Boltzmann in the Funny Pages

By Sean Carroll | April 27, 2009 6:07 pm

His Brains, anyway. (Which he never talked about himself, but that’s neither here nor there.) Random fluctuations make an appearance in Dilbert. (Hat tip Nick Suntzeff.)

Boltzmann brains in Dilbert

One can only wonder what Calvin and Hobbes could have done with this.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, Science and the Media, Time
  • Eugene

    I like Dilbert. But Scott Adams is batsh*t crazy when it comes to science….

    And Calvin & Hobbes :(

  • Proportion Wheel

    Watterson’s take would have been funnier, for sure, and minus the mysogyny.

  • Matt B

    I read Scott Adams’s blog, and I can confirm Eugene’s claim. His science posts generally leaving me yelling at the screen.

  • Stephen

    Maybe I’m being a little picky, but it seems to me that Adams (or at least Dilbert) has conflated the Boltzmann brain paradox with the “brain in a vat” thought experiment:

  • Jason Dick

    Watterson’s take would have been funnier, for sure, and minus the mysogyny.

    I don’t know. I didn’t see it as this. Dilbert, in the comic, is continually portrayed as a man who is completely undesirable to any woman, and fails at many attempts to woo one or another. I’m not quite sure how that is mysogynistic, or how his therapist’s practical joke is anything more than a continuation of this theme.

  • Proportion Wheel

    Maybe I overreact, Jason, but I really can’t imagine that a woman who hasn’t bought into patriarchal concepts of female sexuality would find the little “joke” funny. And Stephen is right: Dilbert’s notion isn’t Boltzmann’s.

  • Sean

    Scott Adams is hopelessly misogynist and an anti-science crackpot. Also, he can’t draw very well, and his schtick was tired ten years ago. Still: Boltzmann brains in the comics!

  • Ellipsis

    Really? Where do you ever get that he’s an anti-science crackpot? (That would surprise me.) And I’d put him perhaps just a little bit on the misogynist side, but nothing I’ve seen yet would put him in the category of “hopeless”, being that I’ve seen far far worse elsewhere…

  • Sean
  • Neal J. King

    Scott Adams is by training a telecom engineer, or anyway he was a programmer in PacBell.

    I’ve found many engineers to be rather opinionated about sciences in which they are not trained: Because they are qualified to draw conclusions in their own area of specialization, quite a few of them extend this attitude towards all other technical and scientific topics – even in areas for which they have no training and no exposure to facts beyond what they either see on TV or read on webpages.

    Usually, they are not anti-evolutionist, but many are deniers of anthropogenic global warming.

  • Ellipsis

    OK, you’ve definitely convinced me!…

  • Sili

    But … his reality is entirely imagined. Is that given him Adams too much credit?

    I actually liked that punchline. I’d do that sorta thing myself if I could pull it off.

  • The Mighty Biff

    Jeepers guys, lighten up a little ! It’s a three panel cartoon ! It’s popular. It may even cause some people to do a Wikipedia search on Boltzmann Brains. They may even learn something as a result.

    You might as well start wailing on Star Trek and Scooby Doo. Or Calvin’s transmogrifier.

    As for Neal’s comment, I’ve often found many physicists to be rather opinionated about fields in which they’re not trained, etc etc. I think it may be a general human trait. Clearly I’m one of the exceptions, and without it most blogs would be duller and quieter. Just try to keep things in perspective eh ?

  • Neal J. King

    The Mighty Biff:

    There is a difference in attitude: Many engineers seem convinced that whatever it is that they know about this unfamiliar subject is sufficient to make a definitive judgment. Physicists and other scientists are generally more conscious of the fact that there MAY be dimensions, aspects or facts of which they are unaware, and which might have a game-changing impact.

    Pure mathematicians are out on another limb entirely.

  • Ray Saunders

    Sounds like a lot of people here take Scott Adams a lot more seriously then he takes himself. Maybe concentrating on science leads to a reduced capacity to recognize satire and sarcasm.. Scott frequently tosses out ideas just to get the blood boiling. Seems to work, doesn’t it?
    Personally, I enjoy Scott’s blog – but enjoy even more peoples’ reactions to it.

  • Follower

    “I’m not quite sure how that is mysogynistic,”

    Come on, it involves a picture of a *woman*, drawn by a *man*.
    You need to get with the feminist flow.

  • Michael

    I’ve often gotten the fealing that Adams is in fact pro-science, and that his writtings are merely a parody. It’s quite hard to tell, because if that were true, he gives no indication whatsoever, but still… I can’t help but read between the lines and see a whisper of a smirk hiding there…

  • Pingback: Attack of the Boltzmann Brains! | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine()

  • Danlantic

    Neal J. King said, “Scott Adams is by training a telecom engineer, or anyway he was a programmer in PacBell.”


    From reading some of Adams’ books I know that he was by training an economist. He hacked around in midlevel management jobs and office politics and exaggerated his computer experience until he found himself assigned to managing engineers as if he knew what he was doing. He came to appreciate engineers, however.

    Most people assume that Dilbert is an avatar for Scott Adams. Actually, Adams is more the Pointy Haired Boss.


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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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