36 Comments

  1. “fee” is an acceptable pronunciation, maybe partly because it’s more like the ancient Greek pronunciation.

  2. I guess the joke is that, given 1) a world that is 70% water-covered and 2) there are signs of intelligent life on it, c) the inference is that on Earth* intelligent life lives in water. Behold an intelligent specimen – Colin. Occupants of interplanetary craft want to talk to him, and they thoughtfully teletransport him with some of the environment in which he inferentially lives, in order that he does not expire prematurely while trying to breathe their own ammonia-methane atmosphere.

    *The clue is in the name, chaps!

  3. Apologies but narmitaj’s explanation falls flat for me. “inference to the best explanation” is awkward wording at best and incomprehensible at worst. It’s bad enough it makes me think the author is not a native English speaker.

    The wording also implies that the alien speaking said something similar to “inference to the best explanation” that was misunderstood, and I have no idea what that would be.

  4. Thanks for that commentary link, zbicyclist.

    My perhaps sour-looking comment in the post should not have sounded so surprised. I have indeed heard the FEE pronunciation fairly often before, principally from mathematicians. But I am so used to FYE that I was momentarily at a loss for how the comic strip title “To phi or not to phi” was supposed to work.

    This was technically “a comic I didn’t understand” originally, but had decoded by the time it posted. There is a particular piece of jargon that clears it up, but which has not yet surfaced in the comments. (Dana may have it, but we don’t know, do we?). I’m sure the gang will find it soon!

  5. “Inference to the best explanation” is code speak for abductive reasoning, and they have abducted this guy?

  6. Ding ding ding! The Judge has it!

    You can maybe improve the match by nominalising to “abduction”. Then the alien captain may have said, in backstory, “Now we must proceed by abduction” and the hapless underling has performed an abduction of the “kidnap” sort on this human.

    Meanwhile some of you have raised new puzzles. Why Colin? What is the special thing about the name Earth?

  7. Clarifying my previous comment. I get that the alien on our left has misinterpreted a comment from the other alien and abducted the earthling. I am assuming it has to do with “abductive reasoning”, but I was wondering/asking if it refers to a more specific phrase. It occurred to me that “abduction” is also used to mean applying abductive reasoning.

  8. @Mitch Yep. I was a little slow. Both in making the leap to “abduction” and posting my updated realization.

  9. Good lord, but this is impenetrable…besides the caption, WHO says “fee” instead of “fye”? Someone please explain this to me like I’m a third-grader.

  10. Big Chief, some commenters here have already mentioned the contexts they have heard FEE and FYE. It seems FEE is favored by those who have studied Greek, and in some math circles. (And somewhere I saw a note on the different forms of the printed letter being used for different math objects, e.g. the Golden Ratio uses the closed form.)

    The reason we are supposing the cartoonist says FEE is to try to make “To phi or not to phi” sound more like Hamlet’s line. (That’s not exactly part of the caption, but the title of the cartoons by this artist at this outlet. The outlet, btw, is The Daily Nous, a website for news about the academic philosophy profession. And the letter phi can stand in for “philosophy”.)

  11. For what it’s worth, “To Φ or Not To Φ” is a philosophy website, so this might be a real knee-slapper in that circle but argot-based humor rarely works outside of one’s profession. (That quip about toxic pipelines and recreational areas still slays them at the ASCE meetings…)

    And I’ve found “fee” is used mostly in math and physics and “fi” in casual conversation and fraternities.

  12. It’s not all that specialized a term. If you are familiar with “deduction” and “induction” as names for patterns of reasoning, or forms of argument, “abduction” fits in very nicely.

  13. Thank you, Judge Mental, for explaining the joke! Now that I understand it, I actually do find it funny.

  14. Wow…. that actually does make sense and is funny if you talked philosophy regularly. So Alien one says “let’s use abduction to figure out about this planet”.

    “What is the special thing about the name Earth?” –That we don’t call the planet “Water”.

  15. And of course the rest of the world calls π “pee”, which can be really confusing when you get a foreign TA for your math class. Most people titter and giggle and imply that its value should be number 1, but really, the main problem with that pronunciation in English is that we already have a “pee”, and so this would lead to endless confusion between “p” and “π”.

  16. @ Mitch4 – “Why Colin? What is the special thing about the name Earth?”

    i – Earth is dryish compared with water, and the aliens put the abductee into a water-filled container, hence my guess they inferred that the intelligent organisms lived in water.
    ii – As to Colin – it’s a pretty feeble play on “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” by The Carpenters*.

    *Note the sentence structure: “Behold an intelligent specimen – Colin. Occupants of interplanetary craft want to talk to him”.

  17. Update: Calling Occupants was written and originally recorded by a Canadian band, Klaatu, something I didn’t realise before. Named after the alien who visits Earth in the The Day the Earth Stood Still. Klaatu barada nikto!

  18. I saw The Day the Earth Stood Still many times! And yes I did like it, but this repeat watching was not because I was an obsessive fan and sought it out, merely an effect of how movies were handled on TV for a long time, before VHS and rentals. There were only a few slots for movies on a local station schedule, and even fewer for national network broadcast. I don’t know what business arrangements they had, but in a few cases a station or a network could outright own permanent rights to a film. And this was one that was shown over and over on that basis.

  19. I was confused at first with all the talk about phi, as I had originally read that as “To 4 or not to 4”. Not that the 4 made any sense.

  20. The fact that this appeared in a specialty magazine is the most graspable part of the whole set-up. This one may have set a record for obscurity. Thanks, Mitch4 and everyone else who shed some light.

  21. So all this and no one’s going to explain what abductive reasoning is? I know deductive and inductive, though I would struggle to tell you which one is which off the top of my head. But I’ve never heard of abductive before.

  22. And to inject some (more) trivia about the Klaatu song – when it came out there were rumors that it was really recorded by some or all of the Beatles (it sounds a little like some of their orchestrations).

  23. Yes, the appearance resembling a digit 4 is a matter of the letter having two common forms, sometimes called open and closed. This was the open form (and lower case).
    Unfortunately, in the standard web view, CIDU’s WP theme (which includes stylesheet) puts those tags at the top area of a post into all caps; even though when I typed / pasted it in to the tags list it had those phis as lowercase and open form, much like the handwritten note in the cartoon.

  24. Big Chief — so you’ll be prepared, we do have another CIDU coming up next week with a cartoon from the Daily Nous. But a different comic series and artist than this TO Φ OR NOT TO Φ.

  25. So all this and no one’s going to explain what abductive reasoning is?

    LMGTFY: Actually not Google but Stanford. They’re just a bit down the road from Google.

    A passage with the phrasing from the cartoon: Most philosophers agree that abduction (in the sense of Inference to the Best Explanation) is a type of inference that is frequently employed, in some form or other, both in everyday and in scientific reasoning.

  26. Are we going to spin off an “Explanations I Don’t Understand” site? Finally got there in the end, but it was really looking like that for a while.

  27. Bill, did you take a look at the linked Stanford Encyclopedia article? That might be helpful.

    Or just write it off as not worth pursuing. You know how the Sunk Costs fallacy can affect your cultural attention time? Like, why don’t I just stop watching Manifest, it is clearly never going to get better…

  28. I didn’t get started with “Manifest”. Really I haven’t added any shows for quite some time, so as ones like Superstore and such end their runs, I view less and less TV. I am considering the Fox contest show hosted by Joel McHale,

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