How to Unify Newtonian Physics and Quantum Mechanics

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Reader Comments (57)

I understand both. I understand that they exist and are very important and still don't matter to me.

March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike

I understand that I am an intelligent, well-educated woman with NO CLUE as to the importance or fine points of either. But I appreciate that you, Scott, would even try to enlighten me.

March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBI Fan

You should replace Newtonian Mechanics with General Relativity. Both Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity predict only imperceptible differences from Newtonian Mechanics in the scope in which it has been successful, but are incompatible with each other.

March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

My hair is a bird. Your argument is invalid.

March 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterthe Jimmy

I understand just enough of both to see how very little we know about where we came from and where we're going - pretty scary actually.

I don't, however, understand the math behind the science. Once I decided to just "skim through" the proofs behind E=mC2...after about 18 pages of increasingly dense formulas and esoteric symbols I was pretty sure the scientists were just randomly inserting nonsense, as a practical joke. Forty-eight pages later I was giggling helplessly while a puddle of drool collected on my desk. One of the most horrifying experiences of my life; thanks for reminding me!

March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWisteriam

I have an understanding of physics, but I don't know what's funny about this comic. Normally Scott's comics fire on more cylinders.

Is there a subtle Pauli Principle joke that I can't observe?

March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBrandt

Most excellent. I'm not worrying about physics for a while though. Next year I'm taking AP Bio. Yay.

March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterIsaac

Completely off topic, but I received my Duluth Trader catalog today and was struck by the resemblance between the guy on the cover and a well-known basic instructions author. This is not a commercial or endorsement. Check it out at: .

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwac

I love Basic Instructions, but I'm afraid it just can't compare to XKCD when it comes to physics jokes. Sorry Scott!

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Quite funny.

But isn't the conflict not between Q.M. and Newtonian physics, but between Q.M. and Einstein's theory of relativity (which superseded Newtonian physics last century)? Of course, you could say that Einstein's theory is "classical mechanics in its most developed and most accurate form", but it still seems not quite correct to call it "Newtonian physics".

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEsn

Brandt: ha ha! Well played there.
It must be, or perhaps I just observed the joke and it hadn't expanded enough to be funny by the time you tried to measure it again? Well, I thought it was amusing anyway. Thanks for the second joke though, even if you were less amused.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLadyPsi

Wow, look at these comments. I think everyone is missing the point of today comic.
It's not ABOUT physics Esn :P
Im off to compare water to diesel now, bye.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMarlon

I love it that Esn is taking this seriously and worried that Scott may have got it wrong - but wait! Is Esn also just winding me up!!!!

I'm an engineer - did you know that if you add together two closed systems the entropy of the combined system is greater than the sum of the entropies of the two indpendent closed systems. And they say you never get something for nothing. And that you should never start a sentence with the word "And".

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMike Geordie

Dang, attempting to weisenheimerize pointing to the" rel="nofollow">Heisenberg uncertainty principle I found out that it's actually the" rel="nofollow">observer effect I had in mind (and possibly you, too). The Pauli Principle states that no two identical fermions may occupy the same quantum state simultaneously. Pauli taught those foolish fermions some lesson. As for the forth panel, I fear that the punchline doesn't punch overly, while the other three are a little, um, forcé. I like the move car/meter money business, though. I trust Scott to monetarize our sourpuss advise by amending the strip in some future silver lamé print edition earning bazillions and fame eternal. So you'll take it like a man, will ya?

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterM. Möhling

I appreciate that despite Newtonian Physics and Quantum Mechanics, eating healthy, exercising, not smoking, doing drugs or drinking excessively, we all are still going to die...period. I seriously doubt Stephen Hawking will be at the various funerals either. But this WAS a mildly amusing strip anyway.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJiggly McSickfingers

So we can assume you just went ahead and forewent trying to decipher the washing instructions on the tags on clothing made in places like Jakarta, right?

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJiggly McSickfingers

Doubtful, you probably just need to watch the newest episode of Big Bang Theory.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJiggly McSickfingers

...and what about ellipses? can i start a sentence with them, or am i thinking of eclipses?

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJiggly McSickfingers

Hi Scott,

The comic was funny, but one thing actually prevented me from enjoying it: you should be talking about unifying quantum mechanics and general relativity, not newtonian physics. (to see how a quantum world ends up following newtonian rules at the macroscopic level, look up decoherence and/or many-worlds interpretation: and )

As a matter of fact, general relativity is the theory that describes the behavior of very large stuff at very large relative velocities (although it scales down as well, only shy of the quantum level - Planck scale and stuff). And the real conflict in modern physics is between quantum mechanics and gravity. See

Sorry to nitpick, but I guess that a lot of nerds like me are in the same situation :)

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel

I was hoping more for a play on the rules being different for those in power and those whom are not. I love how the guy in charge of overseeing the IRS got the job even though he didn't bother to pay taxes. (sarcasm)

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAC

Please get a life people its funny! The least some of you can do is concentrate on getting laid instead of quoting physics verbatum.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterIidmike

[...] Unification Sorry for the slowdown, but it’s hectic with giving and grading an exam, preparing lecture notes for a trip next week, and accounting for the last ten years of my life on a government form. To tide you over, here’s how to unify Newtonian physics and quantum mechanics. [...]

OMG! If there's a solution to "plumbers butt", stinky feet and sweaty balls why the hell aren't all of you guys n board?

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMB

Wow! So much nitpicking! For crying out loud, it wasn't supposed to be an accurate lecture on anything scientific. It was funny because Scott (who always paints himself as less than intelligent) is arguing such topics with someone as ignorant as Mullet Guy. The under-current of Mullet Guy's ego and position, and Scott's position as peon is basis for obvious ironic humor.


Thanks, Scott for yet another treat of sarcasm and irony!

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria

this was funny. especially as a follow up to 'how to booze it up'... your material is fresh, original, and is one of the few things that makes me laugh... thanks for your work.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterchet

Oh GOD, make it STOP!!!!

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWisteriam

It's like I'm at a Star Trek convention.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWatcherJohn

So that's how its done ...

Seriously, though, am I the only one who noticed that the phrase associated with the mullet-headed boss has the word "physics" in it but the one associated with the, erm, underling has "mechanics" in it. So either you're a mechanic or you can get promoted to a physicist ... wow.


March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterUnexpected Traveller

Could you make more strips that have to deal with science and sci-fi?

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChels

Wonderfully nerdy! Why is it that nerds (like me) especially enjoy humor that we know will escape others?

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGary

Me and my mates are all doing a physics degree and we find this hilarious. Also its so scarily true!! Thank you for brightening our day LOL.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbluelunar

See, I am a physics geek and I almost got annoyed about the fact that Scott should have said GR instead of Newtonian mechanics, but then I thought of all the kids in my classes who have just sat through three days of excepts from The Elegant Universe from PBS and listening to me go on about the contradictions between Einstein and QM...and many of my students are exactly in the position of feeling like they don't understand either of them.

Oddly enough, in real life one often gains a better understanding when one explains the physics to someone else.

Anyway, I enjoyed the comic, and I don't need every comic to make me fall over to enjoy them.

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKeemunA

No, I do understand that the joke ultimately isn't about physics. But it would be nice for the basic premise to be accurate, and it's not. I'm also not the only one noticing this, judging by the comments below.

This would be very easy for Scott to fix, though. Just replace every "Newtonian physics" with "general relativity".

March 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEsn

no kidding

March 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGrant

.........perhaps that was the point?

Next month Scott tries to reconcile the differences between apples and oranges, Christopher Hitchens and Rene Descartes, Ted Rall and whoever appears to be POTUS this week.

Um, excuse me?! I'm not a nerd but I got the joke and find I'm able to grasp basic physics without having to resort to labelling myself!

March 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLolaBaby

what makes me nervous about your statement is that it implies that you know what a star trek convention is like.

March 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJiggly McSickfingers

Gary, along with "Newtonian Physics" and "quantum mechanics", do you get the definition of "elitist"?

March 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJiggly McSickfingers

there's no hope for the Ted Rall and POTUS postulation

March 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJiggly McSickfingers
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