Title text: Protip: You can win every exchange just by being one level more precise than whoever talked last. Eventually, you'll defeat all conversational opponents and stand alone.
The image shows a sphere, a simple model for the shape of the Earth. Six people stand on its surface, talking about ways to best describe it, starting with a flat surface, the first belief held, and ending with general relativity. As the statements form a circle, the very first statement can lead recursively off the last, as described below.
The statements in detail:
- Actually, measurements suggest it's flat.
- This statement is located at the top of the sphere in the comic, making it most likely to be read first. Given no other context, it will be interpreted as referring to the Earth; i.e. "The Earth is flat." This references the earliest view of our planet's surface.
- Actually, it's a sphere.
- This refers to the second earliest view of our planet's surface, as a ball with uniform radius everywhere.
- Actually, it's an oblate spheroid.
- This clarifies the previous statement; an oblate spheroid has a wider radius at the equator than through the poles. On Earth, this occurs because a rotating body tends to bulge at the equator, where the matter experiences greater centrifugal forces (analogous to experiencing more force at the outside of a round-a-bout rather than at the center). This is known as the equatorial bulge.
- Actually, it's a shape defined by the EGM96 coefficients.
- This adds even more clarification to the previous statement; the Earth Gravitational Model 1996 is a detailed map of the Earth's gravitational field, which is not as uniform as a pure oblate spheroid would suggest.
- Actually, it's that plus local topography.
- This adds an almost unnecessary level of clarification to the previous; obviously the Earth's surface is not a smooth shape but rather contains numerous mountains, hills, valleys, etc. which constitute "local topography".
- Actually, it's embedded in a universe that's curved.
- This shifts the perspective from the actual shape of the Earth to the "shape" of the space around it. According to General relativity, our planet's gravity bends the space-time around it, making it curved. At the time General relativity was discovered, it was not conclusively known whether the whole universe was flat or curved.
- Actually, measurements suggest it's flat.
- Looping around to the first statement and given the context from the previous one, this can now be interpreted as "the universe is flat" rather than "the Earth is flat". Recent measurements of the universe's shape strongly suggest that it is more or less completely flat rather than curved.
- This could also refer to Thomas Friedman's 2005 book "The World is Flat" which discusses globalization and the idea of the world as a level playing field of equal opportunity for commerce.
- The next two statements could also be interpreted as referring to the universe rather than the Earth - but they would no longer continue to be more precise than the previous (Cueball's) statment.
- The text will not continue on to form a recursive loop - as the statement about the EGM (by Megan) would no longer make sense in context of the universe - and the same would be true for the next two statements.
- Title text
The title text pulls the whole comic tegether, pointing out that each statement in the comic is more precise than the previous. Unlike the loop in the comic, someone who does this will likely eventually win any real-life debate. The phrase "stand alone" refers to driving away all conversation, resulting in no one wanting to speak to the person.
- [Six people are standing upon a white circle as if it were a miniature planet. Each person is facing the reader and says something to the person on their right. All texts are displayed as a near-continuous stream over their heads to form one circle that encloses the whole picture.]
- [From topmost, going clockwise.]
- Cueball: Actually, measurements suggest it's flat.
- Ponytail: Actually, it's a sphere.
- White Hat: Actually, it's an oblate spheroid.
- Megan: Actually, it's a shape defined by the EGM96 coefficients.
- Hairy 1: Actually, it's that plus local topography.
- Hairy 2: Actually, it's embedded in a universe that's curved.
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