755: Interdisciplinary

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Replace the pendulums with history students and you'll qualify for a grant!
Title text: Replace the pendulums with history students and you'll qualify for a grant!


Here the comic lampoons the concept of ‘Interdisciplinary Programs’ by envisioning an oddball exercise involving both physics majors and psychology students. Strictly speaking, this event could be categorized as an interdisciplinary program, because it is a plan involving students from different disciplines. The study of pendulums is common in physics courses, and the concept of fear arises in psychology, thus the joint effort unifies both subjects.

The image text suggests that replacing the pendulums with history students would guarantee funding of a grant, perhaps because of the increased number of disciplines involved.

This is another theme in xkcd. The ripping of Psychology, History, and English majors is very common in various comics.


[2 men and 1 woman stand in the foreground, while in the background, a woman stands on a platform and releases a pendulum hanging from the ceiling toward a man who is running away.]
Man #2: This is an interdisciplinary program in which Physics students try to hit Psychology students with pedulums.
Woman: Promising!
Background man: AAAAAAA!
My professors had an ongoing competition to get the weirdest thing taken seriously under the label "interdisciplinary program."

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It all came apart when the biology department's killer cuttlefish murdered the committee. -Pennpenn 00:12, 16 February 2015 (UTC)

The first thing that came to mind was the scene in the original book version of Contact by Carl Sagan. I can't remember if the movie had a similar scene, but the book's better anyway. Eleanor Arroway is trying to demonstrate to someone how her faith in science is unshakable by putting her face right up next to a displaced Foucalt pendulum. She then holds absolutely still while allowing the pendulum to swing away from her, then come back toward her. By conservation of energy, the pendulum should just reach her (at most) provided she hadn't moved from her position. But it turned out she did flinch, and when her observer "called her out on it" and claimed her faith in science perhaps wasn't that strong, she argued that it wasn't that - it was just decades of scientific condition trying (and failing) to overcome billions of years of evolution (the self-preservation instinct). I think that's what this strip was referencing, more than anything else. - Deepak (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I disagree Deepak... the experiment is independent of the scene in the book, and I think predates it. The book and the comic are both referencing the same phenomenon, but I don't see any evidence that the comic is referencing the book. 06:37, 3 May 2016 (UTC)

The explanation mentioned Black Hat, and while this seems like the kind of thing he'd do, the comic itself is void of our favorite class-hole. 13:50, 24 September 2017 (UTC)