2592: False Dichotomy
Title text: There are two types of dichotomy: False dichotomies, true dichotomies, and surprise trichotomies.
A dichotomy is two alternatives which are normally mutually exclusive (such as the dichotomy between a flat Earth and non-flat Earth). A false dichotomy is a logical fallacy based on an incorrect perception of limited options (for example: if the page background isn't white, it is black).
Cueball has apparently made one such error and is being called out by White Hat for it. Upon having this pointed out to him, Cueball says that we must embrace false dichotomies, because the only other option is cannibalism. This statement is another false dichotomy, as presenting false dichotomies is not the only alternative to cannibalism. The reverse (that cannibalism is incompatible with expressing false dichotomies) is also not potentially true, as eating people may eventually result in having nobody you need to present false dichotomies to.
Cueball has thus created another false dichotomy to excuse his first.
The false dichotomy Cueball appears to be referring to is the notion that those identified as human must not be eaten, but even closely related animals are not human and can be eaten, i.e. species can be divided clearly between "human" and "food". If this dichotomy is not accepted, then consuming any species that shares, for instance, any significant percentage of DNA with humans could be considered a measure of cannibalism.
The title text states that there are two kinds of dichotomies, making a dichotomy in itself. Due to three types of dichotomy being mentioned, and only two being foreshadowed, this statement is itself a surprise trichotomy, or three-parted choice. The title text is a variation of the "Two kinds of People" joke. The classic math nerd variant is "There are three kinds of people in the world, those who can count, and those who can't." Alternatively, it may refer to a variation about binary. The original joke usually goes something like this: "There are 10 types of people: those who know binary, and those who don't." The variation is usually something like the following: "There are 10 types of people: those who know binary, and those who don't, and those who weren't expecting a ternary joke." Another version of this kind of joke is "there are two kinds of people: those who can extrapolate from an incomplete data set,"
The word trichotomy is a relative neologism, to be understood as to mean "divided into (or amongst) three parts", having replaced the original prefix "di-" (a factor of two, either doubled or, by context, halved) with that of "tri-" (similarly tripled/thirded). Strictly, though, dichotomy more directly stems from Greek elements that say "apart, I cut", with "apart" being represented by the "dicho-" (itself being roughly "into two", or to separate) which does not have a direct "tricho-" equivalent, although it does ultimately derive from "duo", Greek for "two". This is the kind of linguistic nuance that Randall clearly enjoys, yet may also happily or carelessly (mis)use without compunction.
It can also be translated through the other Greek word, θρίξ (thríx), turning "trichotomy" into "cutting hair off". The fact that both characters in this strip don't have visible hair is probably just a coincidence.
- [White Hat and Cueball are talking to each other. White Hat has his arms spread outwards in exasperation, while Cueball gestures assertively with his pointer finger.]
- White Hat: That's a false dichotomy!
- Cueball: Yes, but we have to embrace false dichotomies, because the only alternative is cannibalism.
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