1652: Conditionals

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 14:37, 7 March 2016 by (talk) (Explanation: Added explanation of flavor text~~~~)
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'If you're done being pedantic, we should get dinner.' 'You did it again!' 'No, I didn't.'
Title text: 'If you're done being pedantic, we should get dinner.' 'You did it again!' 'No, I didn't.'


Cueball is having a conversation via text message. His conversation partner uses a conditional "if-then" statement, as might be found in formal logic or in a computer programm. WHen such a statement is used in a computer program, the computer will check to see if a certain condition, such as a variable value being equal to some constant, is true or false. If it is true, it will execute the code in the "then" section.

For example:

comic = "xkcd"
if (comic = "xkcd")
then print "xkcd"

When this pseudocode is run by a computer, the computer would print "xkcd" because the condition (does comic = xkcd?) is true, since the variable comic was assigned the value "xkcd".

Conditionals are also used in formal logic. A possible form is "if A then B", meaning that if the first part of the statement (A, the premise or antecedent) is true, the second part (B, the conclusion or consequent) is asserted to be true.

For example: "If you are reading this then you probably read xkcd."

An equivalent form of such a statement is "B if A": "You probably read xkcd if you are reading this."

The humor of the comic arises from Cueball's interaction with an invitation for a social meeting, which is put to him casually in the form of a “B if A” statement, as a formal conditional statement: if Cueball wants to hang out, then his conversation partner will be in his city. This does not imply anything about where the partner will be if Cueball does not want to hang out; they could be in the city or anywhere else (a conditional statement makes no assertions about the truth or falsity of its conclusion if its premise is false).

Since the person is only guaranteed to be in the city if Cueball wants to hang out, he asks them where they will be if he doesn't. The other person makes an excuse to drop their invitation, apparently tiring of his insistence on his overly-pedantic interpretation. Hence the caption observes that being pedantic with regard to conditionals is likely to make your friends disinclined to hang out with you.

Under the intended interpretation, "if you want to hang out" is shorthand for the conditional statement "we can hang out, if you want to hang out", with the consequent "we can hang out" being implied. "I'll be in your city tomorrow" is not part of the conditional statement and only serves to provide background.

In the flavor text, the initiator of the conversation then presents an "If A, then B" conditional in which all necessary context is present in the sentence. The person responding (probably Cueball) mistakenly asserts that the speaker made the same mistake as the previous exchange, to which the initiator correctly replies, "No, I didn't." The intent is to show that because the initiator still believes that Cueball is still being pedantic, then he believes that it is not a good idea to have dinner together.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[Cueball is texting on a phone with a friend]
Friend: I'll be in your city tomorrow if you want to hang out.
Cueball: But where will you be if I don't want to hang out?
Friend: You know, I just remembered I'm busy.
Why I try not to be pedantic about conditionals.

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The title text... So he should both stop being pedantic in general and stop caring about conditionals in particular. What is it he does in the title text... the current explanation of that part is not clear to me. Is it completely clear who speaks which line in the title text...? --Kynde (talk) 15:03, 7 March 2016 (UTC)

It is fairly obvious that the line "If you're done being pedantic, we should get dinner," is provided by Cueball's friend, as it is already established that Cueball was the one being pedantic about conditionals in the first place. 15:15, 7 March 2016 (UTC)

To me the word "Conditionals" is clearly in the grammatical sense. Computer programming was invented literally centuries after the grammatical meaning, and the joke would have been as meaningful 3000 years ago as it is today. 15:17, 7 March 2016 (UTC)

The particular kind of conditional that Cueball's friend is using is called a "biscuit conditional," after the example "There are biscuits in the sideboard if you want some" (from the philosopher J.L. Austin). There's a bit of discussion of them at Language Log--Cueball is doing what Sam C talks about in the first comment, deliberately misunderstanding the conditional. The characteristic of these conditionals is that the truth of the consequent doesn't depend on the truth of the antecedent (the "if" clause), but the consequent isn't relevant if the antecedent isn't true--if Cueball didn't want to hang out, it wouldn't matter that his friend was in the city. In the title text, Cueball thinks that his friend is uttering another biscuit conditional, and that just saying that they should get dinner. But the truth of the consequent really is dependent on the truth of the antecedent--if Cueball isn't done being pedantic his friend doesn't want to get dinner. So I think it is accurate to say "The intent is to show that because the initiator still believes that Cueball is still being pedantic, then he believes that it is not a good idea to have dinner together," though maybe it could be expressed more clearly. 15:57, 7 March 2016 (UTC)

Didn't Demitri Martin do this joke like 10 years ago? :P 18:11, 7 March 2016 (UTC)

Whenever there is something like this that annoys me and I find out it has a name (like relevance conditional), it stops bothering me. HisHighestMinion (talk) 20:20, 7 March 2016 (UTC)

The one that always bugs me is the Steven Universe intro song:

   We are the Crystal Gems
   We'll always save the day,
   and if you think we can't
   We'll always find a way.

Something about the "if" being at the beginning of the biscuit clause throws me. What if I think they can save the day? Then there's no guarantee that they will! But if I AM always thinking that they can't save the day, then they will ALWAYS find a way. Therefore I think they will always find a way. It's so circular!NotLock (talk) 20:28, 7 March 2016 (UTC)

By the way... Steven Universe was references twice in 1608: Hoverboard, first the family with a "gem" (to the right of course) and then Vader himself talks about them, both inside the Destroyer. I never hear of the show before experiencing the Hoverboard comic, but since I have seen part of an episode and now this comment ;-) You learn so much from reading xkcd. But I'm not sure most of it is useful. But almost always funny. --Kynde (talk) 22:29, 7 March 2016 (UTC)
"You learn so much from reading xkcd. But I'm not sure most of it is useful. But almost always funny." This should be on a banner at the top of explainxckd. 00:49, 8 March 2016 (UTC)

The title text (you did it again - no I didn't) hearkens back to 725: Literally 21:14, 7 March 2016 (UTC)

Thanks for the ref. I have included this in the explanation. --Kynde (talk) 23:10, 7 March 2016 (UTC)

So I read the caption as "WHEN I try not to be pedantic about conditionals" and was thinking that it was about "if/only if" directionality. ;-) (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

The relevance-conditional that always gets me is "If you're interested in buying something, my name is X". Always makes me think, "And what is your name if I'm just looking?" KieferSkunk (talk) 01:27, 8 March 2016 (UTC)

If you're interested in buying something, I'm Joe. If you're just a lookie-loo, call me Chuck. That way, at the end of the month, Chuck has a lower close ratio than me, and I get the bonus. :P -- 11:04, 11 March 2016 (UTC)

Thank you!

It's amazing how much you can learn about things you thought you already knew. Explainxkcd is so much more than xkcd! Mumiemonstret (talk) 22:03, 7 March 2016 (UTC)

Yes thanks to those who made today's explanation. This was outside my English capabilities, and I really needed others to explain! :-) --Kynde (talk) 22:24, 7 March 2016 (UTC)

+1! This is one of the best (clearest, succinct, well written) explanations on this site. Kudos to all who participated. 14:38, 8 March 2016 (UTC)

+1 -- Add you comment here if you think that every explanation should be this well written 23:05, 9 March 2016 (UTC)

Is this another case of small talk problems just mentioned after the release of 1650: Baby? Maybe there should be a category (see link for more)...--Kynde (talk) 23:10, 7 March 2016 (UTC)


There are some underlying elements of solipsism here. If the other person is hanging out with Clueball, she actually exists. But if that other person is not present, does she exist? "Where will you be" means that the other person existence becomes unsure, at least from Clueball's point of view.

As an off topic, it would be interesting to see what modern solipsism supporters have to say about the usage of cell phone communications. If one were to spend all day alone say in a forest and talked to a bunch of people over cell phone for the whole day, what would that say about the existence of others outside the forest? Would other's existence still be unsure? Is talking to someone via a mechanical device validating or invalidating of their actual existence? Ralfoide (talk) 16:29, 8 March 2016 (UTC)

For them hard solipsists it is irrelevant if they experience another being face-to-face or over the phone. They cannot be sure the other person, the phone, and the surrounding woods, really exist. Both living and dead matter are experienced through unreliable senses. For us soft solipsists, it is also irrelevant if we talk to someone over the phone or face-to-face. We still can't know for sure if the other person have a mind, have consciousness (like I do), or if it is just a mindless animal, a robot (albeit with functional repertoire of feelings and ability to learn skills). 01:35, 17 September 2016 (UTC)

The issue I have with this comic is that there isn't anything wrong with saying I'll be in the city tomorrow if you want to hang out. It's logically equivalent to (you want to hang out tomorrow) -> (I'll be in the city) which isn't equivalent to (you don't want to hang out tomorrow) -> (I won't be in the city). In fact the only other logical inference that can be made from this statement is (I won't be in the city) -> (you don't want to hang out tomorrow), or in English, if I'm not in the city tomorrow, you didn't want to hang out. The person can be in the city tomorrow in either case. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Yes, but as a logical conditional, if Randall is going to be busy tomorrow, he's learned nothing about his friend's location--which is why he asks. -- 11:04, 11 March 2016 (UTC)

Is it just me, or did Randall mis-spell IFF? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

The title text here, and in 725: Literally, may also reference Monty Python's 'Argument Clinic' sketch.These Are Not The Comments You Are Looking For (talk) 03:13, 12 March 2016 (UTC)

This made me think of the "Drinker paradox" 03:20, 3 October 2019 (UTC)