2359: Evidence of Alien Life

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Evidence of Alien Life
Both too cautious AND not cautious enough: "I'm skeptical that those are aliens, so I'm going to try pulling off their masks."
Title text: Both too cautious AND not cautious enough: "I'm skeptical that those are aliens, so I'm going to try pulling off their masks."


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This comic depicts a table of possible responses to new information on the possibility of alien life. It is presented in table form, with the columns representing three categories of reaction to new evidence, and the rows representing the strength of new evidence, increasing down the table. Each intersection then shows a small scenario of what the response would be. The left and right hand column's scenarios are hyperbolic in either their acceptance or denial. The center column represents a reasonable course of action.

The title text refers to an action which is simultaneously too cautious and not cautious enough: the speaker is skeptical that aliens exist, which is usually an appropriate belief, except that presumably Megan and Cueball are in the situation presented in the bottom row, where aliens have landed right in front of them. Rather than modifying his belief (presumably it's Cueball, who was the one to approach the aliens in the other panels), he expresses an intention to approach the alleged aliens and attempt to remove their masks. He believes that he will expose a human wearing a costume, perpetrating a "Scooby-Doo"-style hoax, but no matter what the outcome is, he's acting rashly. If the beings before him are aliens, he will be initiating a very aggressive first contact and will likely receive a violent response, and even if the alien is not violent, Cueball might end up removing an environmental apparatus that is protecting it from Earth's environment (or vice versa). On the other hand, even if the "aliens" really are fakes, Cueball might end up injuring someone who is just playing a harmless joke (and who'd want to keep some kind of mask on to reduce the spread of COVID-19).

This comic was a reaction to the discovery of phosphine gas on Venus. Phosphine is a molecule with no known abiotic way of being produced in the quantities observed and within the environment of Venus, meaning that its discovery could be a potential sign of life on Venus.

The "alien probe" asteroid might refer to Oumuamua.


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The comic is laid out like a grid, with implements down the left-hand side (Weak Evidence of Alien Life/ Promising Evidence/ Definite Evidence) and the type of "reaction" across the top (Not Cautious Enough / Appropriately Cautious/ Too Cautious). The grid illustrates the "match-ups".

From the top left corner, going from left to right, top to bottom, with each first item being on its own line in the grid, the squares are as follows:

Weak Evidence of Alien Life/Not Cautious Enough: Cueball - "That asteroid is probably an alien probe"
Weak Evidence of Alien Life/Appropriately Cautious: Cueball - "This asteroid is weird and we should take a closer look; It's not aliens"
Weak Evidence of Alien Life/Too Cautious: Cueball - "This asteroid appears to be far away, but it could also be nearby and just very small"
Promising Evidence/Not Cautious Enough: Ponytail to Cueball - "They found life on Venus!"
Promising Evidence/Appropriately Cautious: Ponytail to Cueball - "Theses molecules might be produced by life or by weird high-heat chemistry"
Promising Evidence/Too Cautious: Ponytail to Cueball - "There is growing evidence that the atmosphere on Venus contains molecules"
Definite Evidence/Not Cautious Enough: Cueball - "I'm going to go give those aliens a hug!"
Definite Evidence/Appropriately Cautious: Cueball - "Oh wow, aliens! Should we try to communicate?"
Definite Evidence/Too Cautious: Megan - "The energy beams vaporizing the United Nations could be a possible biosignature"

Title text: Both too cautious AND not cautious enough: "I'm skeptical that those are aliens, so I'm going to try pulling off their masks"

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Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal also did a special issue this morning in honor of this announcement. Barmar (talk) 20:02, 14 September 2020 (UTC)

I don't think the bottom left panel fits. If you read it as left side is jumping to wild conclusions, center having an appropriate conclusions, and the right said as avoiding coming to any conclusions, then 8/9 panels fit. The bottom left doesn't really fit. 20:33, 14 September 2020 (UTC)mcstatz

Definite Evidence means there's no need to be leaping to wild conclusions as to their existence, it's already "definite". In this case, the wild conclusion would be the assumption that they are friendly and that touching them has no potential to be harmful. -boB (talk) 21:18, 14 September 2020 (UTC)
Even if the aliens are initially friendly, are they going to interpret a hug as a hostile action? There's no way to know without understanding their culture. 22:27, 14 September 2020 (UTC)
I travel 10 parsecs to a planet so primitive that they still think the digital watch is a neat idea and then somebody wraps their body around me, damn right I'm going to respond with force Kev (talk) 00:50, 15 September 2020 (UTC)

BOOK/TV SHOW SPOILER I wonder if the first panel (asteroid is probe) is a reference to the first season/book of The Expanse? Or maybe I'm just thinking that because I've been watching the show myself haha. As an aside, if there is a proper spoiler feature here that will hide the comment, please edit this. 23:08, 14 September 2020 (UTC)

I'm pretty sure it's a reference to this: https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/oumuamua-interstellar-visitor-1.4454180#:~:text=%27Weird%27%20rock%20Astronomers%20have%20discovered%20%27Oumuamua%20resembles%20worlds,%27Oumuamua%2C%20for%20example%2C%20has%20a%20significant%20carbon%20content. -monte 01:44, 15 September 2020 (UTC)

It's just possible that the top-right panel references the British(/Irish, by setting) sitcom Father Ted, where the eponymous Father is trying to explain to Father "Two aspects short of a Trinity" Dougal that these cows (indicates models of cows) are very small, but those cows (gesturing out of the 'holiday caravan' window) are far away.... And even if it isn't, I commend you to go and watch it anyway as it's a truly classic series... 04:22, 15 September 2020 (UTC)

Is there a category for "alien encounters"? Should we create one? 17:05, 16 September 2020 (UTC)

can someone make the explanation into a table. it is hard to understand .