In the sixth chapter of The Science of Discworld II, we learn about the compatibility of magic and science. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
So, this chapter was a pleasant surprise. I certainly did not expect there to be so much history here, but I love the way that it reflects on what happened in chapter five and provides us with the context to understand a lot of things. This story, the past, and our current world. Indeed, there’s so much here that is still deeply relevant to our lives, and I’m ready, LET’S GO.
I’ve grown up with people who swore by astrology—namely my mother, many of her sisters and her side of the family, and a lot of personal friends. I mentioned this on video, but I have a close friend who asked me to sign up for a free astrology app just to see how “compatible” we are as friends. (Spoiler alert: extremely so.) I have spent my entire life being told I was a Scorpio who was on the cusp with Libra, and that also meant that practically everyone I met who is “knowledgeable” about astrology has said the same thing: “Oh, you’re not a Scorpio at all.” Or something like: “I’ve never known a Scorpio like you! Are you sure you are?”
Well, turns out I’d never looked at my chart with my proper birth time, and that revealed that this whole time, I was a Libra. Which means… pretty much nothing to me? I thought it was funny that in the last two weeks, as I’ve brought up this silly thing to people, most have also said, “I KNEW YOU WEREN’T A SCORPIO, YOU ARE TOTALLY A LIBRA,” and I don’t know what that means, either. Look, my approach to astrology has mostly been that it is occasionally interesting, but I don’t believe that distant beings (or planets or stars) have dictated my life or my personality. I think things that are far closer to home have had a bigger effect on me.
Still is fun to see who I’m supposedly “compatible” with, though.
One thing—and it’s admittedly a small thing—that’s delighted me about this book and the previous Science book is that they’re largely not condescending about how humans learn, what we might know, and how our lives are challenged by new information. There’s a lot in the last book (and some in this one) that I don’t necessarily understand in the Roundworld sections, but it doesn’t make the books not-enjoyable to me, and I also don’t feel like I’m being lectured to. And within the section about Paracelsus, there’s a fantastic piece of wisdom: “The universities do not teach all things.”
OH MY GOD, HOW MANY OF YOU HAVE MET PEOPLE WHO TRULY AND COMPLETELY BELIEVE THIS? I admit to being biased in this regard because I had to drop out of college due to a financial emergency. I don’t have a degree (out of the two majors I tried to complete), I don’t have a lot of formal training, and most of what I’ve learned in terms of being an online community manager and a writer is due to experience and imitation. I can’t tell you how frequently I am asked at conferences or festivals what my MFA program was, or what I majored in during college, and it’s usually fun to see people’s reaction to my answer. (It’s either pleasant shock or weird elitism.) So I’m glad that the authors acknowledge this not just through the quote, but in explaining how the apparent contradiction between these thinkers’ beliefs and realities is not a bad thing. For me, it was a refreshing way to acknowledge that we humans can never know everything at any given time. It’s why Paracelsus’s constant rejection of authority felt so refreshing to me. I think it’s good to question as many things as possible, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with believing in magic, whatever it’s form, alongside it.
Engineers in Greece
So, I played a little social game at a dinner recently where we had to come up with three well-thought out wishes we’d one granted, and one of mine is somewhat related to this topic: I would love the ability to time travel as an invisible witness. I could not intervene and no one could perceive me. Why? Because I WANT TO KNOW ABOUT ALL THE MYSTERIES OF TIME. I grew up with this killer compilation book based off the Unsolved Mysteries show that had chapters based on things like Famous Disappearances, Weird Phenomenon, and Ghosts, and it instilled in me this intense desire to just know what happened. I would love to find out what happened in unsolved cases; to find out Amelia’s Earheart’s fate; and to travel back to Greece to learn how the fuck Archimedes made those cranes. (And if that is even true.) I just want to know SO MANY THINGS, and now you know what one of my wishes would be.
I think one aspect that could improve the section on homeopathy is a discussion on how many cultures around the world have found “solutions” to medicinal problems through experimentation with what is around them in the natural world. I was reminded of a lot of the “cures” that were suggested and used by my father’s side of the family, who are Japanese and native Hawaiian. They were the first people who used the inside of an aloe vera leaf to provide soothing to my first sunburn. I remember I had a friend in high school whose mother swore by jacaranda as a means of dealing with infections, which apparently is a real thing. (Though the kind of infection is… very specific.) So I get why the modern homeopathy industry is perceived as bullshit, and the examples given are certainly bullshit. But I think it would have benefited from some talk of how indigenous cultures and non-Western cultures have done the work that many “scientists” have but in an entirely different way.
The Magic of Technology
I can use a square rectangle device to summon a vehicle to my location, which takes me to another location, and then pays for that transportation. I can film myself and put that video in a remote storage location to share it with others. I can find people interested in sex or a relationship with a website. I regularly play a game that is overlaid over the actual world but takes place entirely in a digital environment.
Oh my god, y’all, the world is a trashfire, but there’s some cool shit out there that is truly magical.
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