638: The Search

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The Search
I am so excited about the Kepler mission. This is the second most important thing our species has ever done, right behind developing the concept of delivery pizza.
Title text: I am so excited about the Kepler mission. This is the second most important thing our species has ever done, right behind developing the concept of delivery pizza.

[edit] Explanation

This comic is a commentary on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. The ants' dialogue describes the narrow scope of their search (a few tiles, and only looking for pheromone trails), and thus they conclude that there is no other intelligent life. The irony is that humanity does of course exist, but were simply not present in the kitchen at the time of search, nor do we communicate with ant pheromones. Similarly, our ability to search outer space for other life is limited to our ability to detect specific modes of communication (i.e. radio waves) and to the very limited area of space imposed by technological limitations on transportation, range, and sensitivity of our equipment.

The title text refers to the Kepler mission to discover Extrasolar planets. This mission has found more than 2,700 planet candidates that still have to be confirmed by other telescopes. So that's the difference to the ants. As of August 2013, two "reaction wheels" on Kepler have failed, causing NASA to change the mission, though it will still be looking for planets with its two remaining wheels.

The second part is a bait-and-switch joke; by calling the search for extrasolar planets "the second most important thing our species has ever done", it creates the expectation that the "first most important thing" will be a monumental breakthrough, like the concept of language, or the concept of pi. Instead, the title text ends up just telling us that Randall likes a Pizza Service.

[edit] Transcript

Ant: We've searched dozens of these floor tiles for several common types of pheromone trails.
Ant: If there were intelligent life up there, we would have seen its messages by now.
The world's first ant colony to achieve sentience calls off the search for us.
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Discussion

And in the title-text we see that the search for sustanence still has a priority over more intellectual queries. (Well, it's one interpretation... ;) 178.99.247.73 18:49, 21 May 2013 (UTC)

Of course the floor tiles were created by the people who they are searching for... the ants seem to be aware of part of the nature of floor tiles, but not their origins ... the analogy to searching for extra terrestrial life would be that something in our environment that we think we understand is actually somehow conclusive evidence of alien life, we just do not realize it ... of course it could be an unintentional analogy. Has religious overtones of studying the Creation and not recognizing Creator.108.162.220.23 22:56, 2 January 2014 (UTC)

Isn't the pizza delivery a reference to Neal Stephenson's "Crash"? 108.162.229.44 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I think you mean Stephenson's "Snow Crash".


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