915: Connoisseur

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Our brains have just one scale, and we resize our experiences to fit.
Title text: Our brains have just one scale, and we resize our experiences to fit.

[edit] Explanation

White Hat is fond of good wine, and he can probably distinguish slight differences in different types of wine, perhaps being the type that attends wine tasting parties. He doesn't like the cheap wine that Cueball has served for him (implying a cheap wine cannot be a good one, a statement most wine enthusiasts passionately agree with), looking with disgust at the label of the offending bottle.

On the other hand, Cueball doesn't have a preference; all of them taste the same for him, so presumably he gets the cheaper ones. White Hat tells Cueball that if he just tried some really good wine and paid more attention he would discover a whole new world.

Cueball's answer is the main message of the comic. He says that wine is no different from anything else in this respect, and makes a list starting with the wine but then going past house music, fonts, ants, Wikipedia signatures ending up with Canadian surrealist porn. His point is that if you spend enough time focusing one special type of subjects/taste/visual challenges, then you'll become a snobby connoisseur of that topic.

White Hat tries to defend wine by saying that some things have more depth than others (wine being among them), but Cueball challenges him on this by choosing something as obscure as 500 pictures of Joe Biden, the famously gaffe prone Vice President of the United States alongside Barack Obama, eating a sandwich as an example. He claims that if people are locked up in a box with those pictures for a year, they would end up being connoisseur on that subject with the same vehemence regarding the best picture as wine tasters can be about the best wine.

White Hat claims that this is an exaggeration, but Cueball takes this as a challenge so in the last panel, apparently White Hat and Cueball are actually running this experiment to see if they will end up concentrating on slight differences among the placement of mayonnaise on the pictures of Joe Biden eating a sandwich, just in the same way that White Hat concentrates on slight differences among kinds of wine. The result of the experiment is clearly going to Cueball's side, the discussion mainly going on the importance of mayo or the light through lettuce from the sandwiches.

This mentality may also be applied to online groups based on certain subjects (such as television shows, films, and other hobbies and interests), where arguments and vehement, stubborn opinions are common despite the fairly unimportant subject.

The title text presents the same idea in a different wording. The "scale of our brains" refers to a concept similar to Richard Dawkins' Middle World, where things too small (say, smaller than the point of a pin) or too big (bigger than what we can see from a mountaintop) are just out of our comprehension, so the things our brains understand must be neither too small nor too big, i.e. the "middle world".

However, the title text goes further in this idea: When we find things too big (like the distance to the Moon), we shrink it so that it fits into the "middle world" we're used to. Conversely, when we find things too small (say, a mote of dust), we expand it for the same reason. In a quite similar way, if all we have is pictures of Joe Biden eating a sandwich, we "resize" that subject so that we can fill books with the details about the pictures.

Specialized interests and the people involved in them are used again, with ants being the subject of 1610: Fire Ants, typefaces in 590: Papyrus and 736: Cemetery, plastic straws in 1095: Crazy Straws and porn-video quality in 598: Porn.

In 1534: Beer, Cueball also argue slight differences in alcohol brands don't make much difference (in 915 "Wine all tastes the same to me."; in 1534, "maybe we should just admit that all beer tastes kind of bad and everyone's just pretending?") and people just pretend due to social pressure.

[edit] Transcript

[White Hat is holding a wine glass down in one hand and holding a bottle of wine up in front of him with the other hand. He is looking at the label and talking with Cueball standing next to him with his own filled wine glass in one hand. He is looking down at the glass.]
White Hat: How do you stand this cheap wine?
Cueball: Wine all tastes the same to me.
[Close-up of White Hat.]
White Hat: You've just never had good wine. If you paid more attention, you'd realize there's a whole world here.
[Close-up on Cueball, who spreads his arms out, resulting in the wine in the glass sloshing so much that part of the wine is above the rim of the glass, some even hanging over the edge and a spray droplet hanging above the sloshing liquid.]
Cueball: But that's true of anything! Wine, house music, fonts, ants, Wikipedia signatures, Canadian surrealist porn—
Cueball: Spend enough time with any of them and you'll become a snobby connoisseur.
[This panel has no border and is next to but aligned further down than the first three panels. It shows a zoom out of both White Hat and Cueball again. White Hat now has both glass and bottle held down at his side. Cueball holds his glass down, but tilted away from him. A small puddle of wine is on the floor next to Cueball.]
White Hat: But some things do have more depth than others.
Cueball: If you locked people in a box for a year with 500 still frames of Joe Biden eating a sandwich, by the end they'd be adamant that some were great and some were terrible.
White Hat: You're exaggerating.
Cueball: Oh, really?
[This panel is below the feet of the two characters from the previous panel. It goes further to the left than those two, and is wider than the previous panels, but it does not go much past the middle, so there is a blank white space to the left of this panel, below the first and most of the second panel. It shows a box, with two star burst on the surface from where two voices emanate from the inside. Over the top left of the panels frame is a small frame with a caption:]
A year later:
Voice (from left side of the box): Sure, most closed-mouth frames are boring, but in #415, the way the man's jaw frames the mayo on his hand is pure perfection, and—
Voice (from right side of the box): What a surprise- you praising a mayo frame. Listening to you, I'd think there was nothing else in The Sandwich.
Voice (from right side of the box): Frankly, the light hitting J.B.'s collar through the lettuce would put #242 in my top ten even if he had no mayo on his hand at all.

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Let's face it: every wine connoisseur is an alcoholic. You have to drink a lot of wine over a long period of time to begin distinguishing all wine-types, flavors etc. Rule of nature. No discussion. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

This is one of those xkcd comics that I'm just constantly linking back to as an image retort. I love Randall. Davidy²²[talk] 01:28, 17 April 2013 (UTC)

I expanded the explanation and removed the incomplete tag. 14:47, 5 December 2013 (UTC)

The current incomplete tag asks why voice 1 calls Joe Biden "the man" and voice 2 calls him J.B. As far as I can see, there is no deeper/cryptic meaning to the choice of these words, other than possible space saving. Both 'J.B.' and 'the man' are shorter than 'Joe Biden'. I personally don't believe that this requires any further explanation, but I will leave the incomplete tag for now. If there are no updates to the page or additional discussion here, I will remove the incomplete tag in due course. --Pudder (talk) 13:06, 30 July 2015 (UTC)

The stars are named Joe Biden, though. Hmmmm... RedHatGuy68 (talk) 05:20, 23 January 2016 (UTC)
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