1747: Spider Paleontology

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 14:05, 17 October 2016 by (talk) (Transcript: expand)
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Spider Paleontology
Whenever you see a video of birds doing something weird, remember: Birds are a small subset of dinosaurs, so the weirdness of birds is a small subset of the weirdness of dinosaurs.
Title text: Whenever you see a video of birds doing something weird, remember: Birds are a small subset of dinosaurs, so the weirdness of birds is a small subset of the weirdness of dinosaurs.


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A time-traveller (the sphere-like thing) visits us/the present from the far future. Spiders are their current craze, much as dinosaurs are currently to us. The time-traveller immediately spots a spider, awestruck to see the object of its obsession in the living flesh. Since spider webs don't fossilize, the time-traveller is surprised to see the spider in a web. There was no possible mention of spiderwebs in the fossil record, from which they gathered all their knowledge

We, with our current knowledge, know that webs are an essential part of a spiders life. Making sense of a spiders life is practically impossible without including their webs. However, the future-people have done so until now, discovering how wrong they are is bound to become an intense experience for them.

Megan immediately connects the time-travellers realisation to our current understanding of dinosaurs: If future-people think they understand spiders, while missing something as essential (but non-fossilising) as their web, what are we missing about dinosaurs? Cueball quickly catches on, and both ask if they can borrow the time-machine to have their mind blown about dinosaurs much as the timetraveller is experiencing right now about spiders.


[A seven-panel comic featuring Cueball, Megan, and a time-traveler from the distant future, possibly from somewhere other than Earth. The time-traveler is depicted as a solid, floating black dot surrounded by six outwardly-curved segments, surrounded by small dots. In the second panel, the depiction is slightly different.]

[The time-traveler floats on the left of the first panel, facing Megan who is in the center facing left. Cueball is to Megan's right and also facing left.]

Time-traveler: I'm here from the distant future!
Megan: Cool! What for?
Time-traveler: Spiders!

[The second panel is a close-up of the time-traveler, depicted in this panel as a diffuse black smudge surrounded by seven narrow rays with irregular dots between the rays.]

Time-traveler: We've learned about your planet's spiders from fossils.
Time-traveler: There's a whole spider craze. We have spider theme parks, spider movies, spider costumes...
Time-traveler: Such beautiful animals!
Megan (off-panel): I guess...

[The third panel shows the time-traveler, Megan, and Cueball as before. Megan is gesturing left, past the time-traveler.]

Time-traveler: Now we've got time travel, so I'm here to see one for myself!
Megan: Sure! There's one over there!

[The fourth panel depicts the time-traveler floating over a leafless plant. A spider web is strung between the border of the left panel and the leafless plant. A spider is in the center of the web.]

Time-traveler: Woowwww!
Time-traveler: What's that giant net it's caught in?
Megan (off-panel): You mean its web?
Time-traveler: Its what?

[The fifth panel is similar to the first, depicting the time traveler, Megan and Cueball]

Megan: Oh, right, fossils. So you wouldn't know about...

[The sixth panel depicts only Megan, facing right.]

Megan: ...

[The last panel is similar to the first. Megan's head is bent down in a thinking pose.]

Megan: Oh my God. Dinosaurs must have been so weird.
Cueball: Holy crap, yeah.
Megan: Listen, can we borrow your time machine?
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I think it the first XKCD I don't get :P 13:02, 17 October 2016 (UTC)

  • I don't believe you, no-one except Randall Himself is that smart ;-) Anyways, hope the explanation I added helps some 13:40, 17 October 2016 (UTC)

I like how the 6th panel has no borders. To me it signifies the broadening of her horizons, the going beyond her previous limits, as the realisation sinks in. 14:14, 17 October 2016 (UTC)

I remember reading about a fossil of a spider with its web, but I don't remember where I read about it. I don't suppose anyone else has heard the same? (Ideally someone who remembers the source?) 15:27, 17 October 2016 (UTC)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/6467024/Fossil-hunter-finds-140-million-year-old-spiders-web.html mwburden (talk) 16:44, 17 October 2016 (UTC)

Although, with no prior knowledge of webs, that fossil would not have been much help! Miamiclay (talk) 03:42, 18 October 2016 (UTC)

Other fossil spiderwebs:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/08/0807_030807_spiderweb.html http://www.amnh.org/our-research/science-news/2006/110-million-year-old-spider-web-with-insect-prey-found-preserved-in-amber/

Randall is simply mistaken here. 13:43, 18 October 2016 (UTC)

Actually not all spiders spin webs, Wolf spiders chase their prey. So 'Future Guy' could get equally confused but limited observations of just one type. RIIW - Ponder it (talk) 17:45, 17 October 2016 (UTC)

Anyone think this is the character from the Steroids comic? Looks fairly similar. 16:08, 17 October 2016 (UTC)

It does seem to be the same basic design, but not identical. Of course, the whatever-it-is seen here is not even depicted consistently from panel to panel, so the differences from #1173 don't mean it's a different character, either. 19:22, 17 October 2016 (UTC)
No I do not. I have moved ref to other energy spheres into the new series category for these comics: Category:Time traveling Sphere. I also went through all series and then made a detailed list of all types of series on the Category:Comic series page. All "real" series are listed chronologically there and the type (five in one week/two over long time) are mentioned and specified. There is also know a detailed discussion on how strange this comic series release schedule is. --Kynde (talk) 23:46, 25 October 2016 (UTC)

Possibly related: Where do Dinosaurs go when it rains? - https://xkcd.com/1434/ 17:48, 17 October 2016 (UTC)

Good as a joke, but note that the visitor from future is speaking English. The idea that English will remain but knowledge about webs vanishes ... seriously? Did no one though about spiders used to download parts of world wide web in future? -- Hkmaly (talk) 13:47, 18 October 2016 (UTC)

We already have floating energy spheres and time travel. A universal translator is universally likely. — -- 19:33, 27 June 2018 (UTC)
Considering this comic is about time travel, I somehow doubt Randall was setting out to be scientifically accurate 16:17, 18 October 2016 (UTC)
He's Randall, isn't he? -- Hkmaly (talk) 23:42, 18 October 2016 (UTC)

did anyone notice that the time traveller says "your planet's spiders". It's possible that a far distant future human is living on a different planet, but it's odd phrasing. 20:03, 18 October 2016 (UTC)

What makes you think the time traveller is human? -- Hkmaly (talk) 23:42, 18 October 2016 (UTC)

Within a few weeks before this comic, Nature published a study claiming that rather than roaring, many dinosaurs may have cooed and/or quacked. I wonder if this sort of new information inspired Randall to wonder what other facts about dinosaurs we don't yet know. 21:56, 18 October 2016 (UTC)