2071: Indirect Detection

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
(Redirected from 2071)
Jump to: navigation, search
Indirect Detection
I'm like a prisoner in Plato's Cave, seeing only the shade you throw on the wall.
Title text: I'm like a prisoner in Plato's Cave, seeing only the shade you throw on the wall.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: This explanation is rather disjointed. It's rather complicated and vague.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

This comic shows an angry social media post by one of Randall's spiky-haired friends, objecting to the views of unknown third parties, which appear to be a cartoonishly and unrealistically evil take on the proper treatment of abandoned animals. Sometimes when posting something on social media, such as Facebook, that post can be seen by all the people you have designated as your "friends." In this case the original comment was intended to be read by the people holding these views, people who are not direct friends of Randall's and whose posts he therefore could not see, but because it was posted by his direct friend he could read that response and was able to imagine what it was those other people were saying. Knowing a little about what these other mystery people are saying, through direct quotes from within his friend's comment, and having to fill in the rest by his imagination, he reflects on how weird it is to learn that people who hold such views exist in such an indirect manner.

Some users of social media, such as the unwilling participants in Facebook's emotional contagion study, have found that despite having many friends of one slant in real life, the posts they see on social media reflect a different slant. Some consider this could happen to affect political views, or to pursue people suspected of crime. The comic reads as if Randall's friend has entered one of these "false bubbles" somehow on a social media site, but that as Randall's "bubble" reflects his views, he can only infer what it is like by reading these posts of his friend.

The title text is a pun comparing the shadows of Plato's cave to the practice of "throwing shade" (slang for throwing insults, usually subtly), and "the wall" could have a double meaning of both the wall of the cave and the term for someone's social media page.

Plato's Cave is an allegorical tale taking place in a hypothetical cave. The cave contains lifelong prisoners who are chained such that they may only look at one wall. A fire burns, and the goings-on are cast as shadows upon this wall. Lacking a more complete or direct source of information, the cave occupants can only guess about the world by interpreting these shadows as a view of the world itself, and therefore base their other beliefs about the world upon the transitory appearances of these shadows. In this way, Plato's Cave serves as an allegory for our limited understanding of phenomena that occur primarily or entirely outside direct perception by our natural senses. It also offers imagery of how our perceptions and beliefs can be so restricted by what our information channels provide to us, which are now controlled by hidden computer algorithms and marketing teams.

In the same way one might make incorrect assumptions about the makeup and chemical properties of air if one's information on the subject were gathered entirely from watching wind blow through leaves, the hypothetical occupants of Plato's Cave may reasonably be expected to produce wildly inaccurate theories about the outside world, a world they experience only as a kind of shadowplay. To be more specific, if one sees only a reaction (shadow) to an unseen post, one might become polarized against an imagined horrible thing, like if there were a large percentage of people who supported killing pet animals from shelters for sport, when in fact it is only the shadow which you have observed anything about, rather than the object that cast it.

A further joke behind the pun about "throwing shade" may be that judging anything based only upon the most outrageous points of measurement available will likely produce an inaccurate assessment.


[A single social media post is shown. On the top left is a portrait of a spiky-haired face, the text right aside is not readable. The post is:]
Everyone on here needs to stop laughing about how "adopting pets from a shelter is for losers" and "those animals should all be hunted for sport instead." It's reprehensible on so many levels! First of all...
[Caption below the frame:]
Sometimes, one of my friends posts an angry response to some terrible opinion I've never heard before, and it's a weird indirect way to learn how awful their other friends must be.

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


Genius reference in the title text to 'throwing shade', linking modern slang with something 2,400 years earlier! --OliReading (talk) 13:33, 12 November 2018 (UTC)

Should I be concerned that I got the Plato reference from >2K years ago, but had to look up what "throwing shade" is? I feel so old now.Daemonik (talk) 15:26, 12 November 2018 (UTC)
You're not the only one, if that makes you feel better! 16:51, 12 November 2018 (UTC)

Sorry, first time entry editor, turned out I really couldn't add that much but I just really wanted to at least put this. I mean, what an awesome joke! Lheticus (talk) 13:50, 12 November 2018 (UTC)

Remember that other comic strip where he was imagining a bad opinion, looked up to see if other people had it, and then preemptively writing online about how horrible an opinion it is? This could be a callback to it, except as viewed from somebody who is friends with the person writing about it. I'd mention this in the explanation part of this strip, except I can't remember which comic that comes from. Does anybody remember? Or even what the title was so I can search the title? Jeudi Violist (talk) 17:31, 12 November 2018 (UTC)

"Bad Opinions" (https://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php/2051:_Bad_Opinions). I did a site search on the word "Opinions" to find it. -boB (talk) 18:49, 12 November 2018 (UTC)

I dunno if it's such a terrible opinion. Sounds like a perfectly reasonable use of the animals -- make them productive (albeit for a limited time) rather than a (lengthy) drain on resources. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

You must have some awful friends! 10:19, 13 November 2018 (UTC)

The post in the comic reminds me of some of the "straw man" arguments I've seen over the years - make up a horrific argument for the purposes of shooting it down, in an effort to create support for the opposite argument. It's a deplorable, but regrettably common, social media tactic these days. In the comic, this would imply (falsely) that the poster's other friends support the awful argument. 12:20, 13 November 2018 (UTC)

This comment was given by someone Randall presumably knows and trusts; no evidence is given his friend is not responding to genuine comments others have made. And given some of the trolling that happens, it would not surprise me if trolls did make the exact comments Randall's friend's "friends" made, for their own humor's sake. So I'd say this is likely more an example of someone taking the troll's bait hook, line, and sinker rather than someone trying to make up a straw man argument. -boB (talk) 16:51, 13 November 2018 (UTC)

I edited a sentence to try to make the tone a little more neutral. It's notable that some people think animals have feelings, and some people simply don't believe they do, and could naturally compare them to rocks or pencils but still be very caring people. Personally, I believe animals feel suffering as strongly as we do, but I've never had the opportunity to argue this to exhaustion. This is an age-old argument, studied regularly by college students, that I suppose could bear reference in the explanation. 13:17, 13 November 2018 (UTC)

Changed it to be significantly less neutral. The comic explicitly uses the phrases "terrible opinions" and "awful people", so it's pretty clear that the comic, at least, is not supposed to be neutral. 16:49, 19 November 2018 (UTC)

Is "everyone on here" correct English? 10:30, 14 November 2018 (UTC)

I would say "everyone on here" is fine; I might also say "everyone in here" if I were thinking of this wiki as a room, which sometimes seems to fit . . . . 10:50, 14 November 2018 (UTC)
This is supposed to be a post from social media. A user is "on" Facebook, a user is "on" Twitter, a user is only "in" Facebook if they have used an experimental TRON-type laser to enter the servers. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)