Human condition, with email

Hidden in the tooltip for today's XKCD, a piece of important existential philosophy:

A human is a system for converting dust billions of years ago into dust billions of years from now via a roundabout process which involves checking email a lot.



  1. I can’t recall where I read this recently, perhaps Scott Adams, but here’s the interesting point about performance enhancing drugs… 

    It’s indisputable that we now have drugs that can make a non-trivial improvement of human abilities… what if the beneficiary is a neurosurgeon trying to save the life of your child?

    Certainly the two primary considerations of sports testing are valid – basic fairness, and long-term negative side effects.

    But we are past the stage of history where completely unmodified humans can compete equally with humans who use all the technology available. And what a brave new world it is.

    1. “I can’t recall where I read this recently, perhaps Scott Adams, but here’s the interesting point about performance enhancing drugs… ”

      Are you sure it wasn’t Lance Armstrong?

    2. I wish I could remember the name of the athlete–although it’s probably more than one–who said, of performance enhancing drugs, “if you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’.”

      It seems to me that the line between “legitimate” uses of such drugs and “cheating” has been so blurred that we need a new definition of “cheating”.

    3. In WWI and WWII the Gemans fed their tank drivers and luftwaffe pilots amphetamine laced chocolate, and they still lost both wars.

      Today the US army pumps the troops full of caffeine laden energy drinks.

      There’s an obvious tradeoff. Once these people become dependant on performance enhancing chemicals, they run the risk of crashing and withdrawal on the battlefield.

      If you’re addicted to amphetamines, and you run out days before extraction, you’re going to perform a lot worse than non addicted troops when you go into withdrawal and feel like you’re dying.

  2. Sports medicine, sports nutrition, sports psychology…we’re basically at the point where medals can be won by virtue of who spends the most money on legit training techniques & superior equipment. 

  3. This reminds me of the late philosopher ALAN WATTS and his satirical contention that human beings are nothing but BLAND TUBES in which food goes in one end and waste comes out the other…our eyes and arms are nothing but tools to feed the tube.  A mechanized view of humans and their place in it is good and well, but what a dreary perspective.

      1. The full Alan Watts quote addresses the inherent tube-begets-tube drive: 

        “For there is a growing apprehension that existence is a rat-race in a trap: living organisms, including people,are merely tubes which put things in at one end and let them out at the other, which both keeps them doing it and in the long run wears them out. So to keep the farce going, the tubes find ways of making newtubes, which also put things in at one end and let them out at the other. At the input end they even develop ganglia of nerves called brains, with eyes and ears, so that they can more easily scrounge around for things to swallow. As and when they get enough to eat, they use up their surplus energy by wiggling in complicated patterns, making all sorts of noises by blowing air in and out of the input hole, and gathering together in groups to fight with other groups. In time, the tubes grow such anabundance of attached appliances that they are hardly recognizable as mere tubes, and they manage to do this in a staggering variety of forms. There is a vague rule not to eat tubes of your own form, but in general there is serious competition as to who is going to be the top type of tube. All this seems marvelously futile, and yet, when you begin to think about it, it begins to be more marvelous than futile. Indeed, it seems extremely odd.”

  4. Though Randall misses the point by a mile: While professional sport itself has lots of health risks, steroids and other enhancing drugs introduce even more risks.  Someone who’s not willing to risk cancer, heart, kidney or liver failure cannot compete in an enviroment where drugs are accepted. 

    We could split sports up: Clean sports and Steroid Sports – then people can decide what they prefer. O

    1. I’d strongly suspect that the division would turn out to be between the ‘Covert doping sports’ and ‘Overt doping sports’…

      Also, could we come up with something less…value-laden… than the term ‘clean’? 

      1. “Also, could we come up with something less…value-laden… than the term ‘clean’?”

        Less correct, you mean?

        Steroids are nasty, dangerous drugs that fuck you up in a variety of ways. It’s entirely reasonable to characterize them as “dirty”.

        1. You do realize that steroids are only useful as drugs because our vile, filthy, animalistic endocrine systems synthesize and respond to a substantial number of them?

          I wouldn’t want to defend the safety of trying to tamper with the endocrine system too dramatically; but I have some bad news about the purity of your precious bodily fluids…

    2. We could split sports up: Clean sports and Steroid Sports

      That’s hilarious. I guess that you don’t know any “natural” bodybuilders.

  5. I liken this to NHL GM’s having to make rules so they don’t cheat and bankrupt themselves. They should know better than to sign a player to a 15 year contract worth 100 million dollars. However due to compitition they can’t help them selves as someone else will do it.

    Same goes with athlete’s who abuse drugs. They know they shouldn’t, but do anyway because of compitition and the fact that if they don’t someone else will.

  6. As I said on the xkcd forum, I liked xkcd a lot better before Randall decided that being good at math and having a popular webcomic qualified him to form an accurate and dismissive judgment on any subject after 15 minutes’ research.

    1.  I’m sure your message on the xkcd forum will be brought to his attention and everything will be back to “normal” shortly.

    2. “Hmm…if I frame a diverse range of nuanced topics in incredibly simplistic terms and reconfigure them as dialogue between stick figures will people blast them across the Internets as if they prove a point?”
      “Hey, it’s now a post on BoingBoing…and Reddit…and io9…and all forums everywhere…”

Comments are closed.