Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
This comic takes a famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein, and expands upon it to absurd levels. The original quote is: "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." The basic premise of this quote is that World War III would be so devastating to the world that all humanity's progress would be wiped out and we would return to the technological level of the Stone Age.
The original quote is meant to be taken with a poetic license, with "sticks and stones" taken as a metaphor. Any literal interpretation reveals the quote to be faulty - a world war implies battles occurring through the world, on multiple continents, as part of a single war. Such a war can only occur in the presence of advanced communication networks, and advanced political/diplomatic structures; both of which would also imply weaponry far more sophisticated than sticks and stones. This comic pokes further fun at the literal interpretation of the quote, by appending to it other "literal statements" of a similarly ridiculous nature.
This comic expands the original quote letting Einstein suggest what other weapons future World Wars will be fought with:
- V: Crossbows. Crossbows are type of bow that is easier to use than a regular longbow, but is much more difficult to load. Most often used in medieval era.
- When loaded with metal tip darts and cocked with a winch crossbows have a potentially higher penetrating power than a regular longbow. Fired from short range, these darts could pierce a knight's armor.
- It's also notable that the crossbow was the only weapon to be banned by the Vatican, due to the comparative lack of skill required to operate.
- VI: Lasers. In science fiction, blasts of lasers are often used instead of conventional guns. This suggests that society would have managed to rebuild lasers by World War VI.
- VII: Blowguns. A blowgun is a small tube loaded with a small dart or other projectile, fired by blowing into one end. Once again, the world has been devastated, and returned to a simpler technology.
- VIII-XI: Skipped over.
- XII: The same weapons as III, but in underground tunnels. This is a parody of saying that X is basically Y 'but in space/underwater/etc', and, if the quote's well-known meaning is accepted, this has terrifying implications for the state of the world. It could also be a reference to HG Well's The Time Machine where the Morlocks are the master race of the future living in underground caves. Also the fact that he did not know which weapons were used in III makes it weird that he knows the same weapons will be used again later. He may be referencing the famous quote by George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." In which case, he is implying that by this time III is forgotten.
- XIII is completely unmentioned. This could be an error, but it makes some sense, considering that 13 is a number considered unlucky in many Western cultures and is sometimes skipped. For example, many tall buildings don't have a floor numbered 13, skipping straight from 12 to 14.
- Before Einstein can discuss World War XIV, the audience of his quote seems to be going away. Einstein claims to have 'a whole list', suggesting that he may know a lot about the future wars to come more so than he has already suggested.
In the title text Randall feigns annoyance about how the media only use the first part of the quote, thus taking it out of context. He implies that this is actually a full quote by Einstein and that all other occurrences using only the "original" version of this quote are misrepresenting it. In this particular case it is a much stronger quote than the long version from the comic, but it is often the case that quotes taken out of context seem to have an entirely different meaning than originally intended.
Incidentally, if you investigate the original context of the actual quotation, it turns out that Einstein may not have even said it in this exact form, and may in any case have got the idea from someone else. See the dicussion at Wikiquote.
- [A quote with white text on black background:]
|"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones. World War V will be fought with crossbows, World War VI will be lasers, and World War VII will be blowguns. I don't know about World Wars VIII through XI. World War XII will use the same weapons as III, but will be fought entirely within underground tunnels. World War XIV will—Hey, come back! I have a whole list!"|
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The mouseover text mentions stripping a quote of its context... although this kind of makes the point of the context can often dilute the meaning, it seems that a counter point could be made by pointing out an example where the context is the source at least two major quotes (such as "No man is an island" and "Ask not for whom the bell tolls" both coming from John Donne).
Or I could just be being frivolous here?
Joshupetersen (talk) 04:15, 30 May 2016 (UTC)
- or maybe a good example could be Darwin's qoute on the eye, which many creationist nutjobs take out of context and annoy everyone else in the same way Randall shows annoyance in the rollover text
JMR (talk) 02:03, 30 May 2016 (BST)
Hey, Randall skipped World War XIII. --XndrK (talk) 04:20, 30 May 2016 (UTC)
Maybe World War XIII is just sticks and stones again, considering XII? 188.8.131.52 05:14, 30 May 2016 (UTC)
- Sticks and stones underground!! 184.108.40.206 10:23, 30 May 2016 (UTC)
I swear that I've seen this exact joke somewhere before. Not just the general idea, but I mean down to the text. Can't find anything in searches though -- does anyone else remember seeing this before?--220.127.116.11 05:22, 30 May 2016 (UTC)
- It may be a memory of the black Cards Against Humanity 'question' card, that leaves a blank regarding what WW4 will be fought with so as to be answered with a non-sequiter white card? 18.104.22.168 10:23, 30 May 2016 (UTC)
- There's a practically identical joke in The Onion's Book of Known Knowledge. []
Comics released within the United State Memorial Day weekend. The unknown VIII-IX could reference Star Wars movies with their unknown scripts. 22.214.171.124
- I made this misreading too, but it's VIII-XI, and I do not know of that many star wars movies planned. Could it be a final fantasy reference? --PsyMar (talk) 09:17, 30 May 2016 (UTC)
- When I was a kid in the early/mid 80s, I heard that Star Wars was originally written (before any movies were made) as a trilogy of trilogies. When I noticed Empire and Jedi as Chapter 5 & 6 (and when they were remasterd Star Wars being retitled A New Hope and numbered 4), this seemed confirmed. Then when the prequel trilogy was later made, this seemed doubly confirmed. So I think 9 movies is the most we'll ever see. - NiceGuy1 126.96.36.199 06:03, 1 June 2016 (UTC) I finally signed up! This comment is mine. NiceGuy1 (talk) 10:21, 9 June 2017 (UTC)
That's how I took it (as Final Fantasy). I think this would be unprecedented for Randall, but hilarious if so - it certainly reads like a riff on the FF series wildly varying levels of technology and war. 188.8.131.52 19:42, 30 May 2016 (UTC)
Adding the black background to the transcript just makes it hard to read and kind of defeats the purpose of a transcript (since now it just looks like the comic in a different font). Can we keep this to the standard of all the other transcripts? 184.108.40.206 08:44, 31 May 2016 (UTC)
- How is it harder to read? It is the standard to let the transcript reflect the comic with colors etc. See for instance: 1168: tar, 1685: Patch and 1684: Rainbow. --Kynde (talk) 09:54, 31 May 2016 (UTC)
- Quote taken out of context
The current text says: "He implies that this is actually a full quote by Einstein and that all other occurrences using only the "original" version of this quote are misrepresenting it. In this particular case it is a much stronger quote than the long version from the comic, but it is often the case that quotes taken out of context seem to have an entirely different meaning than originally intended." I completely disagree.
What Einstein is saying is that he is horrified at the weapons that are being developed; and that he fears that if World War III ever breaks out, we will bomb ourselves back into the Stone Age. He is not actually making a prediction about fourth and subsequent world wars.
The longer "quote" as lengthened by Randall says, instead, "Hey, I'll try my hand at being Nostradamus (or St Malachy) and predict specifically which weapons will be used to fight a long series of upcoming world wars!"
This, of course, does entirely change the meaning of the quote. The Einstein quote is to prompt thoughtful contemplation of how we use the powerful weapons we develop. The lengthened quote would prompt either incredulity at the speaker's naivety, or possibly wonder at how he came up with these predictions, if one believes them to be accurate.
In other words, lengthening the quote does change it to an entirely different meaning than originally intended. The original meant, "Hey, be careful!" The lengthened quote simply means, "I think I'm Nostradamus!" Jsharpminor (talk) 00:58, 1 June 2016 (UTC)
- I agree, that's what that block of text means, and that's part of the joke. The short, original quote is much stronger than the long version this comic offers, and quotes taken out of context have a different meaning that originally intended ("The end justifies the means", anyone?). You're invited to make it clearer, but I don't see the issue. Phineas81707 (talk) 04:00, 1 June 2016 (UTC)
Right now the reasoning of how this explanation is incomplete states "There seems to be more to this comic than so far explained. Maybe a reference to all the Star Wars movies now planned...?". I vehementally disagree. I am completely convinced that there is no reference present or intended to the Star Wars franchise. The closest connections are the Roman numerals (which were being used for the World Wars long before even the first Star Wars existed) and the mention of warring with lasers (when laser weapons have appeared in countless other fictional places, it is far from unique to Star Wars). I actually find the explanation complete as is. PLEASE stop bloating the explanations with a load of unrelated information! Save the over-analysis for the comment section (and don't get me wrong, I LOVE over-analysis, just that the explanations should stick to explaning the comic, nothing more). :) - NiceGuy1 220.127.116.11 05:55, 1 June 2016 (UTC) This comment is also mine! NiceGuy1 (talk) 10:21, 9 June 2017 (UTC)
One of my friends said that here's a plot hole: the term "LASER" first appears in public in a 1959 paper, but Albert Einstein died in 1955. --18.104.22.168 14:39, 1 June 2016 (UTC)
Does World War IV as "sticks and stones" prefigure the use of homemade weapons in the war against militant Islamists since the fourth quarter of 2001? In this interpretation, World War III was the Cold War, and World War IV is the ongoing War on Terror, first against the Taliban and al-Qaeda and then against ISIL. --Tepples (talk) 13:13, 4 June 2016 (UTC)