2933: Elementary Physics Paths

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
(Redirected from 2933)
Jump to: navigation, search
Elementary Physics Paths
==COSMOLOGY==> 'Uhhh ... how sure are we that everything is made of these?'
Title text: ==COSMOLOGY==> 'Uhhh ... how sure are we that everything is made of these?'


This comic explores the complexities of understanding the fundamental building blocks of the universe.

The absurdity of understanding everything starting from just understanding basic particles is similar to the fallacy presented in 1570: Engineer Syllogism.

In the first panel, Cueball expresses the idea that if he understands the behavior of tiny particles, he'll understand everything. This reflects a common scientific pursuit, reductionism, to uncover the basic principles underlying all physical phenomena in order to understand them. For example, most chemical reactions can be explained as the recombinations of a few dozen common elements.

The comic then splits into two branches representing different fields of physics which refute Cueball's optimistic assumption: condensed matter physics and quantum field theory.

On the left, the concept of antireductionism (or holism) is demonstrated by the Condensed Matter Physics branch. Cueball encounters a cloud of vibrating particles, which symbolizes the complexity that arises when simple particles combine to produce complex behaviors. The issue with reducing down to particles is that the number of different interactions between particles to understand makes the topic no longer simple. This highlights the challenge of predicting macroscopic properties from microscopic interactions, a central theme in condensed matter physics. This is shown in everyday life, from things like a baseball curving through the air, to how a mirror reflects light. 1734: Reductionism also touches on the impracticality of gaining knowledge about a larger construct through understanding its constituent parts.

On the right, in the Quantum Field Theory branch, Cueball is faced with the issue that particles at the quantum level aren't simple. Quantum Field Theory deals with the fundamental particles and forces of nature, and it describes a complex world where particles can behave as both waves and particles simultaneously, among other strange phenomena.

The title text introduces a third branch: the field of cosmology, which deals with the large-scale structure and history of the universe. Cosmology suggests that even our catalog of the most fundamental particles might be inadequate - perhaps an allusion to theorized phenomena like dark matter and dark energy - raising questions about the nature of existence itself.

No matter how you study the universe, it's complicated.[citation needed]


[Cueball gestures at a particle, represented as a dot with motion lines around it.]
Cueball: Everything is made of tiny particles. If I understand those, I'll understand everything!
[The comic splits into two branches.]
[Condensed Matter Physics branch]
[Cueball is fretting over a cloud of particles.]
Cueball: Oh no.
Cueball: Simple particles can combine to produce complex behaviors.
[Quantum Field Theory branch]
[Cueball is fretting over the same particle as in the first panel.]
Cueball: Oh no.
Cueball: These particles aren't simple!

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


First comment, heh. Psychoticpotato (talk) 20:27, 15 May 2024 (UTC)

See also 1258: First. -- 23:21, 15 May 2024 (UTC)
Let me have my first "first" moment, man. Psychoticpotato (talk) 12:46, 16 May 2024 (UTC)
Could this be the last first? Or just the first of the last firsts. -boB (talk) 14:16, 17 May 2024 (UTC)
My brain hurts Psychoticpotato (talk) 23:07, 20 May 2024 (UTC)

I assume the cosmology comment from the alt text is related to the speculative nature of dark matter and dark energy, but I am too ignorant of of cosmology to know if there is something more specific being referenced. 22:27, 15 May 2024 (UTC)

I think its more jokinly questioning the knowlege of the cosmos, saying "space is big, so are we 100% that EVERYTHING is made of these complicated little things, or just the parts we can see?" Apollo11 (talk) 00:26, 16 May 2024 (UTC)
I thought it was a reference to the incompatibility of the leading cosmological theory (Relativity) with Quantum theory. 02:49, 16 May 2024 (UTC)

Am I the only one where it seems like the explanation was written by an AI? It seems like obvious things are left out, like the presence of dark matter in astronomy, or saying “quantum physics” instead of “quantum field theory”. It’s like in some areas it could be convincingly explaining without knowing, a little like chatgpt does. However, I’m thinking a lot of the explanations are like that and I’ve probably participated in it myself … 00:46, 16 May 2024 (UTC)

The reason we're using "Quantum Theory" (at least my reason) is because thats what the comic used Apollo11 (talk) 00:59, 16 May 2024 (UTC)
The initial explanations are indeed generated using automation, so that each day's initial visitors aren't greeted by no explanation at all; visitors with a better explanation, should feel welcome to contribute. Visitors should not be overwriting existing explanations with autogenerated content, though; that's a mistake.
ProphetZarquon (talk) 17:05, 18 May 2024 (UTC)
I believe the point was that 'AI' was used (with or without generous human tweaking to the input to the 'algorithm' and/or post-output selectivity and editing), and this is different from the 'automation' of TheusafBOT/etc which is just a fairly limited (and entirely hand-crafted) "poll, scrape, limited-parse and post" process. As well as going the 'lazy' way of disregarding (or excessively diluting) the initial work in favour of a (mostly?) uncritical adoption of what a hallucination-vulnerable black box process spews out after being trained to just "make something that look like what a human might write" without every any hope of applying true understanding to the process. 18:56, 18 May 2024 (UTC)
When I refer to 'AI', I use the term "automation" because it is more properly defined. The transcipt bot is just one of the automation tools used to fill in these explanations. If you look closely at the edit histories, you'll see that 'AI' is used quite frequently, to provide near-instant synopsis of the humorous contradictions present in these comics. The error was not in using AI for an initial explanation; the error was in overwriting a human-made explanation with a hasty automated one.
ProphetZarquon (talk) 15:57, 20 May 2024 (UTC)
The 'quite frequent' automation (once per comic) is nothing to do with AI. It does not provide any kind of synopsis. It doesn't even attempt a Transcript, since the days where there was an official one which could just be copied straight. All the bits that aren't directly ripped out of the xkcd comic page source are left sitting there. That's left to the non-BOT contributors, and (so far) any obvious attempt by subsequent humans to submit non-human (i.e. GPTish) prose has definitely been critically edited after the fact. (If it's ever not been, it's not been noticed as such.... but then that's probably Ok.) 20:36, 20 May 2024 (UTC)
I was reading it, and as said, it looks like Kyrodes put in multiple overriding edits which directly erased the original explaination in lieu of a ChatGPT version (analysis courtesy of gptzero). I'd personally prefer there being more human-made stuff here, and some of the writing isn't exactly coherent... But this isn't up to me to decide, eh? Eelitee (talk) 21:25, 17 May 2024 (UTC)

According to the Copenhagen Interpretation, it's not determined whether a physicist studies Condensed Matter or Quantum Field Theory until we open his box. Doctorhook (talk) 02:45, 16 May 2024 (UTC)

According to the Communist Russia Interpretation, the Universe studies physicists. 08:22, 16 May 2024 (UTC)

you guys really need to solve your chatgpt problem -- 03:59, 16 May 2024 (UTC)

Schrodinger's 'cat box thought experiment' is more complex than even Schrodinger realised, since for the duration of the experiment the cat assumes EVERY possible quantum state, including 'not actually in the box' and 'suddenly not being a cat any more'. 05:09, 16 May 2024 (UTC)

At the conclusion of this test, there will be cake.
ProphetZarquon (talk) 17:01, 18 May 2024 (UTC)

Schrodinger did not argue against QM; he argued against a certain interpretation of it. Specifically, he argued that QM does not tell us how things really are; at most, it tells us what we can detect about those things. His cat in a box idea aims to make clear that we do not know what happens between observations and that using QM to describe this leads to nonsense. 06:44, 16 May 2024 (UTC)

I removed the "further examples" and the mentioning of Schrödinger. Interesting for sure, but not relevant for the explanation of the comic. Schrödinger isn't even mentioned in the comic... Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 07:26, 16 May 2024 (UTC)
Specifically, he used the cat in a box analogy to show why we can (with an ever-increasing confidence) say that the Copenhagen interpretation is baloney. ProphetZarquon (talk) 16:59, 18 May 2024 (UTC)
Shut up and explain. 08:04, 20 May 2024 (UTC)
Shut up and explain? That's a self-contradictory demand. Instead I should do neither, & suggest that you look up one of the multitudinous biographical explanations why Schrödinger used the cat-in-a-box analogy to debunk the Copenhagen interpretation... but I love explaining things, so: Fundamental uncertainty is so clearly a preposterous conclusion, that Schrödinger used an appropriately ridiculous analogy, to point out how preposterous the conclusion was. Even so, "uncertainty" was such a useful excuse to hand-wave away missing information, that the concept gained more widespread acceptance than the (rather obvious) fact that the actual uncertainty is due to missing information.
As for the comic, I think its explanation is looking pretty good, all things considered. (See "reductionism", for perspective on why fundamental uncertainty is bunk.)
ProphetZarquon (talk) 16:26, 20 May 2024 (UTC)

It feels like Randall has gone down the same Wikipedia rabbit hole that I have (spurred on by another comic). The universe is full of extremely weird things on every level. Even the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM isn't actually one interpretation. Everyone has different ideas because it's all so weird. I remember my physics teacher telling me about the time before QM was discovered when it seemed like we had figured out most of physics and now it seems like we barely know anything. Brycemw (talk) 13:31, 16 May 2024 (UTC)

It seems like there should be a third branch for chemistry, leading to biology. Just putting a bunch of atoms together gives a bunch of new, unrelated properties in the new molecules compared to their constituent atoms. When you look at organic chemistry, especially the self-perpetuating version (life), then the level of complexity is huge. {unsigned|Nutster|16:04, 17 May 2024}}

Yesterday I was trying to read a journal article that was trying to model the way water moves through a soil column and has some of its impurities removed. They were using a system of 12 simultaneous partial differential equations, had dramatically run out of letters for naming variables, constants, and functions, and were nesting equations three deep to try to make the PDEs readable. And this was AFTER they made a large number of simplifying assumptions. To top it off, the results aren't even perfectly accurate for already highly purified water running through a column in a super controlled environment. Reality is complicated, y'all. 14:56, 18 May 2024 (UTC)

Should we be concerned that reality is complicated only to those with too much knowledge (like ourselves, natch) ? Reality is simple enough to the simple of mind, i.e. writers of school books, teachers relying on those, and those who believe what teachers say. Understanding of reality by the masses (99.9%, maybe more) has not improved any since the Middle Ages, it's faith and trust in the authority of the speaker. Even when "alternate," more "up to date" explanations come around, like string theory, even black holes, it tends to sound not much different from Daniken and his visitors from space, is most often presented as clickbait, etc. Yamaplos (talk) 01:06, 19 May 2024 (UTC)

Cause and effect don't exist. Even 100% correlation does not have to equal causation. If we combine this theory with Murphy's law and Schrodinger's cat, the universe is destroyed an infinite number of times. Once because every went wrong with the cat in the box but that cataclysm was not caused by the cat it only correlated it so there is no cause for the destruction therefore the universe is destroyed again and again by violating causality by being destroyed in the first place. (talk) 03:04, 19 May 2024 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I'm surprised no one has mentioned that ==COSMOLOGY== is wiki syntax for a section title...-- 09:02, 20 May 2024 (UTC)

Well, it is, but I think it's just legitimate ASCII-art version of the comic arrow (with the ">" appended), so probably not intended to be wikimarkup-like. 12:00, 20 May 2024 (UTC)

New Category: Syllogism?[edit]

Perhaps we should create a new category for comics that include or reference syllogism, like this one and 1570: Engineer Syllogism. PDesbeginner (talk) 01:33, 21 June 2024 (UTC)