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Feel free to sign up for an account and contribute to the explain xkcd wiki!  We need explanations for comics, characters, themes, memes and everything in between.  If it is referenced in an [http://www.xkcd.com xkcd] web comic, it should be here.
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Revision as of 05:35, 4 March 2013

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!

We have collaboratively explained Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",". xkcd comics, and only Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",". (Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",".%) remain. Add yours while there's a chance!

Latest comic

Go to this comic explanation

Engineer Syllogism
The less common, even worse outcome: "3: [everyone in the financial system] WOW, where did all my money just go?"
Title text: The less common, even worse outcome: "3: [everyone in the financial system] WOW, where did all my money just go?"

Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: It can be improved.

A syllogism is a logical argument where two or more propositions lead to a conclusion through deductive reasoning. For example, one of the best-known syllogisms is:

  1. All men are mortal
  2. Socrates is a man
  3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal

In this comic, Cueball is an engineer who is attempting to make the following syllogism:

  1. I am good at understanding "numbers" (i.e., mathematics)
  2. The stock market is made of numbers
  3. Therefore, I am good at understanding the stock market

Since most engineers are purportedly good at math, proposition 1 seems to be true. It is also loosely true that the stock market is made of numbers, but only in the sense that every system can be given a post-hoc numeric characterization; the dynamics of the stock market are primarily human-driven. In this comic Cueball thinks that his skill at math will help him beat the stock market. Little does he know that the system can be unpredictable, so he ends up losing money as the financial instrument he's invested in loses value. This is due to the financial markets being largely controlled by humans making emotional decisions and not some calculable reason or logic. The fact that humans make emotional decisions is alluded to in the title text of 592: Drama.

Even if the propositions "I am good at understanding numbers" and "The stock market is made of numbers" were true in Cueball's interpretation, and even if the implicit premise that understanding a system's components implies understanding the system held, Cueball would still be wrong to conclude that "I am good at understanding the stock market": this would be a fallacy of the undistributed middle. The problem is that proposition 1 seems to say "I am good at understanding all math". However, the "all" is not present, so Cueball may not necessarily understand the math underlying the stock market.

This comic may also refer to the 1998 movie Pi where the main character repeats to himself several times his assumptions that the world is all numbers, and thus he, a great mathematician, should be able to predict the stock market, which is all numbers.

The title text could refer to an alternative scenario in which Cueball does, in fact, figure out a way to extract large quantities of money from the stock market, causing a sudden, major decline in everybody else's wealth. This could be a reference to the recent 2015 Chinese stock market crash which largely affected most other world financial markets, particularly during the week of August 24–28, during which this comic was published, or more broadly to economic depressions in general. Alternatively, Cueball could cause a global stock market crash if he is an engineer responsible for vital stock-market-related software and/or hardware. Another alternative meaning behind the title text would be a reference to high-frequency quantitative trading, which relies more on financial technology engineering than sophisticated financial knowledge, which significantly contributed to the 2010 Flash Crash.

Another interpretation of the title text is that literally everyone's stock market assets have suddenly lost their value. This is possible since there is no conservation of value for the stock market. The value of a particular stock is determined by a majority that is willing to trade it at a given price. Thus, a gloabl distrust in the system can lead to a reduction of stock values and, in consequence, lead to a domino effect where the overall stock market is effected, in other words a crash of the system. As the title text states this is less common.

Transcript

[An white frame with text inside an underbrace and an overbrace]
An engineer
syllogism.
[Cueball is at his desk in front of his computer, with his hands on his knees, thinking.]
Cueball, thinking: 1: I am good at understanding numbers.
[Cueball takes one hand to his chin, still thinking.]
Cueball, thinking: 2: The stock market is made of numbers.
[Cueball lifts both arms from his legs, still thinking.]
Cueball, thinking: 3: Therefore I-- Wow, where did all my money just go?


Is this out of date? Clicking here will fix that.

New here?

You can read a brief introduction about this wiki at explain xkcd. Feel free to sign up for an account and contribute to the wiki! We need explanations for comics, characters, themes, memes and everything in between. If it is referenced in an xkcd web comic, it should be here.

  • List of all comics contains a complete table of all xkcd comics so far and the corresponding explanations. The red links (like this) are missing explanations. Feel free to help out by creating them! Here's how.

Rules

Don't be a jerk. There are a lot of comics that don't have set in stone explanations; feel free to put multiple interpretations in the wiki page for each comic.

If you want to talk about a specific comic, use its discussion page.

Please only submit material directly related to —and helping everyone better understand— xkcd... and of course only submit material that can legally be posted (and freely edited.) Off-topic or other inappropriate content is subject to removal or modification at admin discretion, and users who repeatedly post such content will be blocked.

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