703: Honor Societies

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
Honor Societies
Hey, why do YOU get to be the president of Tautology Clu-- wait, I can guess.
Title text: Hey, why do YOU get to be the president of Tautology Clu-- wait, I can guess.

[edit] Explanation

Cueball has apparently been invited to join an honor society, but he considers the reason he should join to be a circular argument: because honorable people are in honor societies and people who are in honor societies are supposedly honorable. He objects that this is a tautology: a claim that something is true because it is true (and thus a meaningless claim). From this he concludes that he might as well be in a "tautology club" and then starts one. Thus Randall mocks honor society clubs for being pointless.

The phrase "The first rule of _______ Club" is a reference to the 1999 movie Fight Club (see also 922: Fight Club), which contains the famous line "The first rule of Fight Club is 'You do not talk about Fight Club,'" a reference to the club's intended secrecy. This phrase has been appropriated for myriad other varieties and parodies, such as the one mentioned in the comic.

The reference to Facebook mocks Facebook groups whose names refer to a number of members they hope to attract (such as I Bet I Can Find 1000000 People Who Dislike Romanian Dog Abusers, usually ostensibly to raise awareness for some issue, but perhaps in fact just for the ego-stroking pleasure of amassing a large number of followers. Tautology Club employs this tactic only for the sake of creating yet another tautology.

The answer to the title text would also be a tautology: he gets to be the president because he is the president.

Tautology is mentioned again in 1310: Goldbach Conjectures.

[edit] Transcript

[Cueball sits at a desk, while a teacher or counselor out of frame advises.]
Cueball: Wait. I should join this honor society to show colleges I'm honorable, and I'm honorable because I'm in an honor society?
Teacher: Basically, yes.
[Tighter shot of Cueball.]
Cueball: Sounds like I could save time by joining the Tautology Club directly.
Teacher: That's not a real club.
Cueball: Then I'm starting it.
TAUTOLOGY CLUB
[Seven individuals appear: Ponytail, a man, a shorter male with glasses that bears a striking resemblance to Jason Fox, a taller man with a buzz cut, a brunette woman with curly hair in a ponytail, Megan, and finally Cueball, standing on a box.]
Ponytail: So how'd you learn about us?
Man: From your Facebook group, "If 1,000,000 People Join This Group, It Will Have 1,000,000 People In It."
Cueball: LISTEN UP! The first rule of Tautology Club is the first rule of Tautology Club.
comment.png add a comment!

Discussion

A tautology is a statement that is always true and that doesn't convey any information. A classic example is 'A or not A', which is true if A is true, but also if A isn't true. 'Either it rains or it doesn't rain' is true, no matter what weather it is.

"If 1.000.000 people join this group, it will have 1.000.000 people in it" is, strictly speaking, not a tautology, since it wouldn't be true if - somehow - 1.000.000 people were able to join the group without it having 1.000.000 people in it (I don't know - maybe if people leave the group before the counter hit 1.000.000?). It would also be true if there were somehow 1.000.000 members of the group without 1.000.000 people joining it. It is of the form 'if A then A' which is pretty much a much longer version of just 'A'. It's true if it's true, and it isn't if it isn't - so it isn't a tautology.

The same goes for 'The first rule of the tautology club is the first rule of the tautology club' - It's just a long way of saying "This is the first rule of the tautology club' - which can be true or false.

No, it's saying that, whatever the first rule of the club is at any given moment, that's the first rule of the club. Which cannot be false. 108.162.216.38 16:39, 11 February 2014 (UTC)


Granted; the statements hold enough implied information that we will agree that they are true in a trivial sense, and they are much more fun than 'either there are 1.000.000 people in this group or there aren't 1.000.000 people in this group' and 'either this is the first rule of the tautology club or it isn't' 193.88.197.67 22:15, 2 September 2013 (UTC)

While I do understand what you're getting at, you are surprisingly wrong on a few accounts. First, A or not A (i.e. A V ~A) is not always a tautology. I've spent enough painful time around intuitionists to say this whenever I can.
How is that not a tautology? For any proposition A, if the proposition is true, then A; if not, then ~A. Logic doesn't allow for a proposition to be both true AND false, nor does it allow for a proposition to be neither true NOR false, so the only remaining possibilities are A and ~A; ergo, A v ~A. 108.162.216.38 16:44, 11 February 2014 (UTC)
Unnecessary nitpick aside, then, there are more serious things. I presume the sentence, "It would also be true if there were somehow 1.000.000 members of the group without 1.000.000 people joining it," should be, "It would also not be true if there were somehow 1.000.000 members of the group without 1.000.000 people joining it." (Otherwise, the "also" is used incorrectly, and the sentence is useless.) Unfortunately, this would make it wrong; a statement of the form "if A then B" is not false if B is true and A isn't. (This is the difficulty of making formal logic: the traditional conditional leads to bizarre, vacuous truths.) Also, more seriously, you say that "if A then A" is a longer way of saying "A", or, more formally, that "A → A" is logically equivalent to "A." Unfortunately, this is not the case. The statement "if A then A" is always true, and hence a tautology. You also assert that "A = A" (or "A ↔ A") is logically equivalent to "A", where "A" is "The first rule of tautology club." This is even more obviously false. Even if "The first rule of tautology club" yields falsehood, it is still equivalent to itself.
Serious issues aside, I do agree with your sentiment that "[i]f 1.000.000 people join this group, it will have 1.000.000 people in it" is not necessarily a tautology, but removing the ambiguities (did they all join at the same time? did anyone leave?), which would necessarily be done in any formalization of the statement, would yield the tautological "A → A." Quicksilver (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Why does this comic have the Philosophy category? Am I missing something? GameZone (talk) 08:27, 6 September 2013 (UTC)

Logic is technically philosophy, or at least they're closely connected. Sciepsilon (talk) 20:23, 30 December 2013 (UTC)

It is worth noting that this comic is Randall's commentary on certain honor societies, who don't do anything except for selecting new members. Feynman once made a remark to that effect, and may be Randall's influence on the matter. (Or not.) Regardless, this explanation is missing the viewpoint. 108.162.215.74 20:53, 28 November 2013 (UTC)

I see that nobody's pointed out that the third figure from the left in the third panel appears to be Jason Fox (see 824: Guest Week: Bill Amend (FoxTrot))- known to be one of those nerdy types who would join a tautology club. He is (to my knowledge) perpetually in the fifth grade, though, which does make me a little suspicious. --173.245.56.24 00:03, 2 January 2014 (UTC)
Personal tools
Namespaces

Variants
Actions
Navigation
Tools

It seems you are using noscript, which is stopping our project wonderful ads from working. Explain xkcd uses ads to pay for bandwidth, and we manually approve all our advertisers, and our ads are restricted to unobtrusive images and slow animated GIFs. If you found this site helpful, please consider whitelisting us.

Want to advertise with us, or donate to us with Paypal or Bitcoin?