Title text: We lost the documentation on quantum mechanics. You'll have to decode the regexes yourself.
Lisp is a computer programming language with highly regular simple syntax. The language's most notable feature is that programs take the same form as the language's primary data structure (the linked list). This blurs the line between code and data and permits programs to inspect and even alter their own source code, thereby opening up deep opportunities for metaprogramming. Lisp is also a functional programming language (though not purely functional, as some more recent languages are), meaning that programs are are expressed in terms which are often simple elaborations or extensions of the lambda calculus, a fundamental mathematical framework for computation. This gives programs written in functional languages such as Lisp a distinctively abstract, mathematical form that is commonly considered difficult to fully grok.
The phrase A suffusion of blue is a reference to Douglas Adams' book The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. In it, an I Ching calculator calculates everything above the value of 4 is a suffusion of yellow.
In the comic, Cueball marvels at the fundamental and complete nature of the language of creation that he sees in his dream. In the Lisp programming language, "car" is a primitive (i.e. basic) function which produces the first item in a list. The line "My God, It's full of 'car's" is a pun, most likely referring to the movie 2010: The Year We Make Contact, the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the book 2001: A Space Odyssey when astronaut David Bowman accidentally activates a star gate he exclaims as he enters it "The thing's hollow — it goes on forever — and — oh my God - it's full of stars!", although he does not say anything in the first movie during the final sequence.
Cueball's remarks about patterns, metapatterns, and the disappearance of syntax are reactions to the elegant simplicity of the Lisp programming language, in which it is relatively easy to build immensely sophisticated programs using simple recursive elaborations of structure. This is fundamentally unlike the much more typical and common imperative programming languages, in which programs are written as chains of instructions to the machine.
God replies that the universe was actually hacked together with the programming language Perl. Perl employs an idiosyncratic syntax which borrows from a number of other languages. Although a versatile language often employed for assembling projects quickly (some might say "hastily"), the language has a reputation for being ugly and inelegant. It was famously described as a "Swiss-Army chainsaw", because it is very powerful but also unwieldy and unattractive. By contrast, Larry Wall, the creator of Perl, famously criticised Lisp with the words
"By policy, LISP has never really catered to mere mortals. And, of course, mere mortals have never really forgiven LISP for not catering to them."
The joke is that the Creator, like many software developers, was a bit rushed and chose to quickly throw together a working prototype rather than do the job right from the beginning.
A (possible) hidden joke might be an oblique reference to Greenspun's tenth rule when God replies with "I mean, ostensibly, yes". Greenspun's tenth rule says that any sufficiently complex program written in another high level programming language will necessarily contain an imperfect, undocumented, slow, and bug-ridden implementation of about half of Common Lisp. This explains why the program looks or feels "Lispy" to an unacquainted observer. Greenspun's tenth rule was meant to express the belief that Common Lisp, a large, full-featured Lisp dialect, was so flexible and and robust that any attempt to render any truly sophisticated program in most other languages would require the programmer to expend extraordinary effort unintentionally duplicating, in needlessly baroque fashion, features and functions which in Common Lisp would be elegant and trivial to implement.
The title text continues the analogy by suggesting that the theory of quantum mechanics was written in regular expressions ("regexes"), a complex language for pattern matching used heavily in Perl. Regular expressions are often criticized as being a write-only language, that is, a language so complicated in syntax that any significant program written in them cannot be understood by anybody (often not even the original author). Documentation is essential to assist in the understanding of complex regular expressions. The title text claims that at some point, the documentation for quantum mechanics was lost, which explains why quantum mechanics is so bizarre and counterintuitive.
- [Floating in space.]
- Speaker: Last night I drifted off while reading a Lisp book.
- Cueball: Huh?
- Speaker: Suddenly, I was bathed in a suffusion of blue.
- [Floating in space before a vast concept tree.]
- Speaker: At once, just like they said, I felt a great enlightenment. I saw the naked structure of Lisp code unfold before me.
- Cueball: My God
- Cueball: It's full of 'car's
- Speaker: The patterns and metapatterns danced. Syntax faded, and I swam in the purity of quantified conception. Of ideas manifest.
- [Close-up of floating in space before part of a concept tree.]
- Truly, this was the language from which the gods wrought the Universe.
- [Floating in space with God appearing through a line of clouds.]
- God: No, it's not.
- Cueball: It's not?
- God: I mean, ostensibly, yes. Honestly, we hacked most of it together with Perl.
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