Mark Reads ‘The Science of Discworld III’: Chapter 6, Part II

In the second half of the sixth chapter of Darwin’s Watch, we discuss Einstein, relativity, and a Platonian world. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Science of Discworld III. 

Do any of you ever get overwhelmed (in a good way!) by the thought of how much complicated, cool shit scientists think about? Something struck me while reading the second half of this chapter: holy shit, scientists think about so much ridiculous shit that my brain does not seem ready to consider. Which is not me insulting myself; my brain is much more attuned to the arts than the sciences. But seriously, traveling to observe the light from starts during a total eclipse? (Did the song also pop into your head right now? It did for me.) How do you even get to a point in your studies where that’s something you want to do?

Of course, this book, along with the other Science of Discworld books, does a fine job of not only introducing many of these concepts to those of us who might not be science-minded, but there’s also a context given to them. There’s so much history discussed alongside the science, which is something I feel like I brought up before. Anyway: I loved that this whole chapter brought us along this journey. We started to talk about time and space through a discussion of science fiction and the inspiration for many popular, seminal works in the time travel genre. But here, in the second half, we’re taken through the various theories about the fourth dimension and how space and time are understood by humans.

Which is to say: not really? That is one thing I’m enjoy about these Science books. Look how often the authors admit that we, as a general society, do not understand the universe we live in. Because we don’t! We’re getting closer, but even then, is there ever going to be a day where we just know it all? I think about how frequently we’ve seen these books address scientific theories that last hundreds of years, only for something else to come along and explain it better. Space and time were a single “entity” in Victorian England. Then there were people like Charles Hinton and Havelock Ellis and THAT PARAGRAPH IS STILL THE BEST IN THE BOOK. (I felt every emotion in it. All of them.) And then Einstein, after the work of people like Poincaré and Minkowski, just fucked up our whole lives. Einstein’s work is still being discussed and tested and elaborated on practically a century later. I also can’t ignore that the concept of light-year changed our culture, too. How common is that term for those of us who grew up reading speculative fiction? It’s one of a few things I understood with virtually no science education at a young age because of science fiction. That’s how much that term has proliferated the world. So yeah, it does make sense to me that “Einstein became an overnight celebrity.” As I said on video, I never really had a true sense for what the reception was to him during his own time, but the dude changed EVERYTHING for our understanding of our place in the universe.

That’s pretty damn amazing. 

Anyway, this is less about the science itself, which I understood for the most part. I just really enjoy that we get to discuss the impact of the science, too! That being said: Barbour’s theories in The End of Time make my head hurt. They were difficult to wrap my mind around, though I feel like I’m working against myself here. As a human, I, too, have perceived time as passing. Some times slowly, other times way too quickly, but it seems to be there, right? But it very well could be an illusion given precedence because we humans feel it’s real. The whole snakes and ladders analogy helped me understand Barbour more (and also learn that the game had a different name in the UK than it does here!), but it also made me think Barbour is wrong about our universe being timeless. The authors make a good case that our universe is not like “single-state Platonia,” but more of a “sequential-state Markovia.” So, time is real, and we travel along it in one direction… for now. And maybe that’ll change in our lifetimes! WHO KNOWS.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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