In the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth chapters of The Science of Discworld II, we get to discuss the beauty of the potato and the reason why lying is technically good for us. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
So, now we know where Rincewind has traveled to and what he’s up to: he is trying to get people to imagine. Here, we watch as he interacts with “possible thespians” in order to inspire them to begin telling stories. But not just any type of story: he wants people to consider pretending to be gods. What I took away from this is that he wants to get humans to begin to challenge the notion of what is literal and what is fantastical. That attempt to change humans isn’t easy, which is, as Rincewind notes, exactly what the elves want. And what comes from beginning to tell stories of the gods? Well, maybe through stories, humans can challenge what they know of the world. Do they accept the myths they’ve heard, or do they create something new? Are they obedient or subversive? How do they believe if they’re challenged by the stories they create or consume?
Which is a perfect segue to yell about POTATOES, because while I get what Rincewind is doing with the Queen at the end of chapter twenty-five, it’s also DEEPLY realistic that someone’s greatest desire is just for potatoes. I love them so very, very much, and many of the methods of serving them that Rincewind lists made me VERY HUNGRY. I had some waffle fries recently that were perfectly friend and seasoned, and it was a religious experience. I was disappointed by the lack of the SUPREME form of potato here, because the tater tot is a work of gods. Y’all, potatoes make me so happy??? All the time? And I need some yellow curry soon with potatoes in it, IT IS THE PERFECT WEATHER FOR IT.
I admit that I had never thought about lying in the way that this chapter asks the reader to. We can relate with or empathize with fictional characters and narratives because… lying? But the authors build a fascinating case for this, taking us back through the development of language and how culture affects the connections between nerve cells. And like, that was new to me, too! I didn’t know that we basically had “all-purpose” brains that then become more specific over time. Over time, we appear to have developed the ability to distinguish what is and isn’t a lie because we had a reason to. It allowed us to stay ahead of others and to not be manipulated to the advantage of someone else.
I do admit that all this talk of minds and what it’s like inside of them made me really want the ability to be in the mind of non-human creatures. I just want to know what it’s like! Granted, I get why that isn’t possible, not just from a literal standpoint, but because my human mind is literally wired differently and wouldn’t be able to understand a brain wired differently. But what are dogs thinking when they see their owners? Do they experience joy? Are we just ascribing human emotions on them because it’s wishful thinking, or does a dog who is wagging its tail furiously feel actual happiness? THERE HAVE TO BE STUDIES ON THIS, I SWEAR. But I get why Stewart and Cohen don’t take the chapter there, though they do talk about Borrowing and how that would probably look if we could do that in Roundworld.
And then the chapter ends on another interesting point I’d not thought of before: no matter how good my teachers have been, most of them lied to me in order to educate me. Not maliciously lied, but technically:
But before hurling the book across the room or sending an offended e-mail to the publisher, ask yourself just how much of what you tell children is true. Not worthy, not defensible: true.
Some of my teachers—like my Advanced Placement US History teacher—believed a very specific version of history, and he was convinced it was “true.” And a lot of what he told us was absolutely bullshit. He’d been fed a version of the “truth,” and he had never challenged it. It’s not surprising that so much of that “truth” was immensely racist, but I bet he truly, truly believed that he was education us on what really happened. Now, that’s a more extreme example of what’s discussed here, and most of what the authors are referring to is far more banal and well-intentioned. We simplify things—often through stories!—in order to make things easier to understand for others. As they say:
But they are helpful lies, constructive lies, lies that even when they are really very wrong still open the door to a better understanding next time round.
Seriously, this book has made me re-think so many basic concepts. LIKE BEES AND HONEY.
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