturn and Mercury probes did picture the Earth at the same time. Earth appears as a tiny dot in these images as well as a result of the vast distance between Earth and the probes.
To call this a "simple call for funding for space exploration" completely misses the point of the Ba'al theology with which it is intertwined.
- I think it completely misses all the points of the comic. --Kronf (talk) 11:44, 2 August 2013 (UTC)
- This comic makes philosophical claims that cannot be falsified. Randall can't be serious about the soul eater. That's so dark. Theology? Sort of. But quite undeveloped. More like mythology. Does make one wonder: Why is there really something rather than nothing? — tbc (talk) 12:05, 2 August 2013 (UTC)
- Took at shot at adding something on this. (Long-time reader, first-time editor. Will create account at some point.) --22.214.171.124 14:58, 2 August 2013 (UTC)
- (I wrote the following this morning, before anyone else had made any Talk/Discussion points, but then rushed out without saving it properly. Probably now not relevent, but here you are anyway...)
- "This is a simple call for funding of space exploration."??? I'd say that (whatever Randall, and I, think about the importance of funding space research) it's more an affectionate parody of the "Consider this pale blue dot..." speech, which it subverts by suggesting that arguably the most intellectually interesting image of the planet is indistinguishable from a manufacturing error in a LCD array (presumably in a computer projector) or from the kind of photo you get when you don't take the lens-cap off of a digital camera. Or so my take on it, is... 126.96.36.199 18:05, 2 August 2013 (UTC)
- I did a deeper explain later, but Ba'an connects to this sentence. So that has to be explained, too. But in general you are correct.--Dgbrt (talk) 19:19, 2 August 2013 (UTC)
I'm sure Randall is talking about Stargate and the character Ba'al (Stargate). This even does make more sense on the last sentence at the title text. While we have two theories on this the comic is incomplete.--Dgbrt (talk) 17:05, 2 August 2013 (UTC)
- I disagree. I don't believe Ba'al from Stargate was ever called "Ba'al the Annihilator" or "Ba'al, the Eater of Souls". I think Randall's just making up it up. 188.8.131.52 17:25, 2 August 2013 (UTC)
- I also disagree, though the description as stands is currently incorrect. "Ba'al" is not a specific deity in the Northwest Semitic pantheon, certainly not one "associated with demonic or otherwise evil forces", it's a title that had been used for several different deities. However the name is often included in Jewish and Christian demonology where it probably got its "evil" connotation. 184.108.40.206 18:30, 2 August 2013 (UTC)
- I absolutely disagree to you. Randall calls the US Congress for a higher budget, just to enhance our level on space technology. This really does not map to historical religions. And: Ba'an at Stargate is also a Lord. My two NASA budget cents.--Dgbrt (talk) 19:19, 2 August 2013 (UTC)
- My disagreement with your suggestion didn't owe anything to the objections I raised about the historicity of the term "Ba'al". I don't think that his reference was to any specific deity in any particular pantheon, fictional or otherwise. The whole point of the alt-text is an ironic context for the motivation for space exploration; Sagan especially was an advocate of space exploration for the sake of knowledge and human progress, so the quasi-religious/mystical and nihilistic mantra here is in stark contrast to that (expected) rationale for exploration, and I think it's fitting given the initial premise: the insignificance of Earth against the cosmos. I really don't see the clause "to join with Ba'al" having anything to do with 'leading humans to the same technology level Ba'al' since it assumes Ba'al is a technological entity which only stems from the Stargate interpretation. 220.127.116.11 20:23, 2 August 2013 (UTC)
- ^ +1. About Stargate, I can't claim to know what happens in season 9 and 10, but I've seen every episode in 1-8 and I've never seen him referred to as "Ba'al the Annihilator" or "Ba'al, Eater of Souls". I grant that the Ba'al from Stargate is a System Lord, and a pretty badass one, but how does that help you prove your point? If Randall was trying to allude to Stargate, I think it would be much more obvious, like "Lord Ba'al" or something. The name "Ba'al" has been present in mythology long before Stargate used it. 18.104.22.168 01:21, 3 August 2013 (UTC)
- "Annihilator" and "Eater of Souls" is an invention by Randall, it also does not really match to your mystics. Further more the last sentence of the title text is not about a god, it's about technology we do not have right now. OK, the very last sentence is: Thank you. My 1337 NASA budget cents.--Dgbrt (talk) 16:40, 3 August 2013 (UTC)
- It sounds like you are admitting that the only grounds for attributing the reference to Stargate is your interpretation of the penultimate sentence, which as I said before [your interpretation] only makes sense if you believe the reference is to Stargate. I don't find that very convincing. 22.214.171.124 21:42, 3 August 2013 (UTC)
- First: Sign on here, so I can talk to you!
- Second: I do focus on science, like Randall does, looking for a NASA budget for real exploration.
- Randall is frustrated, like me, about the current funds and policies on space exploration.
- If you don't know Voyager, I can help. My 18 billions NASA budget hell.--Dgbrt (talk) 22:39, 3 August 2013 (UTC)
- We are talking. Yes, I agree that Randall is an advocate for space exploration (though I don't think that's his point here) and I know all about the Voyager program, but I don't see how any of this makes your Stargate interpretation any more valid. 126.96.36.199 23:24, 3 August 2013 (UTC)
- God shave the Queen, I lost my cents. --Dgbrt (talk) 23:53, 3 August 2013 (UTC)
On a completely different track, as is often the case, the main text can work in a contemporary way, as well as with knowledge of the historical reference: In this case, the publication by NASA of shots of Earth from Saturn and Mercury, in a conscious homage to the original "blue spot" picture. Eg  --FractalgeekUK
- Oh, yeah. I am sure Randall was inspired by this pictures.--Dgbrt (talk) 22:17, 3 August 2013 (UTC)
I have removed the last sentence again which refers to the author calling for the government of the United States of America to increase funding for their space program as part of the explanation of the comic. There is no such text in comic. Some editors of this page have insisted that the author has written this comic to propose or support policy change regarding actual funding for space exploration. Raising awareness for the subject of space exploration may be a motivator for the author to write this comic but I have not spoken with him on the matter and cannot claim to explain his motivations. Without any direct statement from the author regarding his intent I propose that discussion of the author's possible desire for increased spending on actual space exploration be contained here in the discussion page. The explanation as written clearly explains the information contained in the comic and the reader can make their own inference regarding the author's position on space exploration. Mrarch (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
- "I therefore call on Congress to fully fund space exploration..."
I did add the incomplete tag because this part of the title text still has to be explained.--Dgbrt (talk) 20:55, 10 December 2013 (UTC)
- This sentence is explained already. I will attempt clarify the explanation further. Mrarch (talk) 21:16, 10 December 2013 (UTC)
- Now, as I suggested earlier, please let us resolve any additional concerns you have here before we make any further edits to the page. Please let me know if there is anything else you find unclear about the explanation and we can arrive at an agreement on if any more explanation is required. Mrarch (talk) 21:25, 10 December 2013 (UTC)
- First, please do only one indent at each reply, reading is and editing is easier in that way. Second, please do not delete an incomplete tag while you do know other people disagree on this. Third: And that's my point, the Congress is the US-Congress, THANK YOU.--Dgbrt (talk) 22:34, 10 December 2013 (UTC)
- THANK YOU for the advice on indentation. I will in the future make sure to make my edits with ease of reading in mind. We can leave the entry incomplete if you insist. You will not be able to convince anyone by simple repetition of your opinion. Please provide the evidence that I have obviously missed in the comic which shows that the congress mentioned is not the congress of Mexico, Albania, Peru, Micronesia, Ecuador or Bolivia or any other country which has a congress. Please, if you are able, also provide evidence that the congress is not the congress of an imaginary country, organization, or planet. Finally maybe you can illustrate for me what part of the comic any of that information helps to clarify and why you feel the explanation is not complete. Mrarch (talk) 00:09, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
- Helping on indents again..., and Randall is a citizen of Albania??? YES??? NO, he is just annoyed about some things happen at the Unites States. And I will send this two cents to NASA, I'm sure Randall does like.--Dgbrt (talk) 01:21, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
- The citizenship of the author does not determine the setting of any written work. Did you know that one of Shakespeare's most famous plays was set in Italy though he was a citizen of England? My point is that the specific congress and space program is left off the comic purposefully. I believe that the author would not specifically limit his desire for further space exploration to one nation and would welcome other nations funding space exploration. By not specifying the nationality of the speaker or the audience the comic is more inclusive. If the author was not specific in the comic than perhaps he was purposefully general. We would be interpreting the comic and not explaining the comic if we include any discussion of what nation to which he may be referring. That is why I proposed that you outline your interpretation that this is specific to NASA and The U.S., which is a perfectly valid interpretation, in the discussion page. You have yet even attempted to explain why you feel the explanation is incomplete. Instead you have chosen to include some strange statement about sending coins to NASA and your belief that Randall would enjoy such a thing. I do not understand your point in this. Mrarch (talk) 18:32, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
- Since we will never come up to an end on this trolling
Any Idea? I don't know.--Dgbrt (talk) 01:21, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
- Again I am trying to have a legitimate discussion on this and you are trying to dismiss my efforts as "trolling". I do not appreciate your implications and will refer this matter to the admins if you continue. Mrarch (talk) 18:32, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
- I wanted to give this a day before I checked in again, but it seems things are going to go sour faster than that. Dgbrt, I already said that further offenses will be met with a short block, and you accuse Mrarch of trolling again. Have a day to cool off. Davidy²²[talk] 18:39, 11 December 2013 (UTC)
Uhh, you both misunderstood me. I just did try to stop this meaningless discussion, but I'm sorry, the words I did choose were not proper. And an other strange thing is that nobody else does participate this discussion. The major question is still: Is Randall talking about NASA fundings or not? "I therefore call on Congress to fully fund space exploration, and to join with Ba'al, the Eater of Souls. Thank you." My 2ct.--Dgbrt (talk) 20:59, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
- Its clear that you are not even reading my posts. In order to end what is surely a meaningless discussion if you will not participate I have edited the explanation to be as clear as I can make it. The comic is purposefully general and so am I. I believe that our discussion here presents the matter of specificity in the forum that is most appropriate. If you feel you need to add something about NASA and the U.S. congress it will be to the detriment of the explanation. I will ask that if you do please use the phrase "may be referring to" which is often used in English to show consideration for the value of other interpretations. I will review what you edit and may revise for clarity as you have said that you are not a native English speaker. Then you may remove the incomplete tag whenever you feel ready. Mrarch (talk) 21:28, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
- No MEGA discussion again. My point is Randall calls for more funds for NASA, you disagree. And I really did read your posts.
- We are still not on a war (don't like that), even when you did force the ban of my account. I just want to get the explain correct.--Dgbrt (talk) 23:04, 12 December 2013 (UTC)
- Dgbrt, no one forced you to exhibit the behavior that got you banned. You chose to continue to unjustifiably accuse Mrarch of trolling even after a warning had been issued, and you continued to focus the discussion on the conflict instead of the subject matter being discussed. Also, Mrarch raises a valid concern; he has said multiple times that the comic never specifies the US, which you have yet to address in any substantial matter. As for the lack of involvement from other editors, editors will choose to participate in the discussions that interest them; I fully intended on ignoring this discussion, and would have continued to do so if the argument had not turned personal fast. I would advise that you attempt to keep discussion civil if you wish to avoid a longer block. Davidy²²[talk] 00:08, 13 December 2013 (UTC)
- Please read my posts: I did use a word like SORRY, that was honest. --Dgbrt (talk) 00:58, 13 December 2013 (UTC)