In the sixteenth and seventeenth chapters of Darwin’s Watch, we talk determinism and Rincewind’s mistake. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Science of Discworld III.
So, are our lives determined?
It’s hard to answer that question being in my head and my head only. There are times when I have felt like some outside force is guiding me through life, but in hindsight, I was younger, and I was struggling with the concept of systemic ills. Why is it that I went through so many difficult things in my teenage years and my 20s? Was my life a determined set of events that I would have to go through in order to see if I’d make it out the other side? That assumes a lot about who set up such things and how life can be determined if the outcomes of these events did nothing to affect the next major event. But it also falls into the mistake that this chapter addresses: Our lives do not occur in a straight line. (I mean, my life has never been straight AYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY). The case made by Cohen and Stewart is compelling, too, since it helped me appreciate the sheer complexity of human existence.
Yet even before we get to that point, there’s so much cool shit here. Like having it spelled out that there was not a single ancestor that we could trace our lineage back to. It’s another important detail I wish I had when I was younger because you hear it so much from anti-evolution people. WE DON’T HAVE SINGLE ANCESTORS. We have a complex network of species that all contributed to what we would eventually become. Quote:
There wasn’t a single grandfather fish, or one grandfather primate, no thin line of descent, just as there isn’t a thin line of causality leading from a butterfly’s wing flap to a hurricane. Nearly any fish you went back and killed would make virtually no difference to history. We’d still be here, but history would have taken a slightly different route to get to us.
BAD. ASS. And I love this phrase—“maze of tiny causalities”—because that’s actually what’s unfolding at any given moment, right? It’s not a single event followed by another single event, all with single, large causalities at work. Plus, HUMAN BRAINS ARE RIDICULOUS. Some days, I hate mine—why won’t you ever just REST, please take a NAP—but honestly, it can do some incredible things. That’s sort of the point. Humans are almost entirely unique in the ways we process information, on how we can make decisions based on imagined scenarios that are compiled of data from our experiences and things we’ve learned, and we frequently use these composite imagined things to decide what we’re gonna do about almost EVERYTHING.
So: do we have free will?
Is this all determined?
Does it even matter?
It’s a fascinating philosophical issue, but I enjoyed the focus in chapter sixteen. The “causal maze” we live in is so deeply complicated that I don’t know how I’d ever answer that question myself. If only “large” events are determined, does that mean I have free will between them? I think the clue is in the wizards’ solution. Almost everything they’re doing is subtle and tiny, and that’s by design. They are affecting causality in a thousand tiny ways because that’s how it works. So, Darwin is still making choices, even if the universe is frequently changing around him, you know?
Except I’ve said all this, and chapter seventeen went and delivered a HUGE plot twist. So, back in chapter 15, I wondered if writing instructions on a piece of paper was a bad idea, only because Pennysmart was about to be dropped into a very wet place. I did not think, “Hey, maybe they shouldn’t take something from their world that could be left behind.”
BECAUSE DARWIN JUST ACCIDENTALLY GOT RETRIEVED BY HEX. DARWIN IS GOING TO BE AT UNSEEN UNIVERSITY. Oh my god, my first thought is that the Auditors are going to flip out, right??? Secondly: RINCEWIND IS A GREAT PIRATE, I FULLY SUPPORT HIM AND HIS CATCHPRHASES. Third: Holy shit, the Auditors believe there are no rules in the Roundworld??? Well, no wonder they’re so keen on doing whatever the fuck they want, which included nearly wiping Rincewind out of existence. (Thank you, Luggage, for coming along!) So, if they have no problem invading Roundworld, are they going to just ignore the rules on the Disc?
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