Join 3,552 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


why are my nipples itchy
August 27, 2013 2:56 AM   Subscribe

If you start typing "why" into Google, the autocomplete gives you a glimpse at the various mysteries people want answers to, such as "why is space black?" or "why are people stupid?" or "why is there yellow discharge in my underwear?" XKCD's current comic, "Questions," shows a glimpse at some of these questions, culled from a big list of over 33,000 that XKCD's author, Randall Munroe, generated from Google API queries. In response, Reddit user GeeJo made his best attempt at answering every single one posed in the comic.
posted by malapropist (50 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
So XKCD and Reddit are trying to disrupt price formation for the AskMe IPO?
posted by chavenet at 3:04 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


He got the answer to the question about old Klingons being different wrong. It's covered in the final series of Enterprise. I won't spoil it, but if you want to know the answer, read this.
posted by Solomon at 3:09 AM on August 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is wonderful and gives me hope for humanity in a very XKCD-ish way. :)
posted by Drexen at 3:19 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, I know the answer to "why aren't my arms growing?"

Do you even lift?
posted by MuffinMan at 3:27 AM on August 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


Haven't found "why do we count, perform arithmetics and generally speaking use numbers and affirm that numbers exist regardless of the fact there's no physical evidence of the existence of numbers in nature?"
posted by elpapacito at 3:41 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel slightly ashamed of the enthusiasm with which I immediately began reading the answers, looking for opportunities to show how much smarter I am.
posted by Segundus at 3:48 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you read carefully, this was one guy's attempt to answer all the questions without researching. (For the ones he had to rely on research, there's an asterisk on the questions.)

That is what makes it odd to me that people are correcting his answers. But I suppose their compulsion to answer is effectively the same compulsion that made him want to fill out this internet questionnaire in the first place.
posted by vacapinta at 3:54 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


That is what makes it odd to me that people are correcting his answers.

It's the seed of another wikipedia.
posted by pompomtom at 3:55 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I sometimes find xbcd sort of off-putting, but I really like this one.
posted by thelonius at 4:05 AM on August 27, 2013


What would even constitute "physical evidence of the existence of numbers"? The entire point of numbers is that they are abstract. My mental, abstract, non-physical concept of Three is what lets me compare the number of sheep to the number of wolves and know I won't have any wool this year. If numbers were physical, I'd have to abstract something from them to think and the question would be about THAT abstraction instead.
posted by DU at 4:12 AM on August 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


If numbers were physical, I'd have to abstract something from them to think and the question would be about THAT abstraction instead.

Why does my brain hurt?
posted by billiebee at 4:15 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's the seed of another wikipedia.

Attempt no landings
posted by thelonius at 4:20 AM on August 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


What would even constitute "physical evidence of the existence of numbers"?

You could make a physical theory of numbers, I guess, if you wanted to. There is a Numeric Field pervading the universe, and numbers are perturbations of it, something like that. Good crank fodder there, in fact.

As for evidence, I think that exercise will be left to the reader.
posted by thelonius at 4:22 AM on August 27, 2013


Psychic is weak to Bug to stop every Trainer's party from just being six Level 99 Mewtwos in a row.
posted by scottjacksonx at 4:25 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


What would even constitute "physical evidence of the existence of numbers"? The entire point of numbers is that they are abstract.

I think the asker is groping towards what is quite an interesting (if only philosophically, as actual Mathematicians rarely care for it) area of questions about the real-world applicability of numbers and the existence of infinities. One starting point here.
posted by bonaldi at 4:29 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do you even lift?

A-hem. I believe you meant to say, do you even lift, bro? Proper form matters.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:34 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


What would even constitute "physical evidence of the existence of numbers"? The entire point of numbers is that they are abstract.

Actually, in a sense, numbers are the only physical reality. What are electrons other than a collection of quantum numbers? A few numbers are enough to completely describe it. Integers exist in the form of eigenstates.
posted by vacapinta at 4:37 AM on August 27, 2013


vacapinta:"That is what makes it odd to me that people are correcting his answers."

Of course, XKCD has that impulse nailed.
posted by chavenet at 4:40 AM on August 27, 2013


One starting point here.

That guy is kind of considered a crank by most mathematicians.
posted by empath at 4:45 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


There are no dinosaur ghosts because no one's ever made a brachiosaurus-sized bed sheet.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:58 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel slightly ashamed of the enthusiasm with which I immediately began reading the answers, looking for opportunities to show how much smarter I am.

Reddit's /r/explainlikeimfive is a good cure for that. Works for me.
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:00 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you're worried about the ontology of numbers this is a respectable philosophical overview.
posted by Segundus at 5:16 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


You could make a physical theory of numbers, I guess, if you wanted to. There is a Numeric Field pervading the universe, and numbers are perturbations of it, something like that. Good crank fodder there, in fact.

CHILDREN WILL BE BLESSED FOR KILLING OF EDUCATED ADULTS WHO IGNORE NUMERIC FIELD UNIVERSE. PRACTICING EVIL ABSTRACTION UPON PHYSICAL NUMERICAL EARTH EVIL ADULT CRIME vs. YOUTH.
posted by graphnerd at 5:31 AM on August 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


why are my nipples itchy

I have this query in my search history.

The answer was Shingles. Fuuuuuuu.....
posted by srboisvert at 5:33 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


What would even constitute "physical evidence of the existence of numbers"?

Numbers are the creation of God, as confirmed the famous mathematician Kronecker. Everything you need to know about numbers is in the bible.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:48 AM on August 27, 2013


What the fuck are you nerds talking about no physical evidence of numbers in nature? There is one apple tree in front of me. There are ten apples on that tree. There are fifty apple trees in this forest. Nothing is more natural than an apple tree. Shut up nerds.
posted by ND¢ at 5:53 AM on August 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


What fraction of these can plausibly be answered by "marketing", I wonder.

("Why is Jesus white?", for example.)
posted by Wolfdog at 5:56 AM on August 27, 2013


But how many beans make five?
posted by Segundus at 6:12 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


But how many beans make five?

Consider the two on your plate and the three on mine...
posted by straight at 6:20 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


why is qbw32.exe (entry 6785 is the why.txt list above)
posted by sammyo at 6:45 AM on August 27, 2013


What the fuck are you nerds talking about no physical evidence of numbers in nature? There is one apple tree in front of me. There are ten apples on that tree. There are fifty apple trees in this forest. Nothing is more natural than an apple tree. Shut up nerds.

Oh, man. I hate nerd problems.
posted by MrVisible at 6:59 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


My favorite part about AskMe questions is that they weed out 99.9% of the internet's responders, be they human or bot.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:02 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've got 99 problems but there's no physical evidence of their existence in nature.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:21 AM on August 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


What the fuck are you nerds talking about no physical evidence of numbers in nature? There is one apple tree in front of me. There are ten apples on that tree. There are fifty apple trees in this forest. Nothing is more natural than an apple tree. Shut up nerds.

Wittgenstein for the internet age.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this, especially because the guy's a good writer. Seriously, his answer for "Why do good people die" is succinct and beautifully humanist.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:23 AM on August 27, 2013


"an interesting (if only philosophically, as actual Mathematicians rarely care for it) area of questions about the real-world applicability of numbers"

God-botherers have rejected actual mathematics ever since Cantor. It isn't interesting, it's stubborn and ignorant. The proposal of "mathematics without axioms" is incoherent.
posted by idiopath at 7:25 AM on August 27, 2013


TIL: There are zero-ohm resistors.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 7:30 AM on August 27, 2013


If you start typing "why" into Google

Were you trying to confuse the computer?
posted by gyc at 7:52 AM on August 27, 2013


I was reading through the XKCD comic, thinking it was kind of cute, enjoying it a little, and then I hit "Why is there always a Java update?" and immediately my mood shifted and I got all indignant and thought, "Wait yeah why is there always a Java update, damnit?" and off to Google I went.

The answer apparently is that Java is powered by human frustration. It can also smell fear.
posted by komara at 7:59 AM on August 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


"Why is there kicking in my stomach?"

Yikes.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 8:22 AM on August 27, 2013


sammyo: "why is qbw32.exe (entry 6785 is the why.txt list above)"

Because sometimes there is a man or a woman that love money, so they get together with a bunch of employees to give birth to a company. Those employees need to get paid, so they invite someone else into the relationship - called accounting and payroll software.
posted by Samizdata at 8:56 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]



"physical evidence of the existence of numbers"?

You could make a physical theory of numbers, I guess, if you wanted to. There is a Numeric Field pervading the universe, and numbers are perturbations of it, something like that. Good crank fodder there, in fact.

As for evidence, I think that exercise will be left to the reader.



Some physical manifestations of numbers:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
24
28
36
42
48
58
73
86
93
99
100
posted by Herodios at 10:05 AM on August 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is probably one of the cooler things I've learned recently:
Why is space black?
This question is commonly referred to as Olber's paradox, after Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers (damn, that's a German name!), though he was certainly not the first to propose it and it really isn't a paradox. It was apparently none other than Edgar Allan Poe who was first to put forward the solution that the universe is of finite age and that light is of finite speed, though the idea took a rather long time to gain support.
While the paradox isn't so interesting in light of modern physics, I had no idea that Poe had written Eureka, or that one of the crazy ramblings contained within was pretty much a spot-on summation of the big bang theory; written many decades before scientists would even consider the notion of a finite universe.
posted by schmod at 10:55 AM on August 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why is Psychic weak to Bug (in Pokemon)? It's because, in the original incarnation of the series, Red/Blue, Psychic was a ringer. There was nothing else weak to it. This was okay for most of the game since there weren't many Psychic Pokemon, and most of those there were had other problems with them. But then you beat the game and got Mewtwo.

Mewtwo is your reward for finishing the story and having the foresight (and FAQ-reading skills) to keep the Master Ball for the end. It's okay in the story because usually when you get him, you have little else in the game to do, at least that doesn't involve trading. But Pokemon is more than just a straight-forward RPG, it's also a battle game against your friends, and for this Mewtwo is deadly. Their original nod to limiting the damage that he can do to battle play is the weakness of his type, Psychic, to Bug, which is otherwise a fairly undistinguished type. But it does mean a specially-constructed Parasect can, in the right circumstances, take out Mewtwo. It's not a really good counter though, because advanced players quickly learn to either bring along such a Parasect as a counter, or, more practically, just catch their own Mewtwo.

Later versions would do a better job of providing ways to shut down a strong Psychic, but the legacy weakness to Bug remains. As to why Bug in particular, it is not a distinguished type otherwise, the analogy I'd use is that it's a specific counter to a general advantage, like a key that opens a door. Except it doesn't always open it, and it's useless in most other cases.

On numbers:
Math is a wholly human invention, but it reflects (although not always describes) real natural processes, and that is where it gets its depth. All our ideas derive, ultimately, from nature. If there are three apples, the number three is just a tool we invented to categorize them. A measurement, but one with profound consequences. Even when we get down to integers in subatomic states, the numbers are just our descriptions of the processes. Without a human mind, there are no numbers.

The difficulty with working with values such as pi and e are limitations of our system, not of the universe, where the underlying principles from which we derived them have no problems.
posted by JHarris at 10:55 AM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


#22492: why is tupac hiding
posted by univac at 2:16 PM on August 27, 2013


Math is a wholly human invention, but it reflects (although not always describes) real natural processes, and that is where it gets its depth. All our ideas derive, ultimately, from nature.

I think the questions start arising when you give that invention wings and stretch the obvious links to "nature" to breaking point. What are fractions? You divide something in the real world and you just have more whole numbers to count with. What are negative numbers? What is infinity? Why are there many of them?

If you just grant as axiomatic these sorts of ideas, can you still claim that "depth" and real-world applicability that the more obviously nature-derived ideas can just because they're consistent within the same set of rules? They might seem to "work" when they're used in real-world applicable situations, but will that always hold?

Answering this sort of thing is where philosophy of mathematics comes in, and I've always found where it has answers they're rarely trite.
posted by bonaldi at 5:53 PM on August 27, 2013


I generally think of math as a game which sometimes does a good job at simulating reality.
posted by empath at 6:22 PM on August 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mathematical concepts are a store of building materials for constructing abstractions and describing patterns. Many of them have high quality control and good standardized use cases. Some of the materials have never been used to build anything except more mathematics. In the long term, most mathematical concepts that we invent will never be useful.
posted by idiopath at 7:43 PM on August 27, 2013


It's the seed of another wikipedia.

Sadly, both Whykipedia.com and Whykipedia.org are already registered and parked.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:17 PM on August 27, 2013


In the long term, most mathematical concepts that we invent will never be useful.

In the long term, most of what we find in a diamond mine is dirt.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:48 AM on August 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wolfdog: true, but people seem to expect that most of mathematics somehow profoundly describe the real world. I would contend mathematics is worthwhile, and even interesting, even without any application outside mathematics (does that make me the pig that just wants to roll in the mud in your example?).
posted by idiopath at 9:49 AM on August 28, 2013


« Older Why not visit to the World's Fair of 2014, as envi...  |  How to Charge $546 for Six Lit... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments