In this comic, Cueball expresses his difficulty with psychological projection. Projection is taking qualities of the self and attributing these qualities to others.
Cueball actually admits he has a real problem with projecting, but while doing so, he is seemingly oblivious to the fact, that he is stating this in a way that projects his self-identified difficulty upon his friends: Ponytail, Megan and White Hat. Of course, this could also just be a joke made by Cueball, as it is the joke in the comic. On the other hand, Cueball and Randall have serious issues with social interactions, and this could just be another example of such a problem.
In the title text, Cueball continues his projections, stating that this is something we all need to work on. So he continues to believe that all the others have the same problem, not just a lot of them as in his original statement, which left the possibility that not all of them had this issue. In the end, he also tops it by saying but especially you all indicating that he imagines his own case is a less serious issue of projection than that he actually projects the others as having.
Alternately, the phrase having a real problem with projection usually means the person speaks quietly, their voice doesn't carry very far, particularly in acting and public speaking environments. Someone with difficulty projecting wouldn't be heard by people in the back row, or perhaps even halfway into the audience (depending how much difficulty they have). This comic is notably smaller than the average xkcd comic, making it the visual / comic equivalent to not projecting. Just as a non-projecting voice cannot be heard very far away, this comic cannot be seen very far away (in either case, not as far as usual). Under this interpretation, the title text is referencing that his audience is also not projecting, they're just as small as he is.
Alternatively, Cueball expresses his difficulty with complex numbers. There exists a common projection between the complex and reals, but it may not be clear to him about which method to use or how to do it. If he is projecting onto the real part of the complex line, then his issue is a many-to-one problem, which explains why it is everyone else's problem as well.
An alternative perspective might be that the characters, as stick figures, are represented as two dimensional projections of three dimensional objects, and this projection has an issue that depth information is not preserved, so for example, it isn't clear whether cueball is facing towards us or away from us. As his arms are not foreshortened by the projection, this indicates that he is standing in an unnatural pose, so the fact that he says that especially the other characters have a problem with projection would be a good example of psychological projection.
A further alternative read could be that Cueball is acting as the Randall surrogate, noting that the other characters are projections of Randall's conscious and subconscious self. The title text could then be read as either directed to those aspects as expressed as characters within the comic, or directed to the reader, who also has things to work on.
A different meaning of the term "Projecting" is seen in the fields of public speaking and drama, being the way that a person clearly uses their voice to address an audience. If Cueball is not projecting well, then the characters listening to him may ignore him.
Projection is an ongoing issue. People from disparate communities can experience this all the time, where one person assumes out of habit that the other person has the traits of their community. On the end of the spectrum, projection can be completely delusional, as the comic hints at. It would make sense for that be more common for people who attend less to where others are at, such as introverted or powerful people, two groups that experienced engineers can land in.
It is also possible that Cueball is addressing the portion of readers who feel the need to project onto Randall their own desire (and meticulousness in analytical searching) for layers upon layers of hidden meaning in xkcd comics. The assumption that he has stuffed several different obscure punchlines into the one sentence of a single-panel comic is, despite the layered punchlines in some other comics, quite a stretch. Randall may be suggesting that such projections from readers onto him are problematic because they cause comic explanation pages to be filled with rambling speculation that can make the explanation of the actual joke harder to understand.
- [Ponytail, Cueball, Megan, and White Hat are standing. Cueball is talking, with arms outstretched, palms up, while the other three are looking at him.]
- Cueball: Like a lot of you, I have a real problem with projection.
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Is this a meta joke about how Randall projects himself onto the xkcd characters like cueball, etc.? 22.214.171.124 22:44, 23 August 2021 (UTC)
- No. 126.96.36.199 00:12, 24 August 2021 (UTC)
- No, in this context projection is where, instead of confronting one's own flaws, one convinces themselves other people are equally flawed. Often times people do this because it's easier to claim other people are just as bad than it is to improve yourself. 188.8.131.52 01:08, 24 August 2021 (UTC) Duban
There you go, Duban; it's like if I accused you of being a terse anonymous editor of this text . . . but I am being one myself. "Before you accuse me; Take a look at yourself." is a song lyric Slow Hand composed based on that idea. 184.108.40.206 11:57, 24 August 2021 (UTC)
- Clapton recorded "Before You Accuse Me" multiple times, but it was written by the great Bo Diddley. GoingBatty (talk) 13:15, 25 August 2021 (UTC)
Can I delete the alternative explanation about map projections? I feel like it definitely is not the subject of the comic. Dr. Beret (talk) 05:10, 24 August 2021 (UTC)
- Nevermind Dr. Beret (talk) 05:11, 24 August 2021 (UTC)
I thought this was about projecting the complex numbers into the reals. 220.127.116.11 05:52, 24 August 2021 (UTC)
- How and why? :-D Obviously this is about the psychological feature of thinking others have your flaws as well. He even acknowledges he has a REAL problem. Had their been something with complex in the title text then maybe we could have discussed the possibility. --Kynde (talk) 06:36, 24 August 2021 (UTC)
- So did I. The fact that he emphasizes REAL problem, that this is "A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language"--particularly the "math" part, that there are many people there supposing a many-to-one relationship, all makes it apparent that this is a comic about complex analysis. I mean, the title text even says that this is an issue everyone else has, which is commonly said in mathematics education. 18.104.22.168 18:03, 24 August 2021 (UTC)
In Danish we have a saying: "Tyv tror hver mand stjæler" translates to "A thief believes everybody steals." This is projecting. Is this something you would also say in English? I have looked on Google but cannot find a similar saying in English, that like the Danish version is a well known saying. Anyone that knows an English saying that would cover this? I have seen suggestions for "Takes one to know one"but this is about knowing another because you are one. But that is not the same as thinking everyone is. Also "All looks yellow to a jaundiced eye" this may be closer, but more difficult to understand, but is it a known saying? (Was attributed to A. Pope). --Kynde (talk) 06:47, 24 August 2021 (UTC)
- It's sort of the inverse to "Do as you would be done by", I suppose. I.e.: do as you think you could be done by; get your retaliation in first! And I also found (by surprise) that it was a known English phrase in the thief form. In my search, as direct equivalent to a Spanish 'original' that it was compared with, so probably cross-pollination across languages, in whatever directions from whatever true origin.
- Of phrases actually known to me without cheating, it's almost covered by the half-principled/self-deluding grifter's old adage of "You can't cheat an honest man", but not enough for my liking. 22.214.171.124 08:52, 24 August 2021 (UTC)
- There is a saying, "Be careful when you point your finger at someone else, because there are three fingers pointing back at you." Rtanenbaum (talk) 14:44, 24 August 2021 (UTC)
Here's a good example by Eric Clapton: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoDwVNOPyyw 126.96.36.199 12:01, 24 August 2021 (UTC)
Connecting to the more maths based interpretations: I thought it was about projection from 3D to 2D, as real people are 3 dimensional object, however these cartoon characters are all projected to 2D, loosing many of their properties, so they all have a problem with projection this way.
I guess the comic is in general about the multitude of meanings of the term "projection". For a short overview see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Projection . I think every reader will place his own thought bubbles over Poytail, Megan and Whitehat. The mouse text is then still another example of the meanings of projection.
I feel like this comic is notably smaller than usual, making me think the gag is much simpler, that he's saying he can't project his VOICE - and as a comic, his image - that this is both audibly and visually whispering, he is speaking (as well as showing himself) less than he should, due to his difficulty "projecting". I haven't read too much of the two explanations, but they seem like the usual overthinking mess, LOL! NiceGuy1 (talk) 07:32, 18 December 2021 (UTC)
Okay, nobody noticed my comment in nearly 6 months, so I corrected it myself. I didn't want to completely remove the probably completely wrong explanation, so I put the correct explanation as an alternate take. If someone realizes I'm right, you might want to adjust things. NiceGuy1 (talk) 12:20, 5 June 2022 (UTC)