Theory of Mind

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In yesterday's Questionable Content, the "combat AI" Bubbles rejects the gift of a collapsible cardigan. The first couple of panels:

And the conclusion:

A sentiment that I think we all sometimes share.


  1. Terry Hunt said,

    March 22, 2016 @ 9:53 am

    In case any non-QC fans get the wrong end of the stick, the cardigan was not a gift from Faye (the other character shown here) but from a mutual friend.

    [(myl) Indeed — details here.]

  2. languagehat said,

    March 22, 2016 @ 9:58 am

    Is what appears to be an overcoat part of Bubbles' armor?

  3. languagehat said,

    March 22, 2016 @ 9:59 am

    (To the question of whether she only wears her armor and thus cannot/will not wear the cardigan.)

  4. Jim said,

    March 22, 2016 @ 10:57 am

    @languagehat – no, she wears it to stand out less. (Whether it succeeds in that goal is another question…)

  5. Jason said,

    March 22, 2016 @ 11:56 am

    If she can wear an overcoat, then why not a cardigan?

    Women are so complicated.

  6. languagehat said,

    March 22, 2016 @ 12:48 pm

    If she can wear an overcoat, then why not a cardigan?

    My point exactly.

    Women are so complicated.

    I think you mean "combat AIs are so complicated."

  7. Jason said,

    March 22, 2016 @ 12:59 pm

    " ."

    I have a theory of mind, but I do not have a theory of algorithms assembled into a simulation of mind.

  8. Terry Hunt said,

    March 22, 2016 @ 1:30 pm

    If she can wear an overcoat, then why not a cardigan?

    Several of the characters in Questionable Content have emotional issues/problems: it's one of the themes.

    Bubbles is (unusually for an AI) a combat veteran, most of whose human comrades were killed; she's still coming to terms with that, in the context of underlying AI–Human societal tensions, and finds social relations difficult.

    Faye accidentally witnessed her Father blow his brains out, and is beginning to overcome (the resultant?) alcoholism that cost her her previous job.

    Hannelore (not in this sequence) was raised on a space station with little family quality time from her busy father, struggles with OCD and dirt-phobia, and cannot bear human touch (though her AI friends can comfort-hug her).

    May is a bolshie AI, recently returned to real-space following a sentence served in virtual reality, but is still on probation in a poor-quality government-issue body and with a low-level service industry job. She has anger issues.

    Et cetera.

    My advice – go back to the beginning and read the whole thing. (Hey, there's a holiday weekend coming up!)

  9. D.O. said,

    March 22, 2016 @ 1:40 pm

    I am not good with philosophy or psychology or whatever it is, but isn't "theory of mind" is almost the opposite thing to what happens here. Theory of mind is basically that other people have minds of their own and it is often unknown to others what is on their minds, no?

  10. Counterbander said,

    March 22, 2016 @ 3:39 pm

    Thumbs down for the "embiggen" neologism (mouseover the comic panels to see it, also used by V. Mair)? Is Language Log channeling Tumblr? What's wrong with "enlarge"?

  11. Chris C. said,

    March 22, 2016 @ 4:03 pm

    @Terry — Sure, just spend all weekend at it. There are only something like 3100 strips so far.

    @Counterbander — What's wrong with "embiggen"? It's a perfectly cromulent word.

  12. Gordon said,

    March 22, 2016 @ 5:30 pm

    My sincerest contrafibulations, Counterbander, for your efforts against the forces of pericombobulation.

  13. Gordon said,

    March 22, 2016 @ 5:32 pm

    Contrafibularities, that should be. Mea culpa.

  14. Viseguy said,

    March 22, 2016 @ 7:55 pm

    Embiggen is better than cromulent, IMO, because it's both well-formed and intelligible. OTOH, cromulent is not obviously redundant to any existing word, the way embiggen is to enlarge. And, unlike embiggen, it's a true neologism. So maybe cromulent is superior. What would Zachary Taylor say?

  15. V said,

    March 23, 2016 @ 3:18 am

    The previous time her professor had to call the government:

    IIRC Jeph did that as a shoutout to Charlie Stross' Laundry series.

  16. V said,

    March 23, 2016 @ 3:33 am

    @Jim The fruit hat things is also a reference to that strip where she related how she dated only one guy in high school and he dumped her after two weeks because she was "too weird" — among other things she wore a fruit hat.

    Sorry if this is turning into QC trivia, but now I remember people joking about her professor being recruited by the Black Chamber (The Laundryverse one).

  17. Jenny Chu said,

    March 23, 2016 @ 5:02 am

    The word embiggen is not at all a neologism. It has a long and glorious history.

  18. Guy said,

    March 23, 2016 @ 12:45 pm

    If we reject "embiggen" because it is redundant with "enlarge", should we also reject "big" because it is redundant with "large"?

  19. languagehat said,

    March 23, 2016 @ 12:52 pm

    Arguments from redundancy are always red herrings; the true motive is always "This is something I didn't grow up with, therefore I don't like it."

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