Title text: The days of the week are Monday, Arctic, Wellsley, Green, Electra, Synergize, and the Seventh Seal.
In this comic, Cueball (or perhaps Randall) says he can't distinguish between sets that have exactly seven objects. This leads him to exchange the items in the sets without noticing, to the point where, when attempting to list a single set, each item mentioned actually belongs to a different set.
This is shown in the comic when Cueball tries to enumerate the seven dwarfs from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (a task some people might find difficult, although they would not just chose words from other sets of seven to fill in the gaps...)
The title text reveals that even a trivial set of seven items, like the days of the week, also goes completely wrong.
The comic is a reference to the oldest set-theoretic definition of the natural numbers, in which for each natural number, an equivalence class is defined over all sets which contain the same number of items. As Cueball is known for mathematical thinking, he could be presumed to have taken the underlying equivalence relation to heart, and (over)applying it to real life, genuinely judging sets to be identical if they all contain N objects.
The number seven being the number for when sets become indistinguishable is possibly a reference to Miller's law; however, this law refers to elements within the same set becoming indistinguishable, rather than the indistinguishability of different sets of the same size -- indeed, its original tests involved either distinguishing between the items, or repeating them back in the correct order.
The number seven has culturally been regarded as a special, magical or holy number, which contributes to the large number of familiar sets of seven that make this comic possible. This proliferation of well-known sets of 7 items could be another reason why Randall chose to use the number seven in the comic.
For each of the seven lists below, the relevant item's traditional position within its own list of seven, according to Wikipedia, is not necessarily equal to its position on the list in the comic. For some list it is true but not for most. For instance Sneezy is traditionally never mentioned first amongst the dwarfs since the leader Doc normally comes first. But "phylum" is the second major taxonomic rank as is "phylum" the second item on the list in the comic.
The seven "dwarfs" mentioned and their relevant sets of seven are (items in the set are written in bold):
|Disney's Dwarfs from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs[c 1]||Doc||Grumpy||Happy||Sleepy||Bashful||Sneezy||Dopey|
|Major taxonomic ranks[c 2].||kingdom||phylum||class||order||family||genus||species|
|Continents[c 3]||Asia||Africa||North America||South America||Antarctica||Europe||Australia|
|Deadly sins[c 4]||lust||gluttony||greed||sloth||wrath||envy||pride|
|Seven Layer Dip (recipe)[c 5]||refried beans||cheese||ground beef||sour cream||guacamole||salsa||chopped black olives/tomatoes/green onions|
|Layers of the OSI model[c 6]||application||presentation||session||transport||network||data link||physical|
|Wonders of the Ancient World[c 7]||Great Pyramid of Giza||Hanging Gardens of Babylon||Statue of Zeus at Olympia||Temple of Artemis at Ephesus||Mausoleum at Halicarnassus||Colossus of Rhodes||Lighthouse of Alexandria|
- The order is taken from the page about the movie. But Sneezy is never no. 1, on the other page, which is listed alphabetically, he is no. 5.
- There are now actually 8 on this list as domain has been included as the first in the list in 1990. It is, however, still normal to only list the 7 ranks in the table.
- Continents are normally listed by size (as here in the table), in which case Europe is no. 6. Alphabetically it would be fifth. By population, Europe would actually be no. 3 (i.e. it would match the position in Cueball's list). But by population density, it is no. 2.
- List as on Wikipedia.
- The list on Wikipedia is not in the order the dip should be made. The order used above is from this recipe.
- The order above is in reverse. The numbers given on Wikipedia is from 7 to 1 as they stand above. However when showing them in a table they begin with no. 7. So it can be discussed if this is the correct order or the reverse. Since Data link is no. 2, the reverse above becomes the "correct" no. 6.
- List as on Wikipedia.
Title text list
The title text extends this saying he also does the same with the set of the seven days of the week.
The sets Cueball's "days of the week" come from are:
|Days of the week[t 1]||Monday||Tuesday||Wednesday||Thursday||Friday||Saturday||Sunday|
|The Seven Seas (modern version)[t 2]||The Pacific Ocean||The Atlantic Ocean||The Indian Ocean||The Arctic Ocean||The Mediterranean Sea||The Caribbean Sea||The Gulf of Mexico.|
|Seven Sisters, historically women's colleges in U.S.[t 3]||Mount Holyoke||Vassar||Wellesley||Smith||Radcliffe||Bryn Mawr||Barnard|
|Traditional spectral colors[t 4]||Red||Orange||Yellow||Green||Blue||Indigo||Violet|
|Pleiades, Seven Sisters, nymphs and daughters of Atlas and Pleone in Greek mythology[t 5]||Maia||Electra||Taygete||Alcyone||Celaeno||Sterope||Merope|
|The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen R. Covey[t 6]||Be proactive||Begin with the end in mind||Put first things first||Think win-win||Seek first to understand and then to be understood||Synergize||Sharpen the saw|
|In the Book of Revelation in the New Testament there are Seven seals[t 7]||The First seal||The Second seal||The Third seal||The Fourth seal||The Fifth seal||The Sixth seal||The Seventh seal|
- In the US, the weekdays are usually mentioned with Sunday first, whereas the international ISO week date standard defines Monday as the first day of the week. Although Randall is from the US, he has previosuly expressed his preference for ISO 8601 (among other international standards), so it's reasonable to assume he'd list the days of the week starting on Monday.
- There are many ways to lists 7 named bodies of water. the one in the table uses the order from Wikipedia, from the largest to the smallest of the seven. But if the list is sorted in alphabetic order, "Arctic" indeed comes second: Antarctic, Arctic, Atlantic, Caribbean, Indian, Mediterranean, and Pacific. "Arctic" could also be a reference to Climate zones - see Trivia. It could not, however, be a reference to Continents, because the Arctic is not a continent regardless of how they're counted.
- List as on Wikipedia.
- On the list on Wikipedia there are only six colors but Indigo was used to get to seven colors by Newton - see Trivia.
- List as on Wikipedia, with the oldest first and the youngest last (it's unclear whether the ones in the middle are also listed by age). In any case, only in reverse alphabetical order Electra would be no. 5: Taygete, Sterope, Merope, Maia, Electra, Celaeno, and Alcyone.
- These seven habits are clearly named in order as they are listed as Habit 1 through Habit 7.
- The Seventh Seal is also the name of a movie released in 1957, which belongs to a lot of sets of seven -- see the Trivia section.
- [Megan and Cueball are talking]
- Megan: Can you name all the dwarfs from Snow White?
- Cueball: Sure, there's, um...
- Cueball's thoughts: Sneezy, phylum, Europe, sloth, guacamole, data link, Colossus of Rhodes
- Caption: I have this problem where all sets of seven things are indistinguishable to me.
- Arctic (no. 2 on the title text list) could also be a reference to climate zones: Arctic, North Temperate, Northern Subtropical, Tropical, Southern Subtropical, South Temperate and Antarctic.
- There are however usually only five mentioned according to the Köppen climate classification. They are: Tropical, Dry, Temperate, Continental and Polar climate.
- Concerning the seven colours of the spectrum (no. 4 on the title text list) indigo is stuck in by Isaac Newton to add up to the seven notes in the Western musical scale
- It should be noted that Newton probably meant the colours cyan and blue as we think of it today, rather than blue and indigo.
- Also note that in a rainbow you usually cannot distinguish more than six colours with cyan melting in with green and blue and the same for indigo with blue and violet.
- This is highly dependent on the language you speak. Russian, for example, has both sinij and goluboj to describe different blues that in English are both blue. Japanese, as another example, has blue and green together (kinda) in 青.
- These are also the traditional seven artists' pigments, with the accompanying mnemonic "Roy G. Biv". Indigo dye is a widely known and readily available colouring agent. The ongoing ubiquity of the pigment (think denim) gives it a unique prominence in spite of its uncertain status as a spectral colour.
- The Seventh Seal (no. 7 on the title text list) could also refer to the 1957 film The Seventh Seal by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. Indeed, we can put it in quite a few sets of seven...
- This was Bergman's seventh film with an English title beginning with the letter ‘S’ (ignoring articles). A Ship Bound for India, Summer Interlude, Secrets of Women, Summer with Monika, Sawdust and Tinsel, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal.
- Similary The Seventh Seal is also the seventh Bergman film whose Swedish title starts with ‘S’, although the list has some different members. Skepp till Indialand, Sånt händer inte här, Sommarlek, Sommaren med Monika, Sommarnattens leende, Sista paret ut, Det sjunde inseglet.
- The Seventh Seal was also one of seven Bergman films submitted by Sweden for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film during the 1950s and 1960s. The Seventh Seal, The Magician, The Virgin Spring, Through a Glass Darkly, The Silence, Persona, Shame.
- According to the Wikipedia page on The Seventh Seal, the Jesuit publication America wrote, "It also began a series of seven films that explored the possibility of faith in a post-Holocaust, nuclear age. In 'The Virgin Spring' (1960), 'Through a Glass Darkly' (1961), 'Winter Light' (1962) and 'The Silence' (1963), he poses traditional faith questions in identifiably religious language. The characters struggle self-consciously with their inability to believe in God and form relationships with one another. In 'Wild Strawberries' (1957) and 'The Magician' (1958), the issues are veiled in layers of metaphor. The theological questions become apparent only by placing them in the context of the other films of the period. With 'The Silence' he concludes that God is unknowable, and the human person must simply continue life's journey seeking understanding and happiness however one can. At that point, God-questions drop out of his films altogether.
- One way to remember the names of the Seven Dwarfs from the Disney film is: three emotions (Happy, Bashful, Grumpy), two S's (Sleepy, Sneezy), two D's (Dopey, Doc). Cueball assumes that Megan is asking in the context of the Disney film, but other works have named the dwarfs differently; see Seven Dwarfs.
- Megan's question uses the plural dwarfs. Astronomers also refer to the plural of dwarf stars as "dwarfs". The word "dwarves" is used in J. R. R. Tolkien's works, but has been seen as far back as the early 1800s.
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