1731: Wrong

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Hang on, I just remembered another thing I'm right about. See...
Title text: Hang on, I just remembered another thing I'm right about. See...


All matter that we encounter in everyday life is normal matter and not antimatter. Atoms, while once when they were named believed to be the smallest unit of matter, are now known to be made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. Protons and neutrons are in turn made up of quarks, which are fundamental particles (meaning not made of other particles). Quarks come in six different "flavours" (up, down, top, bottom, charm, and strange), with protons and neutrons being made of up and down quarks. Each flavour also has a corresponding antiparticle, an antiquark, which would make up antiprotons and antineutrons.

White Hat and Megan appear to be discussing the topics of antimatter and subatomic particles. White Hat makes the assertion that we (referring to people and objects) are made partially of antimatter, because, as he claims, a proton (one of the particles which make up all matter) is made of two quarks and an antiquark. In fact, protons are made up of two up quarks and a down quark, which are all not antiquarks. He is likely making the mistake of mixing up the "up" and "down" flavours of quarks (which can be seen as complementary flavours of quarks) and mistaking them to be mutual antiparticles. He continues to elaborate on his idea by mentioning neutrons, which are made of two down quarks and an up quark.

When Megan (accurately) doubts his claim, White Hat takes out his smartphone to look it up, in order to show Megan that he is correct. However, upon researching online, he realizes that he was, in fact, wrong (hence the title of the comic). Not wanting to admit being incorrect or yield his position in the discussion, he convinces himself that he wasn't actually wrong, as depicted by his mentally erasing the realization that he was wrong. Instead, he completely changes the topic to try and re-frame it so that he is not wrong. In this case, he circles back and criticizes the entire scientific concept of "particles", which can be seen as an attempt at a straw man on his part. Presumably, he will go on to explain how humans are not made of particles and quarks, but of waves.

It is rather common to be unwilling to admit fault (the whole topic of this comic) and to instead try to maintain an air of infallibility and intelligence. Some people are just too prideful to admit that they are inherently fallible. White Hat is one of those people, as depicted in several of his earlier appearances (see trivia section). Randall uses this comic to criticize people who are unable to put aside their ego and re-assess what they know in the face of empirical data. Such thinking flies directly against scientific rigor (adding an extra layer of irony to the situation, since White Hat and Megan are discussing a scientific topic). This method had already been called wrong in 803: Airfoil.

White Hat's new topic, where he can be right, includes the quantum field theory, a very complicated field, which it is likely one Megan is not well versed in (inferred by the fact that she was not quite sure about the anti-quarks). So he may be raising the topic because he believes she will not understand it sufficiently to refute his correctness. Megan, however, recognizes exactly what he is trying to do, and can only sigh in response to his failed efforts. In the QFT, particles are often described as resonances or excited states of the underlying physical field, in the same way as photons may be thought of as excitations in the electromagnetic field; in this way White Hat appears to be dismissing his earlier errors by implying that particles are merely an effect of something more complex, of which he can demonstrate his knowledge. Furthermore, in quantum field theory quarks do not exist in the conventional sense.

In the title text, White Hat just remembers another thing he's right about. This demonstrates even more clearly that he is not interested in a discussion on the merits of a topic, but instead is seeking only recognition and validation for being right. This bears some similarity to 386: Duty Calls, in which Cueball stays up late correcting someone on the Internet, and 2051: Bad Opinions, where Cueball actively seeks out people with bad opinions for him to correct.

White Hat may have incorrectly remembered that, while the valence quarks in a proton are all matter, quantum field theory says that protons also contain an indefinite number of "virtual" anti-quarks, quarks, and gluons. See this video What are Quarks? about this. His final comment could be referring to the ontological debate over whether virtual particles are in some sense real or only an artefact of perturbation theory. Alternatively, he may have been confused by the fact that negatively charged quarks contribute negatively to baryon number. <!-- I think that that's incorrect; could you be thinking about strangeness and bottomness instead? I'm not wrong, but let's talk about something else that I'm right about instead. -->


[White Hat is walking beside Megan, index finger extended]
White Hat: Really, we're all made of antimatter. A proton consists of two quarks and an antiquark.
Megan: ...I don't think that's right.
[White Hat stops to take out his smartphone tapping on it. Megan stops and turns towards him.]
White Hat: Sure it is. Neutrons are, too.
Megan: Do you mean "up" and "down" quarks? I think antiquarks are a different thing.
White Hat: No, let me show you...
[Zooming in on White Hat's head, while he is holding his phone up looking at it. He is thinking as shown with a bubbly thought bubble.]
White Hat (thinking): I'm...wrong?
[White Hat has lowered the phone. He is still thinking the same but the text has been scribbled out.]
White Hat (thinking): I'm...wrong?
[White Hat purges the thought from his mind]
White Hat (thinking): ...
[Similar setting as in the first panel, but in a full row wide panel, and White Hat is still holding his smartphone]
White Hat: Really, the whole idea of "particles" is inaccurate. These are abstractions arising from quantum field theory, but what most people don't realize is...
Megan: *Sigh*


  • This comic could be seen as a follow up to 1605: DNA. Going back through the last White Hat appearances it turns out that DNA, 13 White Hat comics back, is actually the last where White Hat has been the fall guy. For instance he has the opposite role in 1640: Super Bowl Context, and he is not "the stupid guy" in the comics between that and this one, but often just another guy than Cueball. Further back in 1255: Columbus he was again the fall guy, and again it reminds a bit about this comic. Actually Megan even begins that comic with a *sigh* like she finished this one.
  • Quarks are also referenced in 1418: Horse, 1621: Fixion and the first time they were mentioned, in 474: Turn-On, all six flavors were also mentioned.
  • Antimatter is also referenced in 683: Science Montage, 826: Guest Week: Zach Weiner (SMBC) and 1621: Fixion as well as being the subject of the what if? article Antimatter. It was also mentioned in another what if?: Lake Tea.
  • A similar thought process where earlier thoughts are scribbled out was used by Cueball in 1650: Baby, but for different reasons.

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I wrote up a first explanation of the comic. Someone else also added in a sentence, which nicely merged in to the explanation. Still needs revision and links to articles, as well as an explanation of the title text 04:38, 9 September 2016 (UTC)

Uh... what do you mean by "just a few sentences to kick this off"??? I don't know how to fix this because I don't understand what you mean. JayRulesXKCD (talk) 7:52, 9 September 2016 (EDT)

Oh, sorry. While I was writing up an explanation, KangaroOS put in the sentence "Some people are just too prideful to admit that they are inherently fallible. White Hat is one of those people." and put in that tag. When I went to save it, it told me I had to merge our revisions, which worked fine, but I just forgot to merge the tags. Yosho27 (talk) 13:01, 9 September 2016 (UTC)
Also, if anyone's looking at the article history "" and "Yosho27" are both me (I signed in halfway through) Yosho27 (talk) 13:12, 9 September 2016 (UTC)

mansplaining much? -- 11:55, 9 September 2016 (UTC)

I don't think so. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 12:29, 9 September 2016 (UTC)
I would dispute that Megan isn't sure what she's talking about. It seems to me that she only sounds uncertain because she is trying to be polite; this is a common strategy for women in particular. (As evidence, note that I started the previous sentence with "it seems to me" instead of an assertion of fact, and the one before that is in the subjunctive mood.) 18:01, 19 September 2016 (UTC)
Worth pointing out that other comics that could be interpreted as mansplaining have had this potential explanation purged. It is my understanding that alternative possible explanations/ of the jokes were encouraged, and many explanations include what seem to be relatively unlikely alternatives. Manplaining is apparently the only one that is verboten. I won't speculate as to why. 22:59, 24 September 2016 (UTC)
Couldn't you imagine a woman behaving like White Hat? If you can, then that shows gender has nothing to do with the joke. HumaneEngineer (talk) 00:11, 27 September 2018 (UTC)

Any reference to "Somebody's WRONG on the Internet!"? 386: Duty Calls KieferSkunk (talk) 18:51, 9 September 2016 (UTC)

Went ahead and added it. :) KieferSkunk (talk) 19:15, 9 September 2016 (UTC)

Hope someone can comment on the theory of the abstraction of particles White Hat gets into in the last panel. Seems like the only part missing so far. I like this comic! ;-) --Kynde (talk) 20:34, 9 September 2016 (UTC)

Not really a Quantum physicist, but I read that it's *theoretically* possible (and seen in some particle expierements at the LHC) for a very specific arrangement of quarks to make a (superheavy) "Proton" that contains Antimatter (Anti-quarks)... A Pentaquark. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentaquark 23:56, 9 September 2016 (UTC)

While not really part of objects, there are plenty of positrons (antielectrons) around: they are produced by radioactive decay, can appear in thunderstorms, are used in nuclear medicine. There is enough radioactive isotope of potassium in average human body to produce thousands of positrons per second. -- Hkmaly (talk) 22:26, 10 September 2016 (UTC)

Is there a technical definition of "object" I am unaware of that excludes hypothetical and abstract objects? What is it that makes a flux capacitor not an object? Or public opinion? Or indeed a sphere made of antimatter? 15:36, 12 September 2016 (UTC)larK

It doesn't sound like the title text is literally what White Hat is saying, but rather someone else summarizing their statements in a mocking way. 23:28, 10 September 2016 (UTC)

I wonder if his thought (I'm wrong) ended up annihilated as if matter came into contact with antimatter...a bit of irony considering he WAS wrong about the antimatter assertion. Add if you think it makes sense.

I just wanted to comment on the nature of particles being abstractions from quantum field theory. Look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_field_theory in the section marked "Implications". It contains references to "particle-like" and "field-like" objects. The mathematics demonstrate artifacts that appear to correspond to the particles. However, does that mean that particle is a result of the mathematics or the mathematics represent the particle. If a particle is something that can be observed, how can it be an abstraction? The particle is a real object whose behavior can be described more or less accurately by the mathematics. Now, if you had a virtual world inside a computer where Quantum Field Theory is used to determine the location of particles, then particles would be abstract data arising from Quantum Field Theory. I realize that this sounds confusing, and I am trying to think of how to word this more clearly. BradleyRoss (talk) 15:58, 13 June 2017 (UTC)

I'm not a particle physicist, so my understanding is just that of a layman. I believe what this part of QFT tries to deal with is literally HOW the particle can exist (I don't think anyone is trying to say it doesn't exist). So QFT is a mathematical theory that attempts to describes a field (similar to electromagnetic field) that is underlying the particles, the excitations in this field are thought to give rise to the particle, I believe this is why the term 'abstraction' is used. WamSam (talk) 10:08, 19 June 2017 (UTC)

What if his thoughts were erased retroactively after him "observing" he was wrong? A la the result of that double-field experiment where observing the electrons changes the result (can't remember the name as of now)? 12:15, 16 June 2017 (UTC)

You're thinking of the double-slit experiment, where light changes behavior from a particle to a wave after a measuring device recorded its motion. Here's a great animation explaininng it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfPeprQ7oGc HumaneEngineer (talk) 00:11, 27 September 2018 (UTC)