The uninvention of the wheel – a nonsense cartoon

Cartoon/illustration - the uninvention of the wheel

The uninvention of the wheel – a nonsense cartoon

A cartoon or illustration illustrating the fanciful notion that inventions can be ‘uninvented’

Here, in an imaginary setting in a fictitious world, the inhabitants are discovering that by removing the wheels from a cart the cart becomes really hard to move. They seem to be excited by this revelation. Quite why I’m not sure. In fact, I’m not really sure what the cartoon’s about at all. Perhaps it’s about the discovery of the significance of meaninglessness.

This cartoon was drawn quite a few years ago, maybe in the 1980s. I must check.
A quite surreal cartoon, bizarre both in subject and style

Cartoon reference number: a561

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Unicorn cartoon. Proof that unicorns don’t exist

unicorn proof of existence cartoon

Unicorn cartoon. Proof that unicorns don’t exist

In the illustration a unicorn is reading a magazine or newspaper article with the headline “Unicorns don’t exist – the proof”.
The joke is that something that doesn’t exist is reading an article giving proof that it doesn’t exist.
The cartoon is based on the fact that generally you can’t prove a negative. For instance, in Britain before the time of ocean-going discovery all swans that were observed were white – however this didn’t mean that there were no swans that were black (as indeed there were in Australia).
The argument is often applied to religion and the subject of attempting to prove the existence of god. Believers in god frequently ask nonbelievers to disprove the existence of god. Atheists have to reply that disproving the existence of god is similar to disproving the existence of unicorns. The onus is really on the believer to prove the existence of god (or prove the existence of unicorns).

A cartoon about mythical or mythological creatures, the burden of proof
Cartoon reference number: a545
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Illustration – do we live inside a hologram?

hologram credit card cartoon

Do we live inside a hologram? Cartoon

A cartoon showing people climbing out of the holgram panel on a credit card.
The caption reads “Bad news. Not only are we living inside a hologram, but we’re nearing our expiry date.”

The illustration is about whether our three dimensional reality is a form of hologram like projection or illusion.
The joke is in comparing a grand theory of a hologramic universe with the mundane hologram on a credit card.
A cartoon about the nature of the universe, virtual reality
Cartoon reference number: a538

Culturally determined world views – cartoon

culturally based science cartoon

A cartoon about culturally determined world views
The idea that different cultures will use whatever methods are at their disposal to reinforce their established philosophy of how the world works.

An observation about theological determinism, cultural bias in science, cognitive dissonance, pseudoscience

The cartoon shows a nonspecific non-western culture planning to build their own large hadron collider (LHC) to obtain results that are consistent with their cultural heritage.
It is an illustration about the misrepresentation of science or the lack of use of the scientific method.
Cartoon reference number: a534
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Social control through the ages – cartoon

social control through the ages - cartoon

Cartoon – social control through the ages
In medieval times social control was imposed by the church and religion.
In the twenty first century social control is imposed by technology

A cartoon showing society in the middle ages being controlled by the church (symbolised by a cross), contrasted with society today being controlled by technology (symbolised by a cctv surveillance camera)

A cartoon about coercion, repression, repressive societies
Cartoon reference number: a502
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Cartoon about Utopia

utopia by-laws - cartoon

Welcome to Utopia – cartoon
You are now entering Utopia – please abide by these by-laws

A cartoon illustrating the idea that utopian societies can only exist if they are repressive or prescriptive to some degree (probably a necessary degree to be honest).

The list of by-laws that have to be enforced in Utopia show that it’s maybe impossible for people to act unselfishly without a degree of coercion. A cartoon about politics, philosophy.
Cartoon reference number: a500

The trouble with Utopia – cartoon

utopia surveillance camera - cartoon

The down side of Utopia
Utopia monitored by surveillance camera

A cartoon illustrating the idea that utopian societies can only exist if they are repressive to some degree (probably a necessary degree to be honest, judging by the nature of human nature).

Cartoon reference number: a499

Cartoon. Holy books v factual books

knowledge from holy books - cartoon

Cartoon – knowledge from holy books
The difference between religious books and scientific and factual books

A cartoon showing a child reading from a pile of books – and another child reading from only one holy or religious book

This cartoon illustrated the way that some religious groups think that all necessary knowledge can be found in their holy book.
It illustrates the sort of argument put forward by people such as Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion or Christopher Hitchens in God is not Great
Cartoon reference number: a498

Cartoon – skiing uphill

skiing uphill - cartoon

Skiing cartoon
Skiing uphill cartoon

A cartoon showing skiers skiing in opposite directions – one is skiing downhill while the other is skiing uphill.
The image is on its side, so when viewed initially the viewer is confused by conflicting visual cues, mistaking the direction of the slope (look at the trees).

Cartoon reference number: a497
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Philosophy cartoons – human significance compared to the scale of the universe

human insignificance in a huge universe - cartoon

Cartoon – the insignificance of humans in the universe

A cartoon about the question: does the vast immensity of the universe mean that people are insignificant?
Personally I think that the answer is no, but it’s a thing that a lot of people think (My opinion is that it’s a mistake to judge significance in terms of physical scale – you can find out more about my views on this in my book on related subjects
The cartoon answers critics of science who claim that science strips away the wonder and awe of creation (as in the expression by Keats – unweaving the rainbow – adopted by Richard Dawkins as the title of one of his books)

A cartoon about life, the universe and everything, the cosmos, the human condition, the fallacy of scale, meaning of life, religion, spirituality. A spiral galaxy cartoon, astronomy cartoon
Cartoon reference number: a495
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Tree of knowledge cartoon

Tree of knowledge cartoon

Tree of knowledge cartoon

The tree of knowledge discovers where paper comes from.

Tree of knowledge discovers a disturbing truth.
This cartoon may be used as an environmental cartoon about the use of wood for the production of paper products.
It may also be used as an illustration concerning the human condition – about the way that people, through their own intelligence, have become aware of the ultimate fate of all of us, death. (a fate that other species of animal are possibly blissfully unaware in any deep way).
The cartoon is also about the way that human intelligence as well as bringing about awareness has brought us to the situation in which we are destroying the environment.
A cartoon about paper manufacturing, philosophical insight and the curse of self awareness

Cartoon reference number: a479

Meaning of life cartoon – cosmic jigsaw puzzle

 cosmic jigsaw cartoon

Meaning of life cartoon
Philosophy cartoons
The puzzle of existence – cartoon

A cartoon showing two figures who look like pieces fro a jigsaw puzzle.
One is saying to the other “Do you ever gety that feeling that you’re part of a gigantic cosmic jigsaw puzzle?”

The drawing deliberately has no background or other setting, because the question in the image is appropriate to all situations
Cartoon reference number: a433

Quotation about pedants

humorous quote about pedants

A humorous quotation about pedantry
“I’m not a pedant (in the strict definition of the term)
The quote is my own

A typography-based image showing a funny quote about pedants

The humour is in the fact that only a pedant would qualify their lack of pedantry as quoted here
Ref: a632

Seeing the face of God in a flower – cartoon

Face of God in flower - cartoon

See the face of God in a flower – cartoon

A cartoon showing a Sunday school teacher telling her pupils that you can see the face of God when you look at a flower.

One of the children is imagining the face of a pansy as the face of God.
Pansies do have faces after all.
Seeing faces in things is known as pareidolia.
Cartoon reference number: a396

Looming presences. A drawing

threatening presences and small person

A moody illustration about oppressive thoughts and entities

This is an atmospheric drawing of a small person between two overwhelming and threatening forms.
It is a psychological illustration of the feeling of threat

A drawing about psychology, paranoia, neurosis, neurotic thoughts, looming danger

This drawing is mostly a sketch drawn with a ballpoint pen. It’s been added to in Photoshop, especially in the sky.

Cartoon reference number: a388

The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing

the fox knows many things - cartoon

The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing.
Cartoon or book illustration

The saying is attributed to the ancient Greek poet Archilochus
The phrase was adapted by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin for his essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox”.
An image about ways of thinking, personality types, thought processes, fables, psychology.

Cartoon reference number: a366

Life coach cartoon – wise sayings about life

Wise sayings cartoon: just because there’s a bridge you don’t have to cross it
One of a series of “Mrs Walton, life coach and spiritual adviser” cartoons.

A joke about the current fashion for so called life coaches and spiritual advisers.
Here the life coach is just an ordinary, stereotypical middle aged housewife rather than an authoritative guru-like figure.

The caption of the cartoon reads “Just because there’s a bridge doesn’t mean you have to cross it”.
Its meaning is that you shouldn’t necessarily take the route that seems the most obvious or the most natural.
Bridges are routes across obstacles, but if the obstacle isn’t actually in your way, don’t follow the urge to cross it (without asking why you need to).

The cartoon is partly about the way that spiritual gurus and similar people often dress mundane and obvious common sense observations up as pseudospiritual and pseudo-profound utterances. However the sayings are sometimes true (as here).

A cartoon about gurus, idioms.

Cartoon reference number: a346

Thinking, Fast and Slow – a tortoise and hare Cartoon

tortoise and hare thinking fast and slow cartoon

Thinking, Fast and Slow.
Tortoise and Hare Cartoon

A cartoon of the tortoise and hare from Aesop’s fables.
The hare is reading the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, is about the theory that the cognitive functions of the brain operate in two distinct systems, one that operates impulsively and on reflect and one that operates on a more thoughtful and considered level. Both are necessary for survival, with the impulsive system making the snap decisions that are needed to keep you out of trouble.
In my cartoon the tortoise (representing the fast, impulsive part of the brain) is sitting on the back of the tortoise, with the implication that it’s trying to be a bit less impulsive and a bit more thoughtful.

A cartoon about psychology, evolutionary psychology, the mind, fables.

Cartoon reference number: a344

Did life come to earth from outer space?

earth as egg with sperm from outer space - illustration

Illustration: did life come to earth from outer space?

A cartoon or illustration showing the earth in space, with sperm approaching the earth

The concept that life was planted on earth by super-intelligent extraterrestrials, a concept known as directed panspermia (popularised by the question, Was God an Astronaut? as written about by Erich von Däniken, amongst others)has been revived recently with the film Prometheus by Ridley Scott, and will no doubt be aired again when the sequel is released.

Cartoon reference number: a340

Illustration of an eye with a tiny person inside it looking out. A homunculus?

person looking out through an eye

A picture of a person looking out through an eye
Illustration of an eye, with a tiny person inside it looking out

Illustration: looking through someone else’s eyes.

An eye with a face looking out through the pupil as though it’s a window or the entrance of a dark cave

In this image the eye is a window with someone looking out through it. It may have something to do with the saying “The eyes are the windows to the soul”. Or maybe not.
It’s as though there’s a tiny person living inside the person’s eye, or maybe inside their head. This is related to the homunculus argument (homunculus: Latin for “little man”), which is a philosophical concept that imagines that there is a tiny person inside the head monitoring the activity of the person whose head it’s in.
Homunculus arguments are used in psychology and the philosophy of mind to detect where theories of mind fail or are incomplete, usually betrayed by the recursive nature of the concept under examination (where a problem isn’t resolved but is simply repeated art one step removed, as in “Who’s watching the watcher?” or “Is there a homunculus inside the head of a homunculus?”.

Cartoon reference number: a339
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Philosophy cartoon – why do we like sunsets?

Philosophy cartoons - aesthetic values

Cartoon – why do we like sunsets?

Cartoon about evolutionary psychology

Why do we find sunsets spiritually uplifting?
A cartoon about the fact that sensory stimuli that are of a greater than average intensity often evoke profound emotions. This applies to such things as sunsets and flowers, and is also a factor in our appreciation of the arts, from music to cinema. A comment on spirituality and pseudo-spirituallity (I’m a believer in pseudospirituality myself).
This cartoon first appeared in BBC Knowledge magazine.

Cartoon reference number: a333
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Questioning authority – illustration

questioning authority cartoon

Questioning authority – cartoon.
A student questioning the authority of a lecturer

Cartoon showing a lecture on politics authority

A joke about authority, questioning, totalitarianism, anarchy, anarchism, authority figures

The joke is that the student is questioning the authority of a lecturer who is telling the audience to question authority.
This illustration first appeared in BBC Knowledge magazine.

Cartoon reference number: a332

Michelangelo – Hand of God parody. Did life come from outer space?

leonardo hand from ufo - cartoon

Michelangelo – Hand of God cartoon
Sistine Chapel Creation of Man parody

Parody of Michelangelo’s Hand of God painting in the Sistine Chapel, being used to illustrate the concept that live on earth could have been deliberately brought to earth from outer space by aliens.

The cartoon could be linked to theories such as the ones offered in books such as Erich von Daniken’s “Chariots of the Gods”, although personally I’d rather be disassociated with such theories (if that’s what such sensationalist speculation can be called).

The concept of Was God an Astronaut? has been revived recently with the film Prometheus by Ridley Scott, and will no doubt be aired again when the sequel is released.

The theory that life may have been planted on Earth billions of years ago by an advanced alien civilization is sometimes known as directed panspermia. This theory was (mischievously?) proposed by Francis Crick (of dna fame) together with biologist Leslie Orgel in 1971. Directed panspermia is sometimes evoked to solve a particular problem in the science of life – science’s current inability to explain life’s origin. Of course the theory simply puts off the explanation, very much in the way that religions do – hence my use of Michelangelo’s hand of God creating Adam in the cartoon.

Cartoon reference number: a325

Philosophy logo

philosophy logo

Philosophy logo

This is a typographical logo that I designed as part of my stock of philosophy cartoons.
The typography incorporates a letter ‘P’ in the word philosophy that is also a question mark.
The cartoons are published in Philosophy Now magazine.

Ref: a657

Philosophy Cartoon

Existentialism - philosophy cartoons

Existentialist philosophy cartoon: a child’s introduction to existentialism

A philosophy cartoon showing a child reading a book titled “My First Book of Existentialism”.
The philosophical theory of existentialism is usually associated with Jean Paul Sartre.

The humour in the illustration is that an elementary book at the level illustrated in the cartoon is far too basic to explain the theory underlying existentialism (or any other philosophical theory for that matter).
The cartoon also hints at the possibility that some philosophical concepts are more basic than is sometimes thought – and that some philosophies are probably flawed due to fundamental errors due to the limitations of the human brain to grasp concepts.
A cartoon about philosophy, existentialism, existentialist philosophy, philosophical theory.
Cartoon reference number: a131

See my book about life, the universe and everything.

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Cartoon – awareness of death always lurking in the corner of our thoughts

 Cartoon - awareness of death always there in the corner of our thoughts

Cartoon showing how the thought of death is always lurking in the back of your thoughts (unless you’re still young that is)

An illustration illustrating the face of death, symbolised by a skull, peeking round the edge of someone’s thoughts, because it’s always there somewhere, making its presence known.

A cartoon about mortality, intimations of mortality, mid-life crisis, life and death, existence, lifespan, philosophy, the grim reaper, awareness of death.
Cartoon reference number: a130
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Cognition cartoon. Man thinking himself into existence

cogito-ergo-sum-consciousness-detail-cartoon

I think therefore I am.
Descartes maxim “Cogito ergo sum” illustrated.
Consciousness of self.

Cartoon showing a person thinking himself into existence.
Cartoon of a man thinking, with the cartoon thought bubble that he’s generating containing the man himself. The man is inside his own thought bubble.
The cartoon is a depiction of Rene Descartes’ maxim “Cogito ergo sum”, often translated as “I think therefore I am”.
A cartoon about the problem “How do I know I exist?” or “Am I a figment of my own imagination?” (or of someone else’s?)

A cartoon illustration about existentialism, philosophy, solipsism, solipsistic concepts, self awareness, self generation, cognition.
Cartoon reference number: a129
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Life coach guru cartoon. Only watch the news once a day

Wise sayings cartoon. Only watch the news once a day

Cartoon about advice on how to live your life.
Life coach advice – only watch the news once a day.
The news as noise and the illusion of engagement

The cartoon shows a ‘lifestyle guru’ telling someone to only watch the news once a day.
Some people (myself included) watch the news far too often. One of the problems with the broadcast news on tv is that it is extremely superficial, especially when broadcast on a 24 hour rolling news channel. Watching the news sometimes gives the illusion that you are actively engaged in the news, however, we should really be doing other things instead, such as reading books and magazines that analyse and explain in greater depth the implications of the news events of the day. The news is ‘noise’.
This analysis of the news is similar to that put forward in the book by Alain de Botton, The News. The cartoon predates the book.

This cartoon is from a series about the phenomenon of gurus, personal counsellors, lifestyle coaches (a recent and rather ludicrous twist on the phenomenon of personal fulfilment), motivational speakers and suchlike. In the series the guru, counsellor or what-have-you is a very ordinary middle aged woman rather than someone who is removed from the humdrum of everyday life, and is meant to represent a parody of lifestyle advisers and self improvement gurus.

Cartoon about truth, knowledge, opinions, prejudice, bias, philosophy, lifestyle, lifestyle coaching, gurus, motivational speakers, therapy, counselling, current affairs, engagement in society.
Cartoon reference number: a127
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Wise sayings from a life coach guru. “Never believe anyone you agree with”

life coach cartoon

Cartoon about how to avoid reinforcement of prejudice.

Cartoon showing how to avoid having your prejudices confirmed.
The cartoon shows a ‘lifestyle guru’ telling someone to ‘never believe anyone you agree with’.

This cartoon is part of a series about the phenomenon of gurus, personal counsellors, lifestyle coaches, motivational speakers and so on. In the series the guru, counsellor or what-have-you is a very ordinary middle aged woman rather than someone who is removed from the humdrum of everyday life, as a deliberate parody of the usual lifestyle advisers and self improvement gurus.

Cartoon about reinforcement of prejudice, philosophy, lifestyle, lifestyle coaching, gurus, motivational speakers, counselling, truth, knowledge, opinions, prejudice, bias, bigotry, thinking outside the box.
Cartoon reference number: a126
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Therapy or life coaching cartoon: the pursuit of happiness

The pursuit of happiness

Cartoon showing a lifestyle guru or life coach explaining the secret of happiness.

Cartoon showing someone being told by a ‘lifestyle guru’ that to be truly contented you must transcend the present moment of your being.
The joke is that the person who is being given this advice is obviously in a very good place right now, and transcending his present moment of being is probably the last thing that he’d want to do.
This cartoon is part of a series about the emergence of gurus, personal counsellors, lifestyle coaches, motivational speakers, therapists and suchlike – a recent development of the philosophy of personal fulfilment. In the series the guru, counsellor or therapist is a very ordinary middle aged woman rather than someone who is removed from the humdrum of everyday life. The speaker is meant to represent to some extent a parody of lifestyle advisers and self improvement gurus, especially those who have a pseudo-spiritual twist to their advise (commonly of a pseudo-buddhist inclination).

Cartoon about philosophy, lifestyle, lifestyle coaching, gurus, motivational speakers, therapy, counselling, charlatanism, self delusion, aspiration, buddhism.
Cartoon reference number: a125
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Cartoon about intellectual self absorption

Philosophy

Cartoon showing a drawback of thinking too much, especially about one subject.
Cartoon of someone so immersed in thought that he can’t see where he’s going (but doesn’t notice).

He’s going to fall down an open manhole (which is a cartoon cliche, which is why I’ve used it. People in cartoons should always be on the lookout for open manhole covers. I’ve never seen one in real life I have to admit).

Cartoon about philosophy, epistemology, thought processes, thinking, knowledge, consciousness, lack of perspective, intellectuals, over intellectualisation, head in the clouds, narrow specialisation, specialisation bias, blinkered vision or outlook.
Cartoon reference number: a124
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Cartoon: a person floating in the air in a balloon powered by thought – a thought balloon

Person floating with aid of thought balloon

Cartoon showing the power of thought to transport a person to another place – in this case literally, because the thought balloon has become a proper person-carrying balloon.

Cartoon showing the power of thought to raise a person to a higher level of appreciation, from which the person can comprehend more due to the elevated position and new perspective.

Cartoon about philosophy, epistemology, thought processes, thinking, knowledge, power of thought, consciousness.
Cartoon reference number: a123
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Cartoon. The Tibetan Book of the Dead Funny

tibetan book of the dead funny

Cartoon. The Tibetan Book of the Dead Funny.
Mystical teachings on how to laugh in the face of death.

I’ve added this cartoon of mine now because it looks a little like a David Shrigley drawing, and because the last few cartoons that I’ve added are similar in some ways to David Shrigley artwork too (This interest in David Shrigley is because he has an exhibition of his art – Brain Activity – at the Hayward Gallery in London at the moment (Feb 2012)

The cartoon shows “The Tibetan Book of the Dead Funny”. Subtitled “Mystical teachings on how to laugh in the face of death”.
Cartoon reference number: a113
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Cartoon/illustration: God, creation myths and the nature of the universe

God reading about the true nature of the universe

Cartoon about God and the creation of the universe

Illustration showing a creation myth

Part of the joke in the cartoon is that the god figure is reading a book that explains the origins of the universe.
A cartoon about creation myths, intelligent design, genesis
The cartoon is an updated version of an illustration that I produced in the 1980s for the Guardian newspaper.
Cartoon reference number: a103
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Ockham’s razor cartoon (or Occam’s razor cartoon)

Ockham's razor cartoon

Ockham’s razor cartoon (or Occam’s razor cartoon)

Ockham’s razor cartoon (or Occam’s razor cartoon). Occam’s razor is the name given to the principle that from among competing hypotheses or ideas the one that gives the simplest and least complex explanation or that makes the fewest new assumptions is more likely to be correct.

Occam’s razor gets its name from William of Ockham, an English Franciscan friar and philosopher. He didn’t actually originate the maxim that the simpler an explanation was the more likely it was to be correct, but he used the concept frequently so the maxim became associated with him.
The joke in the cartoon is that Occam finds all of the razors in a shop too complicated, as he thinks that a simpler one will do the job better.
Cartoon reference number: a102

Cartoon – the web of life – and the spider of death

Web of Life joke, Spider of Death

Cartoon about the web of life – and the spider of death.

Cartoon about the web of life & the spider of death.
The term “The Web of Life” is generally taken to imply something positive, about the interrelatedness of all living things. However, in nature, webs are generally dangerous things, constructed to ensnare prey. I like this dichotomy. In fact, rather than it pointing out the inappropriateness of the ‘web’ metaphor I think it gets it right, even if it does so inadvertently.

The cartoon is an attempt to overturn the rather anodyne and pseudo-spiritually reassuring notion of a benevolent web of life, replacing it with a more ambiguous and unsettling notion based on the same metaphor.
It’s partly about the notion of nature, red in tooth and claw.
Cartoon reference number: a100

Welcome to Hell cartoon – there is no cell phone signal in Hell

Cartoon - Mobile phone signal - welcome to Hell

Cartoon about Hell – no mobile phone signal in Hell.

The fact that there is no cell phone signal in Hell is one of the reasons why Hell is Hell.

Part of the humour of this joke is that people are so reliant on cell phones or mobile phones that the idea of not being able to get a signal is truly terrifying and hellish.
It’s a cartoon about people’s dependency on and addiction to modern technology, without which they feel alienated and cast adrift.
The phone signal is fading in the same way that it does when one goes down an escalator into the underground or subway.
Cartoon reference number: a099