755: Interdisciplinary

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Replace the pendulums with history students and you'll qualify for a grant!
Title text: Replace the pendulums with history students and you'll qualify for a grant!


An "interdisciplinary program" is a program at a school or university that involves students from multiple disciplines, or fields of study. Here, this comics lampoons the concept by envisioning an oddball exercise involving physics students and psychology students. Strictly speaking, this could be categorized as an interdisciplinary program. Further, the study of pendulums is common in physics courses, and the concept of fear arises in psychology, thus the joint effort can be supposedly said to unify both subjects.

The intersection of physics and psychology suggests the classic demonstration in which someone holds a heavy pendulum up against their face and releases it. Basic physics shows that the pendulum will, at most, harmlessly touch the person's face on the backswing (provided that they released it with no initial push and they do not lean forward); however, it may take some force of will to refrain from flinching as the pendulum approaches. This experiment (with Black Hat's twisted take) is referenced in 1670: Laws of Physics and 2539: Flinch.

In another example where the two concepts meet, the pendulum-like motion of objects (such as a gold pocketwatch on a chain) is stereotypically used in portrayals of psychology as a device for hypnotism.

Making fun of Psychology, History, and English majors is a common theme in various xkcd comics, such as 451: Impostor.

The title text suggests that replacing the pendulums with history students would guarantee funding of a grant, perhaps because of the increased number of disciplines involved. In reality it of course serves to increase injuries among students in majors that the physics students might view as enemies. Interestingly, this is apparently being said by the grant funders rather than the professor.


[In the foreground, 2 men and 1 woman are standing.]
Cueball: This is an interdisciplinary program in which Physics students try to hit Psychology students with pendulums.
Megan: Promising!
[In the background, a woman stands on a platform and releases a pendulum hanging from the ceiling that swings toward a man who is running away.]
Psychology student: AAAAAAA!
My professors had an ongoing competition to get the weirdest thing taken seriously under the label "interdisciplinary program".

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It all came apart when the biology department's killer cuttlefish murdered the committee. -Pennpenn 00:12, 16 February 2015 (UTC)

Can't say I blame them 02:54, 11 April 2019 (UTC)

link title The first thing that came to mind was the scene in the original book version of Contact by Carl Sagan. I can't remember if the movie had a similar scene, but the book's better anyway. Eleanor Arroway is trying to demonstrate to someone how her faith in science is unshakable by putting her face right up next to a displaced Foucalt pendulum. She then holds absolutely still while allowing the pendulum to swing away from her, then come back toward her. By conservation of energy, the pendulum should just reach her (at most) provided she hadn't moved from her position. But it turned out she did flinch, and when her observer "called her out on it" and claimed her faith in science perhaps wasn't that strong, she argued that it wasn't that - it was just decades of scientific condition trying (and failing) to overcome billions of years of evolution (the self-preservation instinct). I think that's what this strip was referencing, more than anything else. - Deepak (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I disagree Deepak... the experiment is independent of the scene in the book, and I think predates it. The book and the comic are both referencing the same phenomenon, but I don't see any evidence that the comic is referencing the book. 06:37, 3 May 2016 (UTC)

The explanation mentioned Black Hat, and while this seems like the kind of thing he'd do, the comic itself is void of our favorite class-hole. 13:50, 24 September 2017 (UTC)