Matryoshka Doll Ultrasound

Matryoshka Doll Ultrasound

I found this cartoon over at The Incidental Economist, Matryoshka Ultrasound. Austin Frakt over there loves this kind of thing. He has a good sense of humor. And this is clever. We have a Matryoshka — Russian nesting doll — getting an ultrasound and it is creating an infinite regression. It’s charming. But it bugs me.

Unlike most people, I’ve had a lot of ultrasounds. I wasn’t pregnant. They were of my heart. And they were painful, because for whatever reason, the tech seemed to think that it was necessary to push down with all her strength — despite the fact that I weighted just 100 pounds and there was basically no flesh to push through. So I’ve been in the position of that doll — looking at the screen and seeing what was bouncing off my innards.

Given this experience, perhaps you can forgive my pedantry. Or just cluelessness. I don’t really know. Maybe I’m missing something. But I think it is more likely that I’m over-thinking it. So here goes: there would not be an infinite regression. There is no doctor doing an ultrasound on the doll inside her. And even if there were, he wouldn’t be in that position, because there isn’t enough space!

Yes, yes, yes: pedant! But I could go further. I could note that an ultrasound does not provide a picture of your entire insides. Look at the size of that device! And we are talking about the entire inside of her. That’s the thing about the Matryoshka doll: they fit tightly together. If they didn’t, then it would be just a doll with a bunch of crap in it. Also: isn’t this very wasteful in a world of limited healthcare resources? Couldn’t the doctor just have asked any 5-year-old girl what was inside of this doll? Also: Matryoshka dolls are generally the same shape but not the same decorations. Ha! Answer that, cartoonist! (It’s by the brilliant cartoonist at The New Yorker Paul Noth.)

But here’s what I think is really interesting: if the cartoon were done “right,” it would still be funny. It would consist of only the doll on the screen. But that’s still funny. What does she have inside of her? A smaller version of herself. I get that the cartoonist wants to get across the idea that there are many versions of her inside her. But it just doesn’t seem worth the bother of putting a doctor outside ever doll. Yeah, yeah, yeah: universes inside universes — that pug in Men in Black. But that’s not what Matryoshka dolls are!


It bothered me when I was a kid that the Matryoshka dolls didn’t regress forever. My mathematical sensibilities made me want to see an endless number of dolls. I wasn’t happy with the practical limits of the toy.

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