In the tenth and eleventh chapters of The Science of Discworld II, we discuss storytelling patterns and unwritten histories. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Well, I didn’t expect to read a book that discusses why I’m so obsessed with cute animals. Shit, humans really are unique in a lot of ways I’ve never sat down and thought about! The cat stuff: most certainly. They are our overlords, and we merely live in their world. (Though I was intrigued by the notion that cats are slowly losing the domestication war.) But having pets is not something that necessarily appears elsewhere, and yet I can’t imagine my life not having pets in it. Granted, it’s been a while. I have only been able to manage pets a few times as an adult, with the longest stint being twin Siamese cats for some number of years. And that sort of companionship has made me feel better as a person, at least in the sense that having animals around me usually calms me down. Seriously, I can be having a shitty, grumpy morning, and then if a dog rubs their wet nose on my hand as I pass it, I feel PERFECT.
But why is that? Well, until I read this chapter, I’d not considered that it was part of the co-evolution of dogs and humans over thousands and thousands of years. I just… like dogs. And some other people don’t! Either just because it’s a preference, or they’ve had bad experiences with them, etc. But we don’t often sit around and have thoughts that are like, “Oh, this dog is great because I can have a mutually beneficial relationship with them as they assist on hunts and protect my fields. However, there are all sorts of responses coded into our brains that are triggered by certain events and scenarios, and that kind of stuff fascinates me!
Similar messages (and ones that are vastly different) are also coded into the instincts of domesticated pets, too, and it’s always interesting to me to see one of those posts go around Tumblr where someone explains, for instance, typical cat behaviors in the context of their evolution. Like, why they hiss, why they meow, why they need to bury their waste, or even why they often pick a random spot in the middle distance and stare at it as if an invisible portal to another realm has just opened up. You know, that stuff.
I also wanted to briefly note that there’s a long bit in here in which Stewart and Cohen discuss the bottlenecking migration that happened out of Africa and the fact that Homo sapiens survived on, while Homo erectus did not. Not that I expected anything different of them, but I did enjoy that this was all presented plainly to the reader. Because if you don’t know this: boy, do racists really hate hearing that Homo sapiens came from Africa! (The flipside of this is racists that LOVE hearing this and believe that all racism can be explained away because “We’re all one race—the human race!”) I don’t feel the need to go into their reasoning, both because it’s probably triggering and also really, really foolish, but I love science shit that just states what happened or what is believed to be occurring and is just DONE with it. This is what we know, the end! Go away!
The same goes for how the text addresses Adam and Eve because OH GODS, that is probably the thing in my religious upbringing that I always had trouble with. The nuns who taught me when I was converting Catholicism were… not pleased with my questions? And look, I’ve spoken of this before in past reviews, but it was clear that I was to be taught about the world through their system, and I was not to go out and learn about it. When I questioned how it was fair that God judged two people who lacked all experience and understanding of the world, I was told that God cannot be wrong. Which is a frustrating answer! And even though Stewart and Cohen go a different direction here in this book, I can see that there’s a frustration in what they’re saying: people continue to maintain that two single humans are responsible for all those that came after them, when the genetic reality speaks of a completely different story, one that is deeply, deeply complicated.
And that segues perfectly into the Discworld section because how. How are the wizards going to perfectly influence humans so as to return them to their original state? What we see in chapter eleven is a species that has virtually no creativity or imagination. It’s not as simple as flipping a switch and setting things right. As chapter ten showed us, there are so very many factors that possibly led to humans being what we are now. How many times are they going to mess up before they get it right?
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