2662: Physics Safety Tip

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Physics Safety Tip
In general, avoid exposure to any temperatures, pressures, particle energies, or states of matter that physicists think are neat.
Title text: In general, avoid exposure to any temperatures, pressures, particle energies, or states of matter that physicists think are neat.


This is another one of Randall's Tips, this time a General Physics Safety Tip.

Additionally, this comic serves to promote his new book as it states that this flow chart is taken from the new what if? book what if? 2, and the link to his promotion page is written in the comic: xkcd.com/what-if-2/. The what if? blog as well as both books gives answers to odd or strange science questions. Clicking on the link in the comic will take you to the link. Clicking anywhere on the comic will do the same. It has been a general thing for Randall to comment on the fact that he does not know how to make only part of an image into a link, which he also did recently in the xkcd Header text .

In general, there are very narrow ranges of temperature, pressure, and chemical makeup humans can survive in. Human physicists necessarily spend all their time in these conditions and think of them as ordinary. The physics of these ordinary conditions has already been thoroughly studied, which makes them now familiar and boring. Instead physicists get excited to study more extreme conditions, most of which would be quickly lethal to humans — anything from the event horizons of black holes to the vacuum of space, to volumes where charged particles traveling near the speed of light are forced to collide, and many, many things in between. Thus, extreme conditions are very dangerous for most organisms. Even for especially resilient organisms, such as tardigrades, there is a point past which they will stop being biology and start being physics, in which case their resilience will not save them. Thus if a physicist is excited about something, it likely exists in circumstances where your own existence — as well as other life — would meet an end. One (partial) exception is particle beams; people can stick their heads in particle beams and survive — but not unscathed. Also, physicists used to be excited about (particles produced by) cosmic rays before they had powerful accelerators.


[A larger header and a gray subheader below are written above a flowchart:]
General Physics Safety Tip:
(From what if 2, xkcd.com/whatif2)
[The flowchart consists of three rectangular boxes that are placed above, to the right and below a diamond box. There are three arrows. One is going down from the top box to the top corner of the diamond. The other two goes from the right and bottom corner of the diamond to the other two boxes. These two arrows has labels written next to them. All four boxes have text in them.]
Top box: Should I stand near this thing?
Diamond box: Are physicists excited about it?
Label on left arrow: No
Left box: Maybe
Label on bottom arrow: Yes
Bottom box: No

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To be fair, many physicists are excited about habitable planets. And fluid dynamics, which would include Earth's atmosphere and hydrosphere. A friend's son is a "condensed matter" physicist, meaning he studies ordinary matter. Nitpicking (talk) 02:42, 23 August 2022 (UTC)

Note that standing near a planet is generally deadly. Only safe place is standing ON the (habitable) planet. And while technically fluid dynamics covers everything fluids do, the interesting parts are tornadoes, whirlpools and similar not-entirely-safe things. -- Hkmaly (talk) 00:32, 24 August 2022 (UTC)

When I was an undergraduate, the diamond press was exciting - it creates the pressures near the core of the Earth - being a hydaulic press it was very sensitive to temperature, it was the only air conditioned lab in te building. made it quite popular on summer days. Arachrah (talk) 08:14, 23 August 2022 (UTC)

I had to laugh more from the explanation than from the comic. Kudos! Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 06:36, 23 August 2022 (UTC)

"They have thoroughly studied everything there is to study about these ordinary conditions" is, er, a bold claim. 09:09, 23 August 2022 (UTC)

For some reason I'm reminded of the Charles M. de Talleyrand quote: "A diplomat who says yes means maybe, a diplomat who says maybe means no, and a diplomat who says no is no diplomat." 20:59, 23 August 2022 (UTC)

It's a good idea not to stand next to Honest Joe's Perpetual Motion Machine, or you may have all the energy sucked out of you. 09:32, 24 August 2022 (UTC)

Point of info: it's pretty hard to not stand near dark matter, a thing which physicists are really excited about. 06:32, 25 August 2022 (UTC)