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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Revision as of 01:59, 30 October 2013

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!
We have an explanation for all 1576 xkcd comics, and only 0 (0%) are incomplete. Help us finish them!

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Engineer Syllogism
The less common, even worse outcome: "3: [everyone in the financial system] WOW, where did all my money just go?"
Title text: The less common, even worse outcome: "3: [everyone in the financial system] WOW, where did all my money just go?"

Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: It can be improved.

A syllogism is a logical argument where two or more propositions lead to a conclusion through deductive reasoning. For example, one of the best-known syllogisms is:

  1. All men are mortal
  2. Socrates is a man
  3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal

In this comic, Cueball is an engineer who is attempting to make the following syllogism:

  1. I am good at understanding "numbers" (i.e., mathematics)
  2. The stock market is made of numbers
  3. Therefore, I am good at understanding the stock market

Since most engineers are purportedly good at math, proposition 1 seems to be true. It is also loosely true that the stock market is made of numbers, but only in the sense that every system can be given a post-hoc numeric characterization; the dynamics of the stock market are primarily human-driven. In this comic Cueball thinks that his skill at math will help him beat the stock market. Little does he know that the system can be unpredictable, so he ends up losing money as the financial instrument he's invested in loses value. This is due to the financial markets being largely controlled by humans making emotional decisions and not some calculable reason or logic. The fact that humans make emotional decisions is alluded to in the title text of 592: Drama.

Even if the propositions "I am good at understanding numbers" and "The stock market is made of numbers" were true in Cueball's interpretation, and even if the implicit premise that understanding a system's components implies understanding the system held, Cueball would still be wrong to conclude that "I am good at understanding the stock market": this would be a fallacy of the undistributed middle. The problem is that proposition 1 seems to say "I am good at understanding all math". However, the "all" is not present, so Cueball may not necessarily understand the math underlying the stock market.

The title text could be a reference to the recent 2015 Chinese stock market crash which largely effected most other world financial markets, particularly during the week of August 24-28, during which this comic was published, or more broadly to economic depressions in general. Alternatively, Cueball could cause a global stock market crash if he is an engineer responsible for vital stock market related software and/or hardware. Another alternative meaning behind the title text would be a reference to high-frequency quantitative trading, which relies more on financial technology engineering than sophisticated financial knowledge, which significantly contributed to the 2010 Flash Crash.

Transcript

[An white frame with text inside two lying down "{" type parenthesis]
An engineer
syllogism.
[Cueball is at his desk in front of his computer, with his hands on his knees, thinking.]
Cueball, thinking: 1: I am good at understanding numbers.
[Cueball takes one hand to his chin, still thinking.]
Cueball, thinking: 2: The stock market is made of numbers.
[Cueball lifts both arms from his legs, still thinking.]
Cueball, thinking: 3: Therefore I-- Wow, where did all my money just go?


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