Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Refuting XKCD

Philosophy is not fundamental; mathematics is.

The wildly popular comic XKCD posted a mildly funny cartoon today with an intriguing rollover text.
Wikipedia trivia: if you take any article, click on the first link in the article text not in parentheses or italics, and then repeat, you will eventually end up at Philosophy.
I emailed my philosopher* and we worked on a few examples. N.T. Wright led to Philosophy in 8 steps. Brick took 21 steps; String Cheese 26. I tried my most recent Wikipedia search: Flag of Syria led to Philosophy in 21 steps as well. But then we tried Michelle Obama. She led through a series of political pages (e.g. Constitution) to Mathematics. And ended there: Mathematics leads to an infinite loop:
  1. Mathematics
  2. Quantity
  3. Magnitude
  4. Ordering
  5. Mathematics
We had found a tree of pages that did not lead back to Philosophy. But what does Philosophy lead to? Does it also loop back to itself in a narrow circle of nearby concepts? Here's what we found:
  1. Philosophy
  2. Rational Argument (reason)
  3. Rationality
  4. (Mental) Exercise
  5. Alzheimer's Disease
  6. Dementia
  7. Latin
  8. Latium
  9. Rome
  10. Capital
  11. Seat of local government
  12. Local government
  13. State (polity)
  14. Social science
  15. Scholarly method
  16. Scholasticism
  17. Academics (-ia)
  18. Community
  19. Group
  20. Group (mathematics)
  21. Mathematics
Mathematics, in the current configuration of wikipedia, at least, supervenes philosophy. Granted, the path is not made of obvious or deep concepts - Alzheimer's anyone? - and Wikipedia can easily be edited to reverse this relationship. But it's pretty telling, nonetheless.

* If you don't already retain a personal philosopher, I recommend doing so.

4 comments:

Chops said...

It does appear that the millions of XKCD readers are editing and re-editing these links; perhaps a battle royal is being waged between philosophers and mathematicians, to which I am an unwitting observer.

Chops said...

Indeed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantity has been shut for edits for a week due to "edit warring".

Carol L. Douglas said...

I retain a personal economist. It's all I can afford in these leaner times.

Anonymous said...

Your tree is incorrect. Most every item listed leads to Philosophy.