1352: Cosmologist on a Tire Swing

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
(Difference between revisions)
Jump to: navigation, search
m (Explanation)
(too many commas in a row)
Line 8: Line 8:
  
 
==Explanation==
 
==Explanation==
Simply put, the tire swing is a symbolic representation of our universe. Scientific observation tells us that the universe began with the {{w|Big Bang}} ~13.8 billion years ago; we don't, however, know what, if anything, came before that. The first 6 panels reference ongoing speculation about where the universe came from and why it even exists in the first place. The last 2 panels relate to recent observations of the {{w|accelerating universe}} in which galaxies are now receding from each other at higher and higher speeds, due to {{w|dark energy}}. The title text references the question of whether or not the universe is infinite, and if so, what lies outside of our observable universe. The setting of trees interspersed with many small pools resembles the {{w|Wood between the Worlds}}, a meta-verse described in C.S. Lewis's ''{{w|The Magician's Nephew}}''; each pool leads into a different universe (one of which is ours and another of which is Narnia).
+
Simply put, the tire swing is a symbolic representation of our universe. Scientific observation tells us that both space '''and''' time (as we understand them so far) began with the {{w|Big Bang}} ~13.8 billion years ago. We don't know (and possibly even ''can't'' know) if there was such a thing as "before" the universe, or what that might be.
 +
 
 +
The first 6 panels reference ongoing speculation about where the universe came from and why it even exists in the first place. The last 2 panels relate to recent observations of the {{w|accelerating universe}} in which galaxies are now receding from each other at higher and higher speeds, due to {{w|dark energy}}.  
 +
 
 +
The title text references questions about the {{w|shape of the universe}} and what could lie "outside" of it. The setting of trees interspersed with many small pools resembles the {{w|Wood between the Worlds}}, a meta-verse described in C.S. Lewis's ''{{w|The Magician's Nephew}}''; each pool leads into a different universe (one of which is ours and another of which is Narnia).
  
 
==Transcript==
 
==Transcript==

Revision as of 15:17, 7 April 2014

Cosmologist on a Tire Swing
No matter how fast I swing, I can never travel outside this loop! Maybe space outside it doesn't exist! But I bet it does. This tire came from somewhere.
Title text: No matter how fast I swing, I can never travel outside this loop! Maybe space outside it doesn't exist! But I bet it does. This tire came from somewhere.

Explanation

Simply put, the tire swing is a symbolic representation of our universe. Scientific observation tells us that both space and time (as we understand them so far) began with the Big Bang ~13.8 billion years ago. We don't know (and possibly even can't know) if there was such a thing as "before" the universe, or what that might be.

The first 6 panels reference ongoing speculation about where the universe came from and why it even exists in the first place. The last 2 panels relate to recent observations of the accelerating universe in which galaxies are now receding from each other at higher and higher speeds, due to dark energy.

The title text references questions about the shape of the universe and what could lie "outside" of it. The setting of trees interspersed with many small pools resembles the Wood between the Worlds, a meta-verse described in C.S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew; each pool leads into a different universe (one of which is ours and another of which is Narnia).

Transcript

Girl: What was before the big bang?
Cueball: I think time began with the big bang. So it doesn't make sense to ask what came before it.
Cosmologist (off panel): Look out
Cosmologist: WHEEEE Hi I'm a cosmologist on a tire swing!
Cosmologist: We don't know whether time
Cosmologist: started at the big bang.
Cosmologist: It might have!
Cosmologist: Or maybe not! We don't know!
Cueball: Oh. OK!
Girl: ...Your tire swing looks fun!
Cosmologist: I can't stop!
Girl: Won't the swing stop on its own?
Cosmologist: I thought it would, but it seems to be accelerating.
Girl: Cosmology sounds pretty confusing.
Cosmologist: WHEEEEE!
comment.png add a comment! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!

Discussion

See this TED talk for clue: http://www.ted.com/talks/allan_adams_the_discovery_that_could_rewrite_physics 108.162.218.101 07:54, 7 April 2014 (UTC)

The question "what lies outside our observable universe?" is pretty easily answered with a "the same stuff as inside it, we just can't observe it". The more poignant question is whether the universe as a whole (not just its observable part) has an edge and if so, what lies beyond it. --Koveras (talk) 08:09, 7 April 2014 (UTC)

The parts of universe which are not observable due to speed of light looks the same as the ones we can observe, sure. Just bigger. But there is nothing in physics saying there can't be something even more "outside". In fact, some theories consider it probable. And what can be THERE? Anything. Dragons. Possibly literally. Unfortunately, according to current physic, we can't PROVE something outside exists, much less look at it. -- Hkmaly (talk) 10:21, 7 April 2014 (UTC)

What's the setting of the first panel? Given the cosmological context, could it be a reference to the Wood between the Worlds from the Narnia series? 108.162.219.29 10:57, 7 April 2014 (UTC)

The puddles/ponds in the first panel mirror "reality", is this a hint for parallel universe(s)? Escher sees three worlds in a pond. http://cache2.allpostersimages.com/p/LRG/7/779/1X5I000Z/poster/escher-m-c-drei-welten.jpg 108.162.219.75 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Someone please rewrite my shunted in assertion about the aforementioned wood. There's a reason for the setting in the first panel, I just can't think of a better place to put it in the explanation. 108.162.244.6 11:43, 7 April 2014 (UTC)

The tire swing also evokes the cosmology field in itself; accepted theories keep changing like the swing, endlessly being replaced by the next one. Ralfoide (talk) 14:19, 7 April 2014 (UTC)

Seems to me Randall is referring to the the A and B theories of time. tbc (talk) 14:24, 7 April 2014 (UTC)

Seems to me Randall is referring to Physics and not philosophy. ExternalMonolog (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)


It's possible the tire swing might also be a reference to the idea that the universe is "shaped like a doughnut". 173.245.48.24 16:32, 7 April 2014 (UTC)

Maybe it's important to note that the cosmologist is also portrayed as somebody not serious, and also doing "silly" science? A jab at the state our most serious scientists are, because we know, in a way, so little? Not sure if that's the kind of thing you put here, but it's relevant. 141.101.80.237 17:21, 7 April 2014 (UTC)

Science is fun. 108.162.237.218 16:36, 8 April 2014 (UTC)
Maybe some of our most "serious" scientists.

Randall seems to be referring directly to the discovery of dark energy and the perpetual acceleration it gives to the expansion of the universe. "Tire swing" girl directly addresses this when she speaks of her surprise that her momentum increases rather than decays.ExternalMonolog (talk) 00:18, 8 April 2014 (UTC)ExternalMonolog


Maybe I shouldn't be writing here, since I'm a new guy around and I'm not well versed in the ways of this wiki, but it seems to me that aside from all that you've said, the main point of the idea of "Cosmologist on a tire swing" seems to be a parody of the fact that not only does every simple person apears to have a definite explanation for those universal unanswered riddles, (even though "It might have! Or maybe not! We don't know!"), the scientific community also seems to 'swing' between answers constantly as they discovers new clues or evidence. And even though it would seem that having more knowledge would bring them closer to getting the one true answers, it only gets them more and more doubts and questions about the nature of, well, everything (hence the swing not stopping but accelerating). 141.101.89.206 02:39, 8 April 2014 (UTC)

It'd be cool to have the link to the TED talk or something similar about the gravity wave detection and its potential multiverse-ish implications; it seems relevant to the explanation. 108.162.244.6 04:54, 8 April 2014 (UTC)

Georges_Lemaître developed the big bang theory as a Catholic Priest, with the understanding that he would not investigate whether anything happened before that. It was a compromise that allowed the physical threory to work within the context of theology. This gave backing to a desire not to think about what happen before. 173.245.56.65 16:17, 8 April 2014 (UTC)

Although the swinging messes up her hair, isn't the cosmologist Megan? Athang (talk) 21:46, 9 April 2014 (UTC)

Yes it is Megan, and I have added her name to the explain, and it is thus also clear that it is her not Randall who speaks the title text line. Maybe he agrees with Megan (I bet he does ;-) but that is not given. Kynde (talk) 14:44, 10 April 2014 (UTC)
I'm a little late to the party, but I enjoyed (as a CS Lewis fan) the thoughts about what the puddles represent and would like to add (as a Douglas Adams fan) that the late D.N.A. has a wonderful "puddle quote" about how humans feel our observable universe was build "for us" and that anything beyond what we can see simply doesn't fit our limited view. Obscure, yes. But, is perhaps the only time my cerebrally-challenged self has had something to add. 108.162.237.209 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Personal tools
Namespaces

Variants
Actions
Navigation
Tools

It seems you are using noscript, which is stopping our project wonderful ads from working. Explain xkcd uses ads to pay for bandwidth, and we manually approve all our advertisers, and our ads are restricted to unobtrusive images and slow animated GIFs. If you found this site helpful, please consider whitelisting us.

Want to advertise with us, or donate to us with Paypal or Bitcoin?