Mark Reads ‘The Science of Discworld III’: Chapter 15 / Chapter 16, Part I

In the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters of Darwin’s Watch, the wizards contend with the nature of causality. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Science of Discworld III. 

First off: RIP to me mispronouncing “causality” like fifty times in the early Discworld videos. R I P.


The Auditors. It’s the Auditors who are behind this? 

The chapter title gave me the answer, but it took the entirety of chapter fifteen for me to get the WHY. Because on the surface, it made no sense. What exactly did the Auditors have against the people of Roundworld? Why interfere and why do it in this specific way? 

The fifteenth chapter builds to the answer of those questions, and it does so by demonstrating the complicated nature of causality. And while I’ll get into that a bit more in the Roundworld section, it’s clear that the wizards are struggling with the events that apparently cause Darwin’s timeline to be shifted. And there are thousands of these such moments, spread across his lifetime and probably some moments before he’s even born. (We’ve seen at least one of them on the page!) 

So, the wizards pop off into Roundworld, armed with simple instructions to do seemingly mundane things, and as they do so, Darwin’s timeline is corrected piece-by-piece… right up until Rincewind. Oh, Rincewind. Of course his mission would get interrupted like this! But it made me wonder: did the Auditors intervene in any of the other attempts to disrupt Darwin’s past? My guess is that they didn’t, and in this case, it was a rogue Auditor (a very dangerous thing, mind you) who took it upon themselves to try to fix things. See, the Auditors don’t like to be obvious, and this was obvious, so I’m thinking it was a mistake. One they might pay for dearly in the future! Regardless, the evidence is there, and we know that the Auditors hate humanity (and life forms in general, but especially humans), what better way to get rid of them than start a long con? Because that’s basically what this is! By derailing Darwin, humans eventually stay on Roundworld too long and never get to the point where they’re supposed to leave Earth, and then POOF! Extinct.



So: we’ve got a grand scheme in place to wipe out humanity over the course of multiple centuries, and this ends up being the means by which Cohen and Stewart discuss what causality and changing history actually entails. (GNU Jack Cohen.) And obviously, this is a hard subject to talk about because we can’t, like… test it? There’s no real way to demonstrate what changing history actually does! However, I really appreciated that the authors guided the reader through this lesson by grounding us first in the fictional world. Today, I learned what a consistent invention and an inconsistent invention is, and those are SUPER GREAT TERMS for someone like me, who at some point is going to write the kind of speculative fiction that’ll make me think about these sort of things. 

From this point, though, I got to learn about divergence and the theory that some scientists hold that our universe is constantly diverging into new universes based on every action taken by every party imaginable. (Which got me thinking about how many universe diverged from my own based on every word that I typed into this application, and it took a whole ten seconds for my brain to feel like it was going to short-circuit, so I stopped that real quick.) But I’m more inclined to believe the theories that Stewart and Cohen bring up, namely that:

If live is ‘easy’ to originate (and the evidence does look that way) then this isn’t an exercise in going back and killing your grandfather, or if it is, your grandfather is a vampire and doesn’t remain killed. If live is easy to invent, then preventing it happening once, or a million times, will make no difference in the long run. The same process that generated it will happen again. 

And those of us who are genre fans have seen ideas like this play out in the realm of stories. I’m thinking namely of Doctor Who, where certain things are a fixed point in time, and no matter what you try to do to change them, time has a way of repairing itself. Which isn’t really what this is discussing, but more that, given a certain set of rules, there are certain inevitabilities, parochial themes and evolutions that are bound to occur. (“Large-scale themes,” as called by the text.) 

So, I’m expecting that the second half of this chapter will largely address what is at the end of the first section: How does causality actually work? If it’s not a “thin string, a linear chain of events, link following link following link,” then what is it? And do our actions change the course of history, or are they blips of nothing in a deep ocean of time?

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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