Valentine #3

This is a sad and poignant science valentine from xkcd. As far as I can tell, its point is to show that science tells us what is true, not what we want to be true. And, in this case, the truth is sad.



  1. gbjames
    Posted February 14, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Anyone want a drink?

    • natalielaberlinoise
      Posted February 14, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Pour one through cyberspace, you can?

  2. AKS
    Posted February 14, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    This language of the comic strip so reminds me of the poem by the Angolan resistance poet Antonio Jacinto, highlighting the injustices of life under Portuguese rule–

    I wanted to to write you a letter
    my love
    a letter to tell
    of this longing
    to see you
    and this fear
    of losing you
    of this think which deeper than I want, I feel
    a nameless pain which pursues me
    a sorrow wrapped about my life.

    I wanted to write you a letter
    my love
    a letter of intimate secrets
    a letter of memories of you
    of you
    your lips as red as the tacula fruit
    your eyes gentle as the macongue
    your breasts hard as young mobaque fruit
    your light walk
    your caresses
    better than any I find down here

    I wanted to write you a letter
    my love
    to bring back our days together in our secret
    nights lost in the long grass
    to bring back the shadow of your legs
    and the moonlight filtering through the endless
    to bring back the madness of our passion
    and the bitterness of separation

    I wanted to write you a letter
    my love which you could not read without
    which you would hide from your father Bombo
    and conceal from you mother Kieza
    whichg you would read without the indifference
    of forgetfulness,
    a letter which would make any other
    in all Kilombo worthless.

    I wanted to write you a letter
    my love
    a letter which the passing wind would take
    a letter which the cashew and the coffee trees,
    the hyenas and the buffalo,
    the caymans and the river fish
    could hear
    the plants and the animals
    pitying our sharp sorrow
    from song to song
    lament to lament
    breath to caught breath
    would leave to you, pure and hot,
    the burning
    the sorrowful words of the letter
    I wanted to write you

    I wanted to write you a left
    But my love, I don’t know why it is
    why, why, why it is, my love,
    but you can’t read
    and I–oh the hopelessness–I can’t write.

    • Filippo
      Posted February 15, 2014 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem, “Unrequited Love,” comes to mind. Easily found on the net.

  3. Diane G.
    Posted February 14, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    As far as I can tell, its point is to show that science tells us what is true, not what we want to be true.”

    Or as the mouse-over text puts it, “[y]ou don’t use science to show that you are right, you use science to become right.”

    Sometimes I don’t love science.

    • Timothy Hughbanks
      Posted February 14, 2014 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

      Having been a scientists for a long time, I’m still certain that you don’t use science to choose your valentine.

  4. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted February 14, 2014 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    Bad news for Professor Ceiling Cat:
    France: Top chefs crack down on ‘food porn’

  5. Sastra
    Posted February 14, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    This might be used as an example of the dreaded “scientism.” The scientist starts out in love, pleased with how happy the Loved One has made them.

    But the more the relationship is analyzed, the less in love and happy the scientist becomes. He or she has allowed a scientific approach to romance to destroy love! Scientism!!!

    Now, I think whether this can be said to be a good example of ‘scientism’ or not is going to depend on what we bring into this cartoon. How do we fill it in? What background do we mentally create for the lovers?

    Do we think the ‘hypothesis’ that the scientist is in love is being undermined by a lot of insignificant, petty facts and figures which have nothing to do with anything important? Is the person doing the analysis losing sight of the Big Picture and getting bogged down in fuzzy details? Is a scientist trying to find “love” with a microscope and falling prey to Vulcan Syndrome, where love is “irrational” and must needs be dismissed?

    If so: scientism.

    Or do we think that the scientist is finally looking clearly and honestly at their relationship for the first time and realizing that no, it really hasn’t been working out, the two of them are simply not right for each other, and they’ve been more in love with love? Has the romance been one long series of mishandled arguments, ignored red flags, and attempts to change the other person? Is the scientist distinguishing between true love — and a temporary infatuation held on to for too long?

    If so: NOT scientism.

    In the spirit of XKCD, I’ll mention that it would be interesting to see if, unprompted, religious people and atheists interpreted the cartoon differently, with my hypothesis being that religious people would be more likely to come down on interpretation #1, and atheists #2.

    • gbjames
      Posted February 14, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      I’m going with the NOT scientism version. Version one doesn’t make sense. You don’t lose your love of beautiful sunsets because you learn about atmospheric optics.

      • Sastra
        Posted February 14, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        I’d also go with the ‘not scientism’ version because if you look at the chart in the first panel it basically shows that after getting engaged the scientist’s happiness went waaay down. Someone is doing some deep thinking here, not futzing around with numbers or turning into Spock.

        But I still wonder if someone who thinks ‘scientism’ is a real problem would casually agree that the scientist in the comic is guilty of ‘scientism’ more than people in other groups.

      • gluonspring
        Posted February 14, 2014 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        #1 strikes me as an instance of asking yourself the question “Am I happy?”. I think there is some documentation that doing this tends to make you actually feel less happy. So even if #1 is a reasonable science project, it might be a bad happiness strategy to engage in it. And since the scientist is also the subject, the process of doing the science can change his feelings and so the results.

        • Sastra
          Posted February 14, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          Good point. So there’s probably not enough data to support #1 over #2. The ‘happiness/love’ graph in the first panel is unreliable due to experimenter bias.

          The nice thing about XKCD comics is that you can over-analyze the hell out of them and it just gets funnier.

          • gluonspring
            Posted February 15, 2014 at 11:06 am | Permalink

            Yes, it’s fun to visit the xkcd forums where people discuss individual comics forever.

            • Sastra
              Posted February 15, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

              Whenever I begin to over-analyze a xkcd comic, I feel as if I am now part of the joke.

        • Kevin
          Posted February 15, 2014 at 7:00 am | Permalink

          Well said. Empiricism has shown me that those who contemplate their happiness or the happiness of others tend to only make the perceived happiness less.

          A worthy valentines, i.e., one that is pleasant to give, is one that is made with effort in the same way that hard work gives us purpose in life. Exceptional valentines are done the same way, but also with the addition of putting oneself at risk of failure, e.g., like giving a valentine to someone as a sign of truce or “Hey look, I made a mistake, you mean more to me than you know.”

    • Posted February 14, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      …or 3) The data is relevant and accurate, but the relationship is still working out in the sense that no relationship is perfect and no one can sustain white-hot passion in perpetuity.

      Maybe it’s just a realistic look at humans’ ability to be in amorous relationships.

    • strongforce
      Posted February 14, 2014 at 5:36 pm | Permalink


      thanks for that:-)

  6. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted February 14, 2014 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    I do love XKCD.
    Arguably my favourite, laden with inappropriate anthropomorphism though it is, is Spirit.

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 14, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      Oh, yes, I’ve had that one bookmarked since it first appeared! I would not have thought a cartoon about a space rover could bring tears to my eyes…

      • Posted February 14, 2014 at 2:46 pm | Permalink



      • DiscoveredJoys
        Posted February 14, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

        Unf. Sniff.

        That bias for inferring agency can really tug at the heartstrings…

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted February 14, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      I’ve not seen that one before, but I totally disagree with it. If Spirit were a dog that had been trained to explore Mars, then it would be apt. But Spirit was built to be an explorer. If it were anthropomorphized it would be a scientist, and scientists are driven to explore until the day they die. If anything, I would expect Spirit to say, “… if – I – can – just – make it – to – that – next rock!”

      • gbjames
        Posted February 14, 2014 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

        It doesn’t matter what it was designed to be like, what matters is how people perceive it, which is much more along the “little dog” lines. Kind of like K9.

      • Sastra
        Posted February 14, 2014 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        I often enjoy the whimsy of anthropomorphizing objects and animals around me. It’s a sort of mental playacting. But sometimes it intrudes into my peace-of-mind, like feeling bad when I sell a car I’ve “befriended” and given a name to.

        That’s the joy of knowing it’s all pretend. You can control it. I simply imagine my old car all excited about getting to go to the car lot and make friends with all the other cars. And then a new, teenage owner — fun!

        It’s madness, yes. But there is method in it.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted February 15, 2014 at 3:16 am | Permalink

          I can’t help anthropomorphising cars. Which is a big disadvantage, I’ve got one old faithful which is a bit rusty and not long for this world and I’ll feel like a murderer if I sell it for scrap. I actually apologise to my car if I crunch the gears or hit a pothole.

          But then, I can anthropomorphise a stapler if I’m not careful…

          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted February 15, 2014 at 3:35 am | Permalink

            Say hello to Emmy the MG, my avatar.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted February 15, 2014 at 5:32 am | Permalink

              I had noticed, is that a TC? I had a TD once, later a couple of Midgets. Now just have a Mk 2 Escort Sport (1976) for fun and general mayhem, plus assorted other cars for transport.

              • HaggisForBrains
                Posted February 15, 2014 at 6:41 am | Permalink

                1934 PA, forerunner of the TC. Lots of fun!

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted February 14, 2014 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      And the bee orchid one:
      I always get something in my eye.

      • Diane G.
        Posted February 14, 2014 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

        Oh, yeah, thanks for the reminder of that one.

        I’ve always hated Valentine’s Day…

    • Filippo
      Posted February 15, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      “Dr. Chandra, will I dream?”

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted February 15, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        Hmmm, trying to get the reference for that.
        It’s on the tip of my anterior cingulate, but I can’t get it. Google …
        Ah, I was trying to place it in the original. I’ve only seen that sequel once (like so many sequels to true classics). Come to think of it, I’ve only read the book once, and not long after it came out. But spoilers unspoilt.
        Where did I put that electric sheep?

  7. natalielaberlinoise
    Posted February 15, 2014 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Here’s someone who made VD a special day. How annoying to have one’s stone of heart moved, scynicism crushed. Not that anyone will see this, just for the record…

    • gbjames
      Posted February 15, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      That’s a pretty moving bit of video. Living in the closet is no way to live, whether you are gay or atheist or both.

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