659: Lego

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Dad, where is Grandpa right now?
Title text: Dad, where is Grandpa right now?


Lego is a popular brand of building toy, which Cueball here uses to describe a philosophical conundrum: the distinction between a composition and the collection of parts that make up that composition. For example, the pieces of Lego that he and his daughter, Ponytail, used to make a house are still around; they were put back into the bin, and can be used on future designs. However, the house itself, as a specific combination of those blocks, is gone. It ceased to exist when they took it apart. In essence, they "killed" the house. Those elements could be used to build a car or an airplane, so if there is still a house in the box after it has been dismantled, then there is also a car in the box and a plane in the box, and a large number of other objects in the box: making it a very crowded box. Thus, it is more logical to consider the house to be one possible arrangement of the LEGO® brand building bricks that only exists when the blocks are put into that arrangement.

Another possible way of thinking about this is that the house never existed; it was just pareidolia turning a random arrangement of lego blocks into a "house".

Later in her life, Ponytail extends this thinking to humans and organ donation. The US has an opt-in system for organ donation; in the event that you die, any of your organs or tissues that remain functional after your death can be donated for transplantation or medical research, provided you've opted into the organ donor registry. Ponytail compares her organs to the Lego blocks she's carrying - even if she (the composition) dies, her organs (the pieces) can continue to serve another. As such, she is compelled to register as an organ donor.

The title text is the same question asked in the first panel, from this new perspective - instead of asking where the Lego house went, the questioner (presumably a young child, possibly still Ponytail) is asking where their Grandpa went. Humans are a composition of many parts; the parts are usually buried or cremated when we die, but the composition is something else entirely. What exactly happens to a human composition after death is a question for religious debate, but we know for sure it doesn't stay here. Alternatively, if Grandpa chose to donate his organs (or, because the final decision is actually made by the deceased individual's family, if Cueball and Grandpa's other relatives choose to have Grandpa's organs donated), Grandpa would be in multiple other people, assuming that at least some of his organs were fit to be donated when he died.


[Ponytail and her father Cueball are putting away Lego bricks.]
Cueball: When you take apart a Lego house and mix the pieces into the bin, where does the house go?
Ponytail: It's in the bin.
Cueball: No, those are just pieces. They could become spaceships or trains. The house was an arrangement. The arrangement doesn't stay with the pieces and it doesn't go anywhere else. It's just gone.
[Ponytail, older, is standing at a desk. She's holding a couple of Lego bricks.]
[She looks at the bricks.]
[She checks off a box next to the words "Organ Donor" on a paper on the desk.]

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This is one of my favorite xkcd strips, and one that I happily point to in any discussion involving organ donation. Ekedolphin (talk) 08:05, 28 January 2013 (UTC)

Hmmm... Where did the philote of the house go though? The pattern may be gone, but was the philote called back to outside? Yes, I'm one of the seven fans of xenocide. 04:08, 21 November 2013 (UTC)

+1 21:22, 18 December 2015 (UTC)
7+1/∞, thank you very much. SilverMagpie (talk) 03:53, 4 May 2018 (UTC)
Well the individual philotes of the individual lego molecules are obviously in the box. And the inanimate, not living house probably wasn't sentient for an Aiúa to emerge (actually now that I think about it I have no way of knowing, and i don't know if its mentioned in Enderverse lore). The real question is "Does this lego house have enough house-ness and collectivity to form a philotic web, a sort of primitive non-conscious Aiúa?"-- 06:24, 13 December 2019 (UTC)

Anyone interested in the issues raised in this comic would do well to look up the problem of the Ship of Theseus. 17:03, 29 November 2013 (UTC)

For me, once you accept the fact of evolution, and therefore that all life on earth emerged from a common ancestor, it is patently obvious that the relevance of religion to what happens to my "composition" (self) after death is ... zero. To wit: "If you want to know what happens when you die, go look at some dead stuff." 01:22, 7 January 2014 (UTC)

Well I agree with you, but the main thing is what happens, to your consciousness (your [Aiúa|https://https://enderverse.fandom.com/wiki/Ai%C3%BAa] (i agree nothing), for us we wont even know, the more I think about that the more I get scared, but also I recognize, I dont need to be scared. I won't know I'm dead, for all I know my Aiúa dies every time I sleep, and I dont even know. That makes me think that consciousness is temporary, and there is an illusion of continuity because of my memories. I think this is also a decent resolution of the Ship of Theseus; yes at most of the ship (my body) is different, but my memories conect the string that is my life. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
I know, that the comment I am replying to is from an IP-Contributor and over 6 years old. But how does evolution imply, that all life on earth emerged from a common ancestor? Why is it outruled that life emerged twice or more often, independently? Who says that there is not a group of cells somewhere in the ocean, that is offspring from one cell, created by the same chance as the "common ancestor"? --Lupo (talk) 11:02, 4 March 2020 (UTC)
Allow me, then, to reply to your 18-month-old comment: evolution does not imply that there could not be multiple origins of life. It's just that we have found no evidence for it, and excellent evidence that all known life forms do in fact share a common ancestor. Nitpicking (talk) 00:14, 1 September 2021 (UTC)

The point of this comic is excellent, but it is dampened for me by the fact that Lego doesn't sell general-purpose blocks any more, it's all precision kit crap. Djbrasier (talk) 21:30, 23 January 2014 (UTC)

Hi. Davidy²²[talk] 22:38, 23 January 2014 (UTC)
For the same price, you could equip yourself with the makings of a Meccano set. Something well out of the reach of most hobbyists way back when. Odd how the more we have the less we do with it.

I used Google News BEFORE it was clickbait (talk) 04:11, 28 January 2015 (UTC)

Although I haven't seen them in any other stores for many years, as of right now, you can still get boxes of bulk bricks (non-sets) from the Lego Stores. L-Space Traveler (talk) 18:50, 23 October 2022 (UTC)

The first time I read this strip, I immediately thought back to one of my all-time favorite books. The basis of Unwind by Neal Shusterman is essentially the idea behind this strip, except from an opposite point of view. --Hammy2211 (talk) 21:34, 26 March 2014 (UTC)

The premise of Unwind is that the future American culture has decided to believe that if a person's tissues are all transported into new people, the donor is then still alive, and therefore it is ok to "unwind" unwanted teenagers, since they are still "alive," just in another state of life. Obviously, the teenagers chosen to be unwound aren't ok with this view. Dystopian novels are fun. This is one you won't forget quickly. 19:51, 12 December 2015 (UTC)

I disagree with this interpretation of the comic. I think ponytail is marking the box with a combination between a checkmark and an X mark, which in a test (where I live at least) means 'partially correct'. It is usually drawn as a check mark with the LONGER arm being one of the two lines of the X, but here, the SHORTER arm and PART of the longer arm seem to form the top half of the X. This makes me not sure that this was the actual intention, but I still think it was. Now, I think ponytail in part wants to help others with her parts just like the current explanation says, but I also think she's afraid of making herself disappear while doing so. If she isn't an organ donor, she will stay complete and will continue to exist, but if she is a donor, then the arrangement will be gone and SHE will be gone forever. --NeatNit (talk) 15:12, 14 July 2014 (UTC)

I interpreted the unsual check mark as either a tick which had been turned to a cross, or a mix between a cross and tick. I also read the title text as a suspicious child questioning whether Grandpa has been taken apart or something similar. --Pudder (talk) 09:02, 24 October 2014 (UTC)
I agree. It seems awfully strange that after being told that she's 'disappear' she'd go and disassemble herself... 10:08, 17 December 2014 (UTC)
Then again, organ donation only occurs after death (well, legally) so she's going to end up "disassembled" no matter what she picks there if she's dead (by decay or incineration or whatever). In fact, you could say that as soon as you die your body begins to disassemble. -Pennpenn 04:42, 11 February 2015 (UTC)
Technically your body is "disassembling" all the time. The molecules constantly move around, break apart, and do a bunch of other things... But I see your point. Random xkcd Fan (talk) 00:09, 1 January 2017 (UTC)
I thought she was crossing out the box, indicating that she would like to exist for as long as possible, and would not like to her "organization" through organ donation. 20:13, 7 November 2015 (UTC)
It's a bureaucracy. If there's only one checkbox, you generally leave it empty if you don't want to do it, or fill it in (with a checkmark or an X) if you want to do it. If I saw a box like that with a checkmark in it, I would interpret it exactly the same as I would a box with an X in it. No-one at DEQ actually would expect people in general to be able to follow directions as complex as 'checkmark to say yes, X to say no.' Not only are there people who don't have very good English skills, there are a bunch of people who don't actually bother to read directions at all, so they are smart to keep it simple. 19:42, 12 December 2015 (UTC)
"combination . . . 'partially correct'" - I've never heard of this - is this common? L-Space Traveler (talk) 18:56, 23 October 2022 (UTC)

France's opt-out system sounds a lot better than our opt-in. SilverMagpie (talk) 03:53, 4 May 2018 (UTC)