679: Christmas Plans

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[[Category:Comics featuring Cueball]]
[[Category:Comics featuring Cueball]]

Revision as of 20:12, 27 December 2013

Christmas Plans
Physicists who want to protect traditional Christmas realize that the only way to keep from changing Christmas is not to observe it.
Title text: Physicists who want to protect traditional Christmas realize that the only way to keep from changing Christmas is not to observe it.


This comic centers around a joke about Quantum Entanglement in physics - if you don't observe something, it has all possible states, not a specific one. It is a double-entendre with the word observe meaning both "look at" (physics sense) and "celebrate" (a holiday). One of the most famous examples on this is the Schrödinger's cat paradoxon.

The title text refers to another principle in physics where the act of measuring something must also change it in some way. If one drops a thermometer into into a mug of water, energy spent (or released) when heating (or cooling) the mercury in the thermometer changes the temperature of the water in the mug by a small amount. The only way not to interfere with the temperature of the water in the mug is not to measure it.


[Cueball is standing behind a friend, who is sitting at a computer.]
Cueball: Hey, will you be in town the day after Christmas?
Friend: Couldn't say—
Friend: I'm Jewish.
Cueball: But... how does being Jewish keep you from knowing your plans?
Friend: I know my plans—
Friend: I just don't know when Christmas is.
Cueball: Really? Why not look it up?
Friend: Well, I'm also a physicist.
Cueball: So?
Friend: I believe that since I don't observe Christmas, it can't have a definite date.

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Interestingly, the comic text could be interpretted as dealing more with classical physics (only by observation do we actually know something) while the hover text is definitely referencing the fact that observing does something to a quantum system. 12:57, 17 May 2013 (UTC) A bit of theology: Jews are still waiting for Christ to be born, which makes 'I just don't know when Christmas is.' even more true. 06:05, 29 October 2013 (UTC)

Strictly speaking, we're waiting for the Messiah to be born. With any luck, he or she won't get crucified, so it won't be proper to refer to him/her as "Christ". 07:25, 23 November 2013 (UTC)
Loosely translated, "Christos" means messiah in (transliterated) Greek. It's descended from "chriein" meaning "annoit". So, yes, Jews are still waiting for Christ. The proper term is still "messiah", though, as it is the equivalent Hebrew term (parallel etymologies even! See Merriam-Webster for both). Anonymous 18:26, 4 December 2013 (UTC)
So you can't be Jewish and believe in the Messiah or you can be Jewish but not disblieve in the Law of Moses?
Sheesh! Jewish scientists have it hard/unyielding/relatively impenetrable.

I used Google News BEFORE it was clickbait (talk) 21:24, 27 January 2015 (UTC)

Does the idea the title text references also apply to infrared thermometers? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Yes, The water is giving off IR radiation, some of it is being reflected back- placing the thermometer will reflect either more or less than the environment around the water (i.e. walls of the room etc.) this will effect a change in the temperature. (this comment is xkcd 326 compliant)

Since other people are obviously observing Christmas, its state should already be known, even if not known by Cueball. Schroedinger's cat depends on the fact that no one has observed the state of the cat. flewk (talk) 21:07, 8 January 2016 (UTC)

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