2855: Empiricism

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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The problems started with my resolution next year to reject temporal causality.
Title text: The problems started with my resolution next year to reject temporal causality.


Cueball and Megan are discussing New Year's resolutions. Cueball says that his resolution for this year was to reject empiricism. Megan asks him how that worked out for him, to which Cueball gives a dismissive response.

Empiricism is the practice of testing a hypothesis based on direct observation and testing. The joke is that, since Cueball succeeded in rejecting empiricism this year, he doesn't care or think about how it went, since doing so would be empirical.

Technically speaking, Cueball's response can be more accurately characterized as a rejection of empiricism alternatives such as constructivism and pragmatism (the suggestion that knowledge is constructed by the individual through their interactions with the world, and the belief that value is determined by its success in practical application, respectively); if Megan had asked, "Did that work out for you as well as you had expected?" then Cueball's response would have been a more direct rejection of empiricism. As stated, this is just a technicality; Randall is probably using a layman's definition of empiricism-- something like "the theory that any and all knowledge comes from sensory experience."

In the title text, Cueball attributes past problems ("my problems started") to his future ("next year") resolution, which is to reject temporal causality. Temporal causality is the principle in physics that the cause of an event always precedes the event. The joke is that his past/current problems are being caused by a future event, since his sense of causality is no longer time-based. This is Randall's second joke about causality in three weeks; a similar joke was published 7 comics prior to this one, in which a breaker box switch can turn off causality.


[Cueball and Megan are standing, talking to each other.]
Cueball: My New Year's resolution this year was to reject empiricism.
Megan: And how's that been working out for you?
Cueball: What does that have to do with anything?


  • This is the first New Year comic to come out in November.
    • All previous comics have come in either December or January. And only a few has been outside the window of the one before or the one after New Year.
    • But given the subject of two New Year resolutions, it can only be considered a New Year comic.
      • With one of them being the rejection of causality the release day is no longer important...

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does it seem blurry to anyone else? guess who (if you want to | what i have done) 05:08, 16 November 2023 (UTC)

reminds me of this one https://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php/552:_Correlation 09:17, 16 November 2023 (UTC)

Slightly confused still about this one, how is the question of "how's that working out for you" empirical? Something can also have an effect on you in a rational (as opposed to empirical) framework, right? (talk) 11:54, 16 November 2023 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Empirical means that it's based on experience, and the question asks what the experience has been like. Barmar (talk) 15:04, 16 November 2023 (UTC)
As I read it, one can hypothesise how well an action went (using pure logic to go through all alternatives, e.g., and suggesting how well any particular version goes) without examining the actualité. (And the usual problem is that you can generally only see the results of the "path actually travelled", which lets those who reject an assessment casually suggest that those making that adverse assessment don't really know what would otherwise have happened, which can be a very lazy counterpoint of convenience.)
For Cueball, like the atheist who "just believes in one less god" than a (monotheist) believer, it's a matter of not even considering the one experience he ought to be able to learn from.
...though the concept in my head is much simpler than it seems it needs to be expressed with through the medium of words, so maybe I'm not voicing it accurately (to either my internal understanding or even the true intent of the comic).
pre-post edit: ...aaaand, Barmar reduces it down to basically what I meant, in probably better words... 15:14, 16 November 2023 (UTC)

It may be worth noting that the alt-text wouldn't be non-Emperical because the lack of temporal causality would mean that any experiences wouldn't preforce be the result of anything that came before. 17:05, 16 November 2023 (UTC)

I feel like the Trivia section is off-base, really. It seems like he's speaking about LAST YEAR'S resolution, something Cueball has been following for the last 11 months. As in, it isn't related to the upcoming New Year, and thus isn't exactly a "New Year's comic", and none of the listed aspects are actually relevant here. I'm splitting hairs, I know, but it seems like enough not to warrant the Trivia (just, not enough for me to remove it myself unilaterally). NiceGuy1 (talk) 06:19, 19 November 2023 (UTC)