660: Sympathy

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Excellent recovery:... which we could try to use to somehow save your original brother!
Title text: Excellent recovery:... which we could try to use to somehow save your original brother!


This comic plays at the lack of social skills physicists and other people in heavily scientific disciplines are stereotypically believed to have. The example displayed is a case of condolence, in which the appropriate behaviour would of course be to express compassion with the bereaved, as shown in the second panel.

In the third panel, the physicist fails to display the endorsed demeanour. Instead, he takes a scientific approach towards the statement of his friend. He points out that the transmission of the pain the latter believes to have felt, is in fact limited by the speed of light and could therefore not have been 'instant'. By saying so, he betrays an absence of feeling towards his friend, as well as his inability to understand the figurative sense of the words.

In the last panel, the physicist takes the previous to a bizarre extreme and reflects on the consequences that would follow if the statement of his friend were indeed literally true. According to special relativity, any object travelling faster than at the speed of light would in fact move backwards in time. The physicist therefore plans to utilize this effect in order to construct a tachyonic antitelephone, a device that allows sending information to the past. To confirm the initial condition, he makes the utterly inappropriate proposal to start a series of measurements with other family members of his friend.

A correction of the misdemeanour is suggested in the title text: The antitelephone might be used to change causality and save the original brother from dying in the first place. Of course, saying the latter would not be of much help in the given scenario, although it does serve a noticeable improvement over the last two panels.

Note how he says 'original brother', noting that although he would have saved his brother, another family member would have to have been killed to do so.

The use of right/wrong/very wrong is also presented in 803: Airfoil.


Sympathy Tips for Physicists
[Cueball and friend are talking.]
Friend: The moment my brother died, I felt a searing pain in my heart.
[Cueball places his hand on the friend's shoulder.]
Cueball: I'm so sorry.
Cueball: Was it instant, or was there a speed-of-light delay?
Very Wrong:
[Cueball thoughtfully puts his hand on his chin.]
Cueball: If it was instant, with the right arrangement of moving reference frames, we could use this to send signals back in time and violate causality! How many remaining siblings do you have?

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Someone might want to fix this - I don't know how. When I click the "next" arrow at the top, instead of taking this page to 661, it opens up an entirely new window for 661. 21:10, 18 November 2015 (UTC)

Terry Pratchett made a similar joke to this in Mort: “The only thing known to go faster than ordinary light is monarchy, according to the philosopher Ly Tin Wheedle. He reasoned like this: you can't have more than one king, and tradition demands that there is no gap between kings, so when a king dies the succession must therefore pass to the heir instantaneously. Presumably, he said, there must be some elementary particles -- kingons, or possibly queons -- that do this job, but of course succession sometimes fails if, in mid-flight, they strike an anti-particle, or republicon. His ambitious plans to use his discovery to send messages, involving the careful torturing of a small king in order to modulate the signal, were never fully expanded because, at that point, the bar closed.” 18:50, 7 March 2023 (UTC)

Just commenting to say that "instant" and "moment" are distinctly different measures of time in my view. 12:58, 16 April 2023 (UTC)

I think it's worth noting that it's impossible to save the original brother that way. Any experiment they start now can't send a signal back to before the experiment. Also, to send messages into the spacelike past (times and places that are in the past from every frame of reference), they'd need another person that can feel sibling deaths. DanielLC (talk) 20:38, 31 May 2024 (UTC)