1524: Dimensions

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I would say time is definitely one of my top three favorite dimensions.
Title text: I would say time is definitely one of my top three favorite dimensions.


This cartoon is a romantic musing about time, and how even though we may not always realize it the progression of time is one of the better things in life.

To accurately describe the world requires at minimum three spatial dimensions and the fourth dimension, time. The spatial dimensions don't necessarily have to be the familiar Cartesian system (Forward/backward, Right/Left, Up/Down), but can be described in many ways (like the spherical or cylindrical system). In spite of the fact that we are being pushed around the universe by being on Earth, we can exercise some control over these spatial dimensions by moving, and therefore our trajectory through these dimensions is not inexorable (impossible to stop). As we only can go one direction in time and have no way of changing the speed or direction, we also are figuratively being pushed through time, and this movement is inexorable.

Cueball sits under a tree un-moving with Megan simply enjoying the passage of time and says, "Of the four dimensions I could have spent my life being pushed inexorably forward through, I guess 'time' isn't the worst." All of this amounts to an unusually erudite way for Cueball to say he feels content with how his life has turned out, despite the natural doubts one has as they get older.

Rather less romantically, it is possible that Cueball has merely been contemplating the fact that, if he were being inexorably pushed through one of the other spatial dimensions instead of time, he'd spend his entire life flying through space uncontrollably, maybe even out into outer space and to his death. Indeed, the unstoppable passage of time seems rather pleasant by comparison.

In the title text, Cueball then continues to muse about his favorite dimensions and places time in his top three dimensions. This means that one of the three spatial dimensions must be his least favorite. Though it is impossible to determine how he defines his favorite dimensions, as dimensions can be defined somewhat arbitrarily, they likely are length, height, and time as comics only use these three (time being represented by panels). Since rising steadily and digging downward are both pretty lethal, one could assume that Randall's least favorite dimension is up/down. (See also the one of my favorite halves comment in 1556: The Sky) This could also be a reference to 1190: Time.

Previously Randall has made a comic about a man who was pushed sideways — so he was pushed both through time and fell sideways: 417: The Man Who Fell Sideways.


[Cueball is sitting up against a tree, Megan lies with her hands behind her neck in front him under the foliage of the tree.]
Cueball: Of the four dimensions I could have spent my life being pushed inexorably forward through, I guess "time" isn't the worst.


Interestingly, Randall has already, back in the December 2014 issue of Wired magazine, published the xkcd guide to dimensions where the main part of this comic was already used in panel 9 out of 20. This issue of Wired magazine was about multiple dimensions, and Randall's section is about imagining higher dimension. The article is a mix of xkcd-style comics and captions explaining them. The panel in question show Cueball saying, "Of all the dimensions I could have spent my life being pushed inexorably through, I guess "time" isn't the worst." (the only difference being that "all the" has been changed to "the four" in this comic). In panel 15 of the Wired comic series, Randall considers how dimensions can be represented in a two-dimensional comic strip: a character moving within a panel represents movement in space but movement from panel to panel represents movement in time.

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This almost seems to be making fun of the frivolity with which people discuss the existence of multiple dimensions without realizing what that actually means. Anyone else get that feeling?

Reminds me of http://xkcd.com/417/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patema_Inverted which make fun of dimensions too. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Great - I will add 417. please sign you comment with --~~~~ ;-) --Kynde (talk) 07:57, 13 May 2015 (UTC)

My first thought about Title Text was that moving sideways (standard x or y axis) would be bad, but not as bad as moving upwards (standard z axis). Z direction would be my least favourite! -- 08:20, 13 May 2015 (UTC)

You're thinking that from an incredibly geo-centric point of view. There is no reason that the three axes would be defined in absolute terms in terms of the surface of the Earth. Indeed, even if we *did* choose to define the three spacial dimensions relative to something to do with Earth, it would seem logical to me that the best way to do that would be to define the X-Y plane as the plane of Earth's orbit around the Sun. In that case, unless you happened to be located at 23.5 degrees latitude, travelling in the Z direction would *not* be travelling perpendicular to the surface of the Earth, which is presumably to what you were referring in your comment. --Zagorath (talk) 22:38, 15 May 2015 (UTC)
I think you guys are vastly overthinking the title text. Randall is making a joke. The 4 dimensions discussed are Length, Width, Height and Time. if you pick three of them to like, and one to hate, Width is the obvious hate. Most men like the idea of being taller and "longer where it counts". Being overweight is something most people dont like. 15:41, 29 May 2015 (UTC)

The explanation looks more and more like a discussion. Four dimensions or eleven? I see that string theory "predicts 10 or 26 dimensions" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spacetime). I think someone (but not me) should rewrite the discussion in a more comprehensive way.Jkrstrt (talk) 08:35, 13 May 2015 (UTC)

We might had a link to the 2 what-if related to move steadlily in one direction : http://what-if.xkcd.com/135/ and http://what-if.xkcd.com/64/ (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Isn't the alt text a reference to the fact that a cartoon only has two physical dimensions? That's how time can be in his top three. 09:09, 13 May 2015 (UTC)

"Being pushed in one of the other directions could be lethal, if you where pushed hard enough against a rock, over a cliff or in front of a truck..." Being pushed in the dimension of time is also ultimately fatal though. Push someone through time for long enough and they'll certainly die. 09:20, 13 May 2015 (UTC)

Why the hang up on fixed coordinate systems even though there isn't even a practical way to establish one. (To the best of my knowledge distance can only be measured relative to some object.) it's more likely that the top three dimensions would be along the lines of North/South, East/West and time which is a much more practical point of view.-- 11:32, 13 May 2015 (UTC)

So if it is in the top three out of four, it must be number one.... I don't agree. What if Randall would hate going to Zazane galaxy or Ottzello galaxy (X axis), but wouldn't mind going to Xanthrus spiral or Rizoku galazy (Y axis) [1]. 13:50, 13 May 2015 (UTC)

The argument would be that this is an arbitrary/anthropocentric classification of X, Y and Z that the universe neither confirms nor denies as the 'true' direction of the three dimensions (which can be in any direction, so long as each is perpendicular to the two others, in a Euclidean sense).
(And personally. as opposed to the current description. I tend to think of x/y as the horizontal plane and z as vertical motion (up or down, depending on utility), in everyday use, although I'm flexible and will subscribe to one or other standard (and handedness of unit directions!) when dealing with other modelling systems. It's all easily convertible-between.) 17:31, 13 May 2015 (UTC)

I was going to say that if we think of three dimensions simplistically as length-width-height, it might make sense for someone to have a least-favorite spatial dimension--maybe width, since we're always fighting increases in that one. But, I REALLY like the idea above that time would be in the "top three" dimensions for a TWO-dimensional comic-strip character! (Note that Randall plays with this in the Wired comic series linked above, noting that in a comic strip, a small movemement indicates movement through space, but a large one--like between panels--indicates time: see panel #15 in the series) Clever and Randall-esque idea!! I suggest adding this idea to the main text and taking out some of the other discussion around this point.Jv (talk) 16:32, 13 May 2015 (UTC)

Could it be that the title text is purely playing with words, as in any list of length n (4 dimensions in the world of the comic), one can only have n-1 favourites, so Cueball can only have a top / favourite 3? Mb (talk) 20:06, 13 May 2015 (UTC)

"Moving forward in time will also eventually be lethal by causing old age, ... But it is only possible to avoid these dangers by sidestepping them in one of the three spatial dimensions." - Wait! I can sidestep death? AWESOME! Djbrasier (talk) 20:09, 13 May 2015 (UTC)

The explanation says his favourite co-ords could still be x,y and z. Shouldn't that really by r, phi, theta since that's the best system for a spherical Earth? Also, I don't think you need to mention special relativity, even in classical physics you consider time to be the fourth dimension, you just lack a co-ordinate transformation between space and time. 15:22, 13 May 2015 (UTC)

Does the statement: “pushed inexorably forward through time” not strike anyone as important to discuss and explain? A book by Dan Falk describes the ramifications were one able to move volitionally through time: http://tinyurl.com/l2btjfd.

The Greeks held that time flowed like a river through the present from the past. Others (?) suggest that time flowed from the future into the present. Randall poses that we are pushed forward through time. Who or what does the pushing? With what purpose? To what end?

Pushing suggests we’re unwilling to go forward. But so does pulling. Pulling, by the way, might imply gravitational forces at work. However, those almost never end well. Run, you clever boy (talk) 14:30, 14 May 2015 (UTC)


I was surprised nobody mentioned Randall's most famous comic about Time (which this comic reminded me of a little bit). WhiteDragon (talk) 23:30, 14 May 2015 (UTC)

I do not see any relation with a comic about something that occurs in the far future, and is also called time because it is dynamic and ran over an extended period of time... --Kynde (talk) 19:51, 17 May 2015 (UTC)

I love how the title text seems to imply that Randall has a least favorite space-dimension. The three space dimensions are arbitrarily assigned (they are orthogonal to each other but not absolute in relation to anything) so it's like he has a grudge against a completely arbitrary direction. 03:20, 15 May 2015 (UTC)

Black Hole

I wonder nobody came up yet with the obvious interpretation. The only situation where one is forced along a space dimension in the same sense as along time (everything else being unphysical - when you "just" fall from a cliff, you still could be saved) would be falling into a Black Hole. Which is indeed somewhat inconvenient :-) 12:52, 16 May 2015 (UTC)

I see no relation to black-holes. It is very far fetched from this mundane situation. UNtil you actually enter the event horizon you cold still be saved, and after that we really do not know what happens (except that you will probably be dead before you reach this horizon). --Kynde (talk) 19:51, 17 May 2015 (UTC)

Could the alt text be referring to hologram theory? My understanding of that is that the universe might only have two actual dimensions describing three dimensions in its interactions. 07:00, 25 May 2015 (UTC)

If I were to read the current explanation without teading the comic, I would have no idea that this comic is partially a joke- the idea thay we would instead be pushed inexorably sideways or something is a source of humor in this comic. Bbruzzo (talk) 13:50, 30 August 2015 (UTC)

I agree totally. The main point of this comic is the funny idea of being pushed inexorably through a spatial dimension (like in the Man Who Fell Sideways). That's clearly the funny part of this comic.DenverCoder9 (talk) 05:49, 16 December 2015 (UTC)
I thought this too: that the person would be able to time travel at will, but would have the inconvenience of travelling through space in a certain dimension. Also, nobody thought that the least favourite dimension could be Z, as in afraid of heights (assuming XY as the surface of Earth and Z as altitude)? 22:38, 22 December 2015 (UTC)

The title text, in my interpretation, is a sort of logic puzzle which implies that time must be his favorite dimension. Since the three spatial dimensions are degenerate, the fact that it's not his 4th favorite implies it must be his first. Also, main point: it is also just funny because 1. the idea of having a favorite dimension and 2. the application of "top three" to a group of 4 things, three of which are indistinguishable. DenverCoder9 (talk) 05:49, 16 December 2015 (UTC)