Mark Reads ‘The Science of Discworld 4’: Chapter 2, Part I

In the first half of the second chapter of Judgment Day, I get to talk about particles colliding. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Science of Discworld.

And now it’s time to get into some science! I was so excited to find out that I was right in assuming that the Great Big Thing was a reference (partially) to the Large Hadron Collider. I had the absolute pleasure to visit CERN while in Geneva on the Mark Does Stuff tour of 2015. (Shout out to Allison!!! You made mine and Meg’s whole trip with this experience.) Look, you might have a vague sense of the size of the place from the authors’ descriptions, but it’s truly mind-boggling how large CERN is, as well as the Collider itself. And I only saw the tiniest part of it!!! 

I count that experience as one of the most memorable things I’ve ever done because I do love learning more about this world. It’s cool to see something that’s always been a concept in my mind. Seeing photos of CERN and the LHC isn’t the same as looking in on it, or seeing the massive bank of supercomputers that help process all the information that the detectors pick up. It’s a lot!!! So I’m glad I had that before I read this chapter. Aside from this, much of this chapter took me back to my chemistry education in high school. I have only referenced this a few times over the years, but there’s only been one other career that I thought of pursuing aside from writing. I was obsessed with Dana Scully and wanted to become a forensic pathologist. Thus, early in high school, I did a lot of science in anticipation of going to medical school so I could continue on this path. Fortunately for me, I figured out that I can’t actually do half of what is required by forensic pathologists? I’m too squeamish! (How that never occurred to me before having to dissect a pig is BEYOND me. Scully did that shit all the time on the show.) But I took all but one of the AP science courses at my school, and I actually do remember learning a lot of what’s in this chapter! Not everything, mind you, as there’s some stuff here that hadn’t made it to high school honors/AP curriculums in the late 90s. Obviously, I also haven’t revisited a lot of this stuff, so I don’t want to give off the feeling that I was super knowledgable about all of this, but I wasn’t really lost at all! All the stories around the Higgs boson also helped me feel prepared for this as well; the authors are definitely right in that some Great Big Things gain momentum because of how dramatic the stories are that we tell about them.

Thankfully, the world did not end when the Large Hadron Collider was turned on. (Or did it? Everything has felt very strange since then…..) But this was a really cool journey through some concepts I actually knew about. I was also a fan of the section about perception, context, and humanity. I’m wondering aloud here if this is the pretext for a larger conversation in the book, one that’s also informed by the epigraph and the title of the book. Are humans the context for the universe or the other way around? As I’ve written about many times before, I was raised to believe that the universe was created for us, that everything is right as it should be. (Which, I’m sure you can see, led to some deeply damaging feelings about myself and the “imperfections” I was told I had.) Seriously, can y’all see why I was so drawn to the character of Dana Scully??? I often struggled with many of the issues of faith and science that she did over the course of the show.

So how are these things going to pop up in the Discworld sections of the book???

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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