Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
|Combination Vision Test|
Title text: If you see two numbers but they're both the same and you have to squint to read them, you have synesthesia, colorblindness, diplopia, and myopia.
There are two numbers embedded in the big circle of numbers, in a similar way to a common color perception test. But this test can not work for colors because it is just a Black and White picture. Nobody can see it. But at this point the joke is just starting:
The numbers are four and two, forming the number 42, which is the famous “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything”, according to the book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
The number 4 is formed by digits 2, 3, 5 and 7, which are the only prime numbers in the range 0–9.
The number 2 is formed by digits 3, 5, 7 and 9, apparently all odd numbers in the range 0–9, except for 1.
A normal person does not readily see the big numbers, obviously. However, there is a neurological condition called synesthesia, in which perception in one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. Common examples are experiencing colors when seeing numbers or words (Grapheme-color synesthesia), hearing tones or music while reading words or text, seeing sequences of numbers or month names in a distinct and fixed shape (Number form), etc. If we give some numbers a color, such as how a person with number to color synesthesia would see it, we get this:
The comic playfully suggests that if you have synesthesia as well as colorblindness, then some of the colors might appear identical and so one number would not be visible, only leaving the other number.
The alt-text brings in two more conditions: diplopia, or double vision, and myopia, or near-sightedness. Those who are near-sighted sometimes see distant objects more clearly while squinting. Then they would be able to see the one large number still visible from the synesthesia/colorblindness combination, but because of double vision they see a second copy of it, hence two numbers that are the same.
Since each number would appear in a different color with synesthesia (unlike above where 2,3,5,7,9 are all the same color), the following image better demonstrates how the image might appear to some viewers.
In general it does not work for people having synesthesia because there are too many chaotic numbers in that circle. They only see colors when they can identify each single number because it's a neurological condition. The color is produced after the number is recognized by the brain and lost when the focus shifts to the next (few) number(s).
- Combination Vision Test
- a circle filled with several hundred numeric digits
- If you can see one big number but not the other, you have synesthesia and colorblindness.
add a comment! ⋅ add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ refresh comments!
Number is "42".
The 4 is composed of 2's and 3's and 7's.
The 2 is composed of 3's and 7's and 9's.
--RainbowDash (talk) 05:16, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
- What about 7s? --18.104.22.168 06:13, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
Also both have 5's. I'm not very good at this counting thing. That link below is way better, anyhow. --RainbowDash (talk) 05:28, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
- Thanks --Zom-B (talk) 07:06, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
I'm not confident enough about this to write up an explanation, but given that synesthesia is a sensory experience where the senses blend into each other (hearing colors, tasting sounds, etc...) that a round shape or black and white (why is it not in color? that would help the joke imho) give the sense of a number to the synesthete. The alt text at least makes sense, seeing two big numbers fits with diplopia (double vision) and the squinting covers myopia (nearsightedness) so it is consistent with the main joke, but I feel like I'm really missing something in the main joke. Chexwarrior (talk) 06:43, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
In the original b&w image, I keep seeing an 8 on the right and a vague 0, 9, or 4 on the left. I'm not certain if the b&w actually has a definite "answer" or specific number(s) one is supposed to be seeing. I seem to recall an xkcd with an Ishihara test before (but can't find it so it may just be a confabulation), in which case this one may be a reference to that and actually have a referential "answer".
I'm not an optometrist, but Chexwarrior,'s explanation of the alt text seems correct to me. Plazma (talk) 07:00, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
On the left half, the number 9 is missing. Similarly, on the right the number 2 is missing. This makes the number 92 or 29 (any ideas?). There is a floating 2 in the bottom center, the origin is unknown but it does look like a decimal point but that yould defeat the purpose of the number 42 (any ideas?) --Zom-B (talk) 07:06, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
I was thinking the explanation of the descriptive text (not alt-text) is as follows: the synesthesia is seeing numbers and associating colors with them. So when you look at the numbers in the image, you see certain colors, so the large numbers stand out because they are different colors from the background. But if you're colorblind, (hypothetically) then some of those number-colors might look the same and so the numbers (not sure why only one) would not be visible. Bplimley (talk) 07:18, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
- Maybe if the synesthesia is as follows: Even numbers get one color and odd numbers get another color. I was actually able to see the 2 because of this effect, while I was in photoshop, zoomed in, and coloring the 3's. I know from myself that I have number to color synesthesia, but (in my case) that doesn't apply to a bunch of randomly placed digits like here, but only to complete numbers like "144" looks yellow, red, and white (in no particular order), while "38" looks grayish dark blue. --Zom-B (talk) 07:22, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
- I seriously doubt ANYONE have so "hard" case of number to color synesthesia it can "color" a bunch of randomly placed digits like this. Like ... if your number-recognizing neurons are working on the small numbers, how can they work on the big numbers in the same time? -- Hkmaly (talk) 09:01, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
- Good catch! I'm not sure how exactly how synesthesia works, but even if the perceived number (due to a perceived colour) further incites a perceived colour, you can still have a combined diagnostic. You just have to make sure that the big number is made up of little ones of the same number; or, atleast made of other numbers which are of the same colour as the desired big number. The latter requires that you assume synesthesia is one way only (for instance - perceiving number triggers colour, but not vice versa) 22.214.171.124 11:00, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
- No no, it pretty much works! I've got colored-grapheme synesthesia, and while the numbers don't jump out at me as easily as they would if they were made of real colors, I am able to see them pretty clearly if I lean close enough to my monitor to be able to take in all of the small numbers' shapes at once. I posted a description of what it looks like to me here: Rungy Chungy Cheese Bees It's a bit harder for me to see because I'm an "associator" type of synesthete, as opposed to a "projector" type. But I imagine for a true projector synesthete this would be about as easy as a normal Ishihara colorblindness test. Otherthings (talk) 20:35, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
- It didn't work at all for me. I've got coloured-grapheme synesthesia too, but all the colours were too different - I have no real pattern for even and odd numbers, so I never saw the big numbers. I looked at your link, you got a nice contrast! 126.96.36.199 02:29, 4 June 2013 (UTC)
<Nitpicking> The alt text is slightly off the mark isn't it? Wouldn't a diplopic(?) person see two images of the diagnostic rather than two numbers in the same diagnostic? Also, you needn't be colour blind to fulfill the condition of perceiving only one digit. Your synesthesia might have a colour blindness, while your optical system does not. </Nitpicking> 188.8.131.52 11:07, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
I think that as no two... synaesthetes? ...have exactly the same 'conversion routine' in place that one can't assume the colour dominance of either digit, under an (actual, or synaesthetic) colour-blindness condition. Also, I wouldn't be surprised to hear "Well, the left hand side smells a bit like a 4, but the right sounds like a 2..." ;) 184.108.40.206 12:54, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
I will take some LSD and look at this and report back later! 220.127.116.11 16:22, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
I don't think myopia actually makes sense, unless you're reading the comic on a large screen 30 or 40 feet away. The comic is most probably near you, if you're near-sighted you should see it in focus without squinting. 18.104.22.168 17:19, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
- As a myopic person, I can say that you are generalizing too much. Without glasses, I can see no thing in focus unless it is 2-4 inches from my face22.214.171.124 20:22, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
I see a big zero!
In the end this test couldn't work, colorblindness is due to a physical effect in the eyeball where synesthesia works in the brain, if someone had both synesthesia and colorblindness then the two numbers in the circle above would be the _only_ color they could see (although being colorblind they may not understand it to be a color at that point) Odysseus654 (talk) 19:37, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
- It's a JOKE. Sure it does not work for many more reasons. But the combining of all this things is hard to understand and it did last a couple of hours until the first people did understand. In my opinion this is one of the BEST jokes Randall ever did.--Dgbrt (talk) 19:47, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
- Yah, I laughed pretty hard when I saw it last night. Still worth explaining all the intracacies, like people wondering what's wrong with "Locate City" nukes Odysseus654 (talk) 20:10, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
- Actually, there's research on that. People with colorblindness and synesthesia do "see" some numbers in colours that they don't recognise from their everyday experience. (That's because as you said, colorblindness happens at the receptor level and synesthesia happens in the brain). Check out this TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/vilayanur_ramachandran_on_your_mind.html?quote=222 --- Mel
- Sorry, wrong link. I meant this talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WW_lsSx5w14 --- Mel
- I am not colourblind and my synesthesia STILL gives me colours that don't exist, so I'm sure colourblind people's colourblindness wouldn't necessarily translate to their synesthesia. 126.96.36.199 02:29, 4 June 2013 (UTC)
As a colorblind person, I would like to point out that it is not obvious to everybody that a normal person sees neither large number. At first glance, I assumed that normal people see both numbers, colorblind people see neither, and synthesesia allows colorblind people to see one.188.8.131.52 20:22, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
- No, even normal people can't see the numbers because the image is just black and white. But that's just the first joke. Synthesesia in this comic just do see colours on black and white pictures.--Dgbrt (talk) 20:36, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
- Shouldn't the big-4 and big-2 have it's own color? The big-4 might then blend with the background 4's.
- What's with the extraneous little-2 underneath the big numbers also?184.108.40.206 21:32, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
- We are just talking about "colorblind persons" here. I am trying to help them to understand because they even they can`t see that the original picture is just B/W. --Dgbrt (talk) 22:12, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
I'm not convinced that this cartoon works. I have a friend who is synaesthetic, and she can't see the big numbers. The thing is, if someone has the sort of synaesthesia where they see numbers in colours, then they see each digit in a different colour, and so there is no reason why primes (or any other particular group of digits) would stand out for them. Yes, I know it's a joke, but the joke doesn't work if it doesn't take into account how synaesthesia works.
- I might do some fiddling with various colour palette overlays, but I think that if there is a large cluster of a few colours which don't appear elsewhere in the image, the synaesthete could probably pick up the pattern. However, the actual function of synaesthesia is not really important in this, I suppose. 220.127.116.11 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
I saw the number 12 without checking here first, and I'm not a synesthete. Anyone see something similar? 18.104.22.168 00:13, 18 May 2013 (UTC)
- Reading it on an iPad, by zooming right out, I can get occasional brief flashes of the number while moving my eyes - though I initially read it as 92, probably because I couldn't look directly at it. I can't work out what it is that makes it jump out at me, though - maybe my eyes are catching the pattern of sevens, or something? --22.214.171.124 09:43, 18 May 2013 (UTC)
- I also read it as 92, but without any tricks. Just by painfully staring at the image my brain makes out lines and curves, till i found the 92. Is that normal? :D 126.96.36.199 13:23, 18 May 2013 (UTC)
- I can see the 2 vaguely (probably because the numbers making it up are a bit smaller and denser), and would have said "92" too, but only at gunpoint. So it IS normal. Wait, I'm not normal :D 188.8.131.52 11:33, 21 July 2014 (UTC)
In the last image, I think it would be better to have the background, the 4, and the 2 be made of different shades of 3 different colors to make it clear why someone who is colorblind would only see one of the numbers. Say, the background is different shades of green, the 4 is blue, and the 2 is red. That is, if I'm understanding this comic correctly. 184.108.40.206 07:43, 18 May 2013 (UTC)
This would be incredibly confusing to a synesthete. Wouldn't he/she see the big 4 and 2 as being colors of their own? And then, of course, its component numbers would be made of so many different colors. I think we need a real synesthete to look at this. 220.127.116.11 15:11, 18 May 2013 (UTC)
- I have heard from real synesthete people that there are too many chaotic numbers on the picture. I did add an explanation on the bottom of the main page. --Dgbrt (talk) 14:37, 19 May 2013 (UTC)
- I experience the same. But what about User:Otherthings who claims he sees all colors at once. Different synesthesia or fake? Also, when examining numbers to invoke colors, you forget past colors, unless the subject has a photographic memory and won't lose the colors? Even then s/he still needs to look at every single digit in the image in individually. --Zom-B (talk) 08:03, 20 May 2013 (UTC)
- I think you're the closest to right. I have sound-to-image synesthesia, so when I hear a sound, it brings to mind a certain image. However, this image is only in my mind's eye. And as I've gotten older, I've become less able to hold on to that image in my head. The images follow a sort of dream logic. Anyway, even though I have a different type of synesthesia, it stands to reason that this type should work similarly. It seems to me that they would, when reading each digit, get an impression or be reminded of the corresponding color. --18.104.22.168 00:31, 19 January 2014 (UTC)
What does it mean if I can see multiple giant numbers? When I looked at this, I immediately saw a giant 58 - and had no idea what 58 was supposed to mean. Then I could see other numbers as well, of varying mixed sizes.
PLEASE understand that this Black and White "color perception test" can not work. Nobody can see that Big Numbers. And this is just only the first part of this joke.--Dgbrt (talk) 23:00, 23 May 2013 (UTC)
I think it should say "one digit" or "two digits", rather than one or two "numbers", as 42 is just one number (consisting of two digits), though of course it _could_ be read as the two numbers 4 and 2, that just happen to be placed next to each other. I know this is less important when it doesn't actually work :P
In response to people saying no one can see the big numbers - I saw them easily. I don't have any particularly special condition, though (that I know of), but I saw the '42' before I even read the caption. It jumps out at me whenever I shift my point of focus slightly. Surely I'm not the only one? 22.214.171.124 04:53, 28 September 2014 (UTC)