Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Title text: Here in the entomology department, we have a simple two-step formula for answering any question: (1) ants are cool, and (2) we forgot the question because we were thinking about ants.
Cueball, a university student, is meeting with Hair Bun Girl asking her advice concerning his second thoughts about grad school. Her response begins with a popular reference from the Bible concerning ants; however, she specifically narrows in on the sub-family of fire ants.
The book of Proverbs is a self-proclaimed book on receiving wisdom and instruction to be made wise. Thus, her response appears to begin as an instruction to him in response to his question. The proverb in particular she appears to begin quoting instructs the lazy person to "Go to the ant, thou sluggard! Consider her ways..." as she prepares for the desolation of winter by providing during the bounty of summer despite not having to be told so. The assumption by the reader would be that she is going to compare Cueball to a lazy person and instruct him to prepare for the later years (winter of life) by studying now while he is young (summer of life).
However, after the initial phrase she instead discusses a cool fact about fire ants. (Specifically the ability of fire ants to join together to form floating rafts in case of flooding). Continuing in the vein of the joke, that Hair Bun Girl was going to use a metaphor as part of her instruction, Cueball asks her what lesson he is supposed to take away from that fact. To which she replies with her fascination for ants (Ants are so cool ). Correctly Cueball states that she is not big on metaphors, as there was none hidden in her first statement. She continues to tell him what she is big on: Ants.
This last exchange may imply that the expected metaphor would have had as little effect on Cueball's choice to continue grad school as an excited rant about fire ants (since he was just waiting for a metaphor anyway). Or perhaps it expresses that Hair Bun Girl finds more instruction in the study of the natural world than in ancient writings. In either case, it is left unanswered as to whether her argument was enough to answer Cueball's dilemma.
Before reading the title text the reader may have assumed that Cueball went to meet with a University adviser. But the title text makes it clear that he was actually in the entomology department (making her an entomologist - i.e. someone who studies insects). It is reasonable to assume that his grad studies are thus in entomology and he is meeting a professor that might act as a career mentor. Thus, her discourse on fire ants may have been to persuade Cueball that his grad studies in entomology where well worth continuing because of the exciting nature of the field of study. This would be achieving the intent of the Proverb she appeared to quote (convincing Cueball to continue life preparations by finishing grad school) although she discarded its wording.
In almost an immediate and seemingly bizarre contradiction, she chalks up her strange rambling on fire ants as just a formula that all entomology personnel use when asked any question. They use a two-step formula to answer any questions. It won't help you much because all you will learn is that ants are cool and then they have forgotten anything else you asked them while they continued to think of ants. This would imply that the answer Cueball received had literally nothing to do with his question or situation he was in and any similarity to being a meaningful answer or even a proverb of instruction was purely coincidental and unintended.
An alternative explanation is that Randall has notices that fire ants is an anagram of fine arts. If you instead of ants put in art, and then put in an interesting fact about art, and finish with art is cool and I'm big on art, then he would not have been in the entomology department, but the department of art. Randall is know to make fun of people who takes arts too seriously. Just think about the description of his comic at the bottom of xkcd ; the last part says: This comic occasionally contains ... advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors). The title text can likewise be changed so ant = art.
In a similar vein the title text could be referencing Etymology instead of entomology (the two words are close enough that they are listed as Not to be confused with at the top of each article). Etymology is the study of the history of words, and again you could exchange ants with words, that are so cool or state an interesting fact about words. Randall is Big on Language. See also 1010: Etymology-Man.
Another popular example where the phrase consider the from the Bible has been spoofed can be found in Monty Python's Life of Brian Consider the lilies sketch. However, this refers to a passage in Matthew instead of Proverbs.
Randall's fascination with ants
It seems likely that Randall is fascinated by ants (he is fascinated by a lot of cool stuff…)
- In his celebration game for his new book 1608: Hoverboard, there is a scene in the Star Destroyer were Cueball is talking to a giant ant queen:
- Cueball: What's up?
- Ant queen: The usual. Poopin' out ants.
- Cueball: Eww.
- In #638 The Search the SETI project is reimagined from the perspective of ants, who reach the same conclusion humans often do.
Fascinating facts about ants
- The queen can lay millions of eggs in a lifetime that may reach 30 years.
- Ants mainly communicate through pheromones which function as chemical signals.
- The queen does not directly control the other ants in the colony. She receives chemical feedback from the workers who care for and feed her; this feedback causes her to adjust the type and quantity of eggs she produces.
- All worker ants are female.
- Weaver ants weave together the leaves that form their colony's nest using larvae silk.
- Leafcutter ants cut up leaves to bring home to feed a fungus that they in turn eat.
- Ancestors of the Leafcutters began cultivating a variety of fungal gardens around 50 million years ago. This may make them the first farmers on Earth, millions of years before humans even existed.
- Army ants, known and feared for their aggressive raids which may claim 100,000 insect prey, have no permanent nest. They form temporary bivouacs using the ants' bodies as the structure.
- Army and Driver worker ants are blind. They navigate by following trails laid down by blind scouts.
- Honeypot ants select specialized workers, called repletes, as storage containers, engorging them with food until the swell to maximum size. The repletes share the food with the colony when other food is scarce.
- There are ants enough on earth to fill more than 100 football stadiums to the brim. (At least according to footnote 2 of the what if? no. 73: Lethal Neutrinos).
- Although it takes a million ants to weigh a pound, scientists believe that as recently as the time of the American Revolution, the total weight of ants was greater than the total weight of humans on the earth.
- [Cueball is talking to Hair Bun Girl, an advisor, who is sitting behind a desk.]
- Cueball: I'm having second thoughts about grad school and could use some advice.
- [Same setting as before. The animated advisor talks while gesticulating with her hands.]
- Advisor: Consider the fire ant.
- Advisor: When there's a flood, fire ants survive by joining together into giant floating rafts.
- [Cueball is just standing there in the next beat-panel]
- [Back to the first setting but in a larger frame.]
- Cueball: Wait, what lesson am I supposed to take from that?
- Advisor: Ants are so cool!
- Cueball: ...You're not big on metaphors, are you.
- Advisor: I am big on ants.
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