In the eighth chapter of The Science of Discworld II, we discuss evolution and stories. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to Discworld.
Sometimes, there’s this weird synchronicity between what I’m reading and what’s going on outside of Mark Reads, and this happens to be one of those moments. I haven’t spoken much about what my second novel is about aside from a few things, and that’s partially because I am aware that all my drafts change so dramatically over the course of editing. A lot of folks were very surprised to have heard large parts of Anger prior to publication, only to get the book and discover that it had LITERALLY changed genres. So, I am keeping things a lot more secretive this time around, aside from talking about stuff on Patreon. But one constant thing that’s been a part of all seven drafts at this point is the way in which communities use stories to pass on information. It’s something I was interested in because of what inspired the book: the (brief and unsuccessful) search for my biological father. All I had of him was stories, and over the past thirty years, those stories have changed so very much.
Why is that? Why do different people have different memories of him? Why do those memories conflict? And for the many, many people who never met him but claim to know things about him—people in foster care, some of my siblings, some of my adoptive family—I never knew what to accept as real and as imagined. But some of those stories told to me were for comfort, or at least they were intended to be comforting. My father left us behind because he wasn’t a good person, for example. That story made it much easier, at a young age, for me to accept that my adoptive family was a force for good, that I was loved, that the best place for me was with them. But was that true? What if that wasn’t the reason he was never part of my life? Very early in 2017, I found out his legal name, something I’d not been told before, and it was listed on a document where he denied that he was my father. It was a striking thing to see because I’d never been told that story; in every version, he had left my biological mother’s life long before I was born and didn’t even really know me and my twin existed. So why tell that version of history when I had proof that this was never the case?
From that original notion, I explored a lot of what Stewart and Cohen discuss toward the end of this specific chapter: the way in which cultural stories can both bind us and free us. There are cultural stories from my father’s Japanese/Hawaiian family that stuck with me, many of them centered around either immigration or natural life in Hawaii. Growing up in Southern California among a population of Central American immigrants meant that the stories those people brought with them influenced my upbringing and my identity, particularly since I was raised without an attachment to my ethnic identity. How do those stories propagate? What value do they hold in the development of an adolescent, one who is on the cusp of adulthood?
This text thinks of things in a much more grandiose, big-picture manner, and I admit that centering this one something so personal isn’t quite the point they were going for. Within the story of The Science of Discworld II, we’re getting a chance to see how narrativium, while a fictional concept, has played out in Roundworld history. How did creatures who descended from other versions of apes and hominids turn into us? How did thought happen? Community? Nesting? Tribes and communities? And maybe we don’t consciously think of it this way, but I do agree that a lot of our storytelling is a form of survival. We are thrust into a complicated, violent world, one that’s inherently confusing and dangerous, and the stories woven of the lives that have come before help us to navigate the present day. These stories are often absurd. Ridiculous. Fantastical. As the authors put it:
For most purposes… it doesn’t greatly matter if the traditional tales make no real sense.
The tradition of those stories often matters more than the “reality” of them, you know? Religion is brought up in discussing this, too, and it was hard not to think of the complicated ways in which those stories affected me! Many of those myths were used to control me, to keep me from being “different” from the pack, and yes, it’s a bit simplistic to think of it that way, but social pressure is a real thing, and we’ve probably all experienced it at once time or another.
What I loved about this chapter—aside from feeling like I actually understood all the science I AM VERY HAPPY ABOUT THAT—is how Stewart and Cohen are able to break down these advanced ideas in a way that is relatable and coherent, that is immensely entertaining. We tell stories to cope with the world, but we also tell them for safety. Growth. For passing on the extelligence of humanity so that each new person doesn’t have to learn everything the hard way! That’s still a huge part of it, of course, but I’d not heard about extelligence before, and I feel like I learned a massively important way to view the world because of this chapter. THIS IS GREAT, I LOVE LEARNING.
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