Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Comic 711: Tortured Logic

This comic took me a while to get, actually, because its convoluted logic is so childlike, so alien to the way we usually think about things, that I could not even tell what was happening.

The idea, I suppose, is that if you do not have a seismograph to measure an earthquake, and you want to know if one is happening, you hook someone up to a polygraph and ask them if there is one. Then, if there is an earthquake and they answer "no," the polygraph will make some lines that look like seismograph lines.

Stop! stop right there, with your mind! Don't think harder! Don't ask any more questions! cage off that part of your brain that is thinking about this, and you might enjoy this comic!

For those of you who insist on thinking, you shitheads, your thought pattern may be something like this:

--But what if the guy says yes? Then there is nothing special on the polygraph. Is the idea that he just says "YES THERE IS AN EARTHQUAKE" and that is your polygraph, because hey, he told you there was an earthquake?

--Isn't the point of a seismograph to tell you how intense an earthquake was, not just whether one was happening or not?

--What if there isn't an earthquake happening? Then, if he says there is one, you still get a "there is an earthquake" reading on your polyseismograph.

--Most obviously and most importantly, how does the man in the chair know if there is an earthquake. That is, how does the guy in the chair know but not the guy standing? Of course if the earth were, you know, visibly quaking, that could do it, but then Standing Dude wouldn't have to ask.

Are you going to tell me not to think too hard about these things? Are you going to tell me that I need to relax and just take the comic as is, without thinking too hard? Well in that case I am going to tell you to shut the fuck up because these questions are so basic, so obvious to any mildly intelligent reader, and so core to understanding the point of the comic, that you have to ask them. You have to question it when the comic requires you to suspend your belief so much that one of the characters must be a magic psychic earthquake sensing mystic but otherwise, in every other detail, life would be exactly the same. If that were the case, this comic would be funny. Alas, we do not have earthquake sensing mystics on this planet! OH WELL.

Put another way, this comic seems to rely on the childlike notion that if you had a polygraph, you could figure out every truth in the world, by stating it or its opposite and seeing how the polygraph reacted. I am sure my five year old self, upon learning of a magical machine known as a lie detector, imagined hooking someone up to it, asking if aliens or dinosaurs or something existed, and, if the person said "yes" and the machine did not detect a lie, being thrilled that I had just proved the existence of aliens, and moreover, that I may get to meet them (would I ever get to meet them? only one way to find out - ask the lie detector!).

(this comic also relies on the childlike notion that polygraphs actually work as a way to establish if someone is lying or not, but let's not even take up that question, we have enough to deal with as is).

anyway, i guess what i'm trying to say is that if you liked this comic it means you are stupid.


update: a lot of commenters are saying that I've missed the point of this comic, which is to show how ridiculous the whole idea is. People! Think about what you are saying! You are saying that the point of this comic is to write out something terrifically stupid and then laugh about how stupid it is. That's like me making a typo and then saying it was a joke, because obviously I would not be so stupid as that! I was acting stupid, for a joke.


  1. Anyone get a good look at the forum? It was fairly universally disappointed at this comic. Either that, or people from here are posting on the forums now. :\

  2. I looked at the forums yesterday. The commentary was pretty generally negative, with only a few people who were obviously haters beforehand.

  3. Carl, DUH, the whole point is that all the stuff you nitpick at is the JOKE! It's precisely because all those connections are absurd that the idea of using a polygraph as a seismograph is FUNNY!

    Normally I wouldn't say this, but it seems you just didn't get this one...come back when you're in the target audience.

  4. Man, Carl, how come you hate kids?

    I don't have much opinion on the comic itself, though.

  5. I mean... but what you are criticizing is the very point of this comic: using a polygraph in such a way is ridiculous. You actually think Randall believes that this would work? I've been loving your critiques lately but with this one you may have gone off the deep end in uncharitable interpretations.

  6. but - but that is stupid! Is that really the point? That he is saying something stupid? I hope that is not the point.

  7. I get what he was trying to do with this: using a polygraph in this way is so ridiculously stupid! hahaha!

    But where he fails is that it's just too convoluted. Is the guy lying about an earthquake or telling the truth about an earthquake or lying about an absence of an earthquake? Does one guy know more about earthquakes than the other? What's going on? Why would this be a protip?

    After pondering all of this, any amount of "hah! that's OBVIOUSLY so stupid!" humor kind of flies out the window.

    Also usually in webcomics I've always seen "protip" used in a way where the advice would WORK, but it's such a disgusting/unforgivable/ridiculous thing that no one would follow the advice.

    For example, the lab coat baby orifice xkcd from a week or so back could have been labeled "protip: you can just BUY lab coats" (not that that's very funny, but that's an example of how the word is usually used.

    That's obviously not going on, because this whole polygraph setup doesn't work! Assume we don't know if there's an earthquake, then assume we don't know if the guy is telling the truth, and we have no way of using this method to detect earthquakes. THIS IS NOT A PROTIP. It is just retarded.

  8. I thought of it as the person is purposely lying. And the lie detector detects how much of a lie it is/how nervous it makes him, thus giving a sense of the magnitude of an earthquake, kinda like a seismograph.

  9. Personally, in light of the earthquake in Chile, I'd say it was pretty stupid to make an earthquake-related joke in the first place. Too soon, Randall. Apparent lack of sympathy = fail.

  10. Carl, you have a point. This comic provided no practical advice about how to detect an earthquake when a seismograph is not available. Which is unfortunate, because that is exactly what I read webcomics for. Certainly not for the chuckle I get from a fun and silly idea that is put out there with the awareness that it is silly.

  11. First of all, the process of logically explaining why a joke is funny completely kills it, but I think you're misinterpreting the joke completely.

    The joke rests completely on the ridiculousness of using a lie detector in this way, despite the fact that there would be some correlation between the output of a seismograph and the output of a lie detector if the participant were attempting to say that there wasn't an earthquake when there was. It is honestly hard to explain it in more detail without literally going into a discussion of what humor is at the most basic level.

    The fact that the person in the chair would have to answer "no" for this correlation to hold implies that he would be a willing participant for the premise to hold (answering your first and third question).

    Even granting that the person administering the test was unable to tell whether an earthquake was going on, it is doubly ridiculous because the person in the chair could just tell him without the lie detector.

    But an additional layer of ridiculousness (read: humor) is that for this scheme to work (i.e. for the person in the chair to know that there was an earthquake going on) the person administering the test would obviously know as well (question four).

    As for your second question, it is a good one. I suppose you're right and this would not actually serve as a reliable seismograph.

    I don't think that the reason you didn't find the comic funny was because you were thinking too hard, just the wrong thoughts.

  12. remember when he made that miscarriage joke the day CAD did their whole serious-miscarriage comic

    HOW DARE YOU!!!!!!!!! YOU DON'T KNOW! YOU DON'T KNOW!!!!!!!!!

    R.I.P. Baby Ethan

  14. My take on the comic was that if you put someone in the polygraph and tell them to lie, during an earth quake, and asked him if there were an earthquake or not, the readouts on the polygraph would somehow correlate between the enormity of the lie and the magnitude of the quake.

    But yeah, that was a rather bad comic...

  15. Or it is a comment on what Hollywood would do it in a film if no seismograph is available.

  16. I dont get how the situation being absurd generatues humour in itself-

    Well placed absurdity could, but this is confusing, (the art is horrible) and we can't really tell what the fuck is actually going on.

    Concequently, it's just retarded.

    But, since so many people insist otherwise, I'm going to make a webcomic where the entire premise is"retarded inane bullshit" and make millions.

    The first strip will be a man shitting on a triangular rainbow- PROTIP, in a pinch, meterological phenomena can act like toilet paper"

  17. I think the reason I can't just accept this as absurd humor and laugh and move on is because the whole point of XKCD is allegedly to overthink things in a nerdy fashion!

    Yes, trying to detect an earthquake in this way clearly won't work, but my mind can't help going down dead ends wondering about all the little silly details and whether Randall was actually trying to go somewhere with this.

  18. Urgh, I usually take XKCDsucks with a pinch of salt but I have to agree with this one. The whole 'it's MEANT to be stupid" is ridiculous. The only way you can find this funny is if your starting assumption is 'XKCD is funny, let's find out why' which is cyclic logic at it's worst...

  19. It's never "too soon" for any joke.

    That being said, this comic has no joke.

  20. I've been in an earthquake, the one that struck Chile a couple of weeks ago. Here's a tip for Randall:

    How do you know there's an earthquake going on?


    There's nothing funny about earthquakes. You have difficulties staying on your feet, everything around you is rumbling and rattling and you're wondering whether your house is going to start collapsing and you just want it all to stop.

  21. I would say you're thinking too much about this, but then again Randall is the kind of guy who think way too much about things and to expect his fans to accept a mindless dumb joke like this would be kind of hypocritical.

  22. Ugh, second time this week I have to say this-
    the dog pillow buffered my nipples.
    From now on that means absurdity doesn't automatically generate humour, even doing absurdist humour you need an actual punchline besides "haha, that doesn't make sense".
    Not that I thought this was the joke with the God-R2D2 thing, but someone else did, and thought it was good, so fuck that guy.

  23. For the guy in the chair to know an earthquake is happening, the guy asking the question would also have to know because it would be OBVIOUS. I think maybe that's where the joke is? Or maybe something to do with their not being a seismograph so it's not scientific but the polygraph (not really) is? I don't know.

    But these "too soon" comments crack me up. Humor (supposedly what Randy here does) doesn't respect the timing of things. Either it's funny, or it isn't, it's not a matter of how long after an event happens.

  24. My (probably incorrect) understanding was that if there was an earthquake, the needle on the "lie detector" would make the lines just like on a seismograph? But then... why is the person asking him if there is an earthquake? Wouldn't the standing man, as pointed out above, also feel the earthquake if the sitting man can? Randall prides himself on his logical know-how as evidence in 703, aka the "Tautology Club" one, and then he puts shit like this out. What on Earth was he thinking? If this is the best he thought up of, what were the rejects like? Does he even read his comics, or are they typed out by a thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters?

    The mind boggles.

  25. I thought, originally, that he was using the seismograph as a lie detector, and that therefore he was ALSO seeing that the guy was lying when asked if there was an earthquake, which assumes the guy compulsively lies for no reason or something. The other way is it's just a lie detector, and it's being used as a seismograph, but that makes even less sense. All in all, not really logical or funny.

  26. If there is an earthquake, it will probably scare you. If you are scared, your heart rate increases and so does your breathing. These are the things a lie detector/polygraph detects. The higher the heart rate, the bigger the lines. The stronger the earthquake, the more scared you will probably be. Therefor, the polygraph is effectively a seismograph, as it detects the existence of one and measures the strength of one, albiet on an arbitrary scale.

  27. Sex Dice has it. The picture is an absurd decoy; the lie detector works as a seismograph because it can respond to small vibrations. The mouseover text works because a seismograph would detect the nervous tic. The lie detector as seismograph is not a good joke, though, so the absurd decoy is used to make people who get the (lame) joke chuckle about a silly misinterpretation. Even then it's still not particularly good.

  28. Mitch Hedberg did it better and first:

    'I don't get the regular AIDS test anymore. I get the roundabout AIDS test. I ask my friend Brian, "Do you know anybody who has AIDS?". He says, "No". I say, "Cool, because you know me."'

  29. A polygraph chair has a sensor in the seat to guage how much you move, so there is more merit to the comic.

    This site resolutely reaffirms the maxim, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach. And those who can't teach, criticize."

  30. Those who can't criticize(or think critically at all) post idiotic unoriginal comments on crtic blogs.

  31. Yet you are criticising this blog.

    I wonder what that makes you.

  32. My take on it: Both parties are obviously aware of the existance of an earthquake. He purposely and repeatedly answers the question inaccurately, knowing that the lie detector will register his lies. The bigger the earthquake is at the moment, the more a lie detector will assumably register his lie to be (at least in comedy based fictional versions of lie detectors), which will leave peaks and valleys based on how bad the earthquake was throughout it's duration, much like a seismograph would.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is...you have a small penis.

  33. ^ Yes, this. They're not measuring whether there is an earthquake or not, but how severe it is, based on how severe the seated man is lying when he says "No". This requires assuming that the science actually works like this, but generous scientific assumptions aren't exactly unreasonable for comics (unless, arguably, the comic purports to be about math). But even so, it's still not a very good comic.

    And to say that the point of the comic is to be so implausibly absurd is dumb and, rather than saving the comic, makes it appear even worse. I'd rather have a bad joke than one that's just meaningless.

  34. "(this comic also relies on the childlike notion that polygraphs actually work as a way to establish if someone is lying or not, but let's not even take up that question, we have enough to deal with as is)."

    If you think that only children hold this notion of how lie detectors work, well that's Bullshit! (That is to say: note the couple highlighted on Penn and Teller's Bullshit!)

  35. Lots of paranormal shows ask people on polygraphs if they saw a ghost.

  36. I was still more of a fan of XKCD than a critic until this cartoon.

    It sucks. Painfully unfunny.

  37. i think randall was thinking one step further than carl was, but randall still wasn't taking everything into account. all in all it's very stupid, but i just want to find the intent and where it goes wrong.

    so the comic is only meant to refer to the situation in there DEFINITELY IS an earthquake. and, probably, the guy in the chair has been told to lie. i think the idea is that depending on how severe his lie is, (how "bad" his lie is?) as if the higher on the richter scale the earthquake would be, the "more" he would be lying about whether or not there's an earthquake, even though "no there is not an earthquake happening" should be definitively true or not true, instead of having degrees.

    but of course randall doesn't take into account that in a staged situation like that, the participant probably wouldn't feel nervous about lying. the whole idea of a lie detector test isn't that it knows objectively whether something is true or not true (as carl pointed out), it takes into account how nervous it makes the person to say it, along with other factors. so in that respect, the lie detector would record nothing interesting.

    however, we also have to assume that randall is referring to the use of this as a seismograph when the earthquake is definitely happening, else why would you need it "in a pinch" ? so the lie detector, which is otherwise very sensitive, is freaking out because the ground is shaking. duh. it doesn't even matter whether or not his lie is "more" of a lie, or if he's more nervous telling it - the ground is shaking erratically, and nothing recorded is going to be useful at all.

    maybe by some stretch randall was suggesting that you could factor out what the lie detector would record about the lie and be left with the seismograph reading, but it's too random. basically, the reading for the lie detector is just going to be fucked up. you can't tell how intense the earthquake was from how fucked up the reading is.

    so the guy whose lies are being detected are totally irrelevant. if anything, you would just use the lie detector and have it not be testing anyone, then see how the earthquake affects it from a flat line. it absolutely doesn't matter whether he's lying or not.

    so, yes, overall this comic is incredibly stupid, basically tying together two things that on first glance seem somewhat similar but are totally unrelated and incongruous: seismographs are instruments of measuring general intensity, while the lie detector printout is going to be much more detailed and subtle. it's a really hastily constructed joke, and it should have been scrapped before it ever got this forced.

    wow, that was too many words, and this is really late for the comic. but maybe you enjoyed following my train of thought. at least this is anonymous.