All Wikipedia Roads Were Forced to Philosophy

Does everything boil down to philosophy? A case could be made that it’s really all about math and science. Or perhaps breasts. In the alt-text of Wednesday’s XKCD comic, a specific challenge was made: “Wikipedia trivia: if you take any article, click on the first link in the article text not in parentheses or italics, and then repeat, you will eventually end up at ‘Philosophy’.”

Game on. I already had a tab open to the Wikipedia page for “Where Mathematics Comes From” and decided to see how long it took:

Where Mathematics Comes From

  1. George Lakoff
  2. Cognitive linguistics
  3. Linguistics
  4. Human
  5. Taxonomy
  6. Science
  7. Knowledge
  8. Fact
  9. Information
  10. Sequence
  11. Mathematics
  12. Quantity
  13. Property (Philosophy)
  14. Modern Philosophy
  15. Philosophy

Ok, maybe that one was too easy. Let’s use my go-to example: Waffles:


  1. Batter (cooking)
  2. Flour
  3. Powder
  4. Solid
  5. State of matter
  6. Phase (matter)
  7. Outline of physical science
  8. Natural science
  9. Science
  10. Knowledge
  11. Fact
  12. Information
  13. Sequence
  14. Mathematics
  15. Quantity
  16. Property (Philosophy)
  17. Modern Philosophy
  18. Philosophy

Well son of a gun. I’ve tried it with ‘Mongoose’ (11 clicks), Baltimore Ravens football player ‘Ed Reed’ (16 clicks), and ‘Lord of the Rings’ (22 clicks). All led back to Philosophy.

Well, we don’t END at philosophy – we could keep going. It turns out that (as of writing this) there’s a 19-step loop including philosophy, science, mathematics, and mammory gland.

We could just as easily say that all paths lead to science! Or math! Or breasts!

However, before you get too excited, it turns out there’s some mischief afoot.

First, it’s been two days since the XKCD comic went up, and considering how malleable Wikipedia is, some things have been changed. I was suspicious that Quantity’s first link went to Property (Philosophy) so I checked the history page:

# (cur | prev) 09:54, 25 May 2011 (talk) (14,042 bytes) (Edited for xkcd)

# (cur | prev) 09:28, 25 May 2011 (talk) (14,004 bytes) (Undid revision 430815864 by Antony-22 (talk) see today’s xkcd, without the “property” link, it breaks the “all pages eventually end up at philosophy ” game. The link should be there)

I actually found a small loop that Male leads to Gender, which leads back to Male. I expect the Male one will be “fixed” at some point (a phrase you don’t hear outside the veterinarian very often).

The philosophy topic has been in the XKCD forums last Sunday, and the idea was around for longer than that. Tricky editing has been going on toward this goal for a while.

I’d heard that philosophy leads to reason, which leads to rationality, which leads back to philosophy. That’s been changed since Wednesday, and I wonder if a deliberate effort moved the path from rationality to breasts.

Yes, it’s true that the first link on an article is likely to be broad and trend toward science/philosophy, but this isn’t unguided evolution. This is intelligently designed.

26 Responses to All Wikipedia Roads Were Forced to Philosophy

  1. davidad says:

    Almost certainly. Breasts have already been rejiggered out of the loop, in fact.

    • Jesse Galef says:

      Bah, it looks like someone inserted a “Mortgage loan” link before “Milk” on the “Process” page. I’m tempted to change it back…

  2. Jesse Galef says:

    As Davidad pointed out, (again, as of typing this) breasts are out of the loop. It used to go philosophy-existence-perception-sense-process-milk-mammary gland.

    There’s a current edit struggle going on at the “Process” page:

    After relative peace and quiet, there have been 5 edits today. I assume that once “Philosophy” traffic got diverted to “Process” people started giving it more attention and vying for control of the path.

  3. DebGod says:

    Munroe must surely realize the power he wields. 🙂

  4. DebGod says:

    Well, that was bad grammar. Thanks, copy-paste. “surely must realize”, yes.

  5. Chana Messinger says:

    Perception and senses also form a closed loop, which is interesting, given how close they are to philosophy.

    • Jesse Galef says:

      It looks like the serious Wikipedia editors are fighting back – perception used to lead to philosophy. Check the history of edits:

      Some are more subtle, but others are pretty blatant:

      # (cur | prev) 13:12, 27 May 2011 Tim Pope (talk | contribs) (45,523 bytes) (Revert change made only to fulfill XKCD Philosophy game) (undo)

      It’s a battlefield!

  6. Andrew T says:

    I naturally had to try it as well on Wednesday, and had a similarly successful result starting from a random page. The funny thing was how close it seemed like I was getting before getting diverted again, twice! As I recall I separately landed on “Greeks,” went off on a geography tangent, back to “Aristotle,” and off again before finally arriving via the Quantity route 🙂

  7. Max says:

    Props for looking behind the scenes to expose the edit war.

  8. Lauren says:

    I tremendously enjoyed reading this blog, and actually laughed out loud several times. I wish you could have heard it. Then I proceeded to try it out myself.

  9. TKDB says:

    I noticed this myself the day the comic was posted. When I first tested it, I found myself in a loop leading from “Knowledge” back to “Knowledge”, with about 9 or 10 articles in between — none of them “Philosophy”.

    Within half an hour of when I first discovered the loop, this had been changed, and now “Knowledge” will lead you to “Philosophy”.

  10. I think this counts as investigative journalism.

  11. Zana says:

    Ke$ha doesn’t work either…

  12. Max says:

    The best case scenario is that this will get rid of some circular definitions.

  13. Eliot says:

    I did find one loop, and it’s stayed a loop for at least a few days. It’s a loop between recording and data storage device. Other than that, I haven’t found one that didn’t lead to philosophy and I’ve been doing it for a while when ever I’m bored.

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  15. Phil Goetz says:

    The editing of Wikipedia to conform to xkcd is an example of how Internet culture self-consciously tries to recreate our culture as humor or parody. Like manufacturing artificial “humorous” racism against red-headed people, or inventing silly words like anatadaephobia or hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia that end up in the dictionary because they have so many hits on Google people believe they’re real.

  16. cristobal gaggero says:

    withe Philosophy take 27 click to go back to Philosophy

  17. Dipper says:

    If you start at “Computer” you don’t get to the “Philosophy loop”…

  18. เย็ด says:

    Like manufacturing artificial “humorous” racism against red-headed people, or inventing silly words

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  20. Lebensraum doesn’t. It’s first word is itself! #BeatTheSystem

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