Mark Reads ‘The Science of Discworld IV’: Chapter 10, Part I

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

I know I’ve spoken openly about my religious upbringing before, and we’re looping back around to it again here. There’s an interesting space between what I was taught and what I felt was true, that even now I can recognize being so much more complicated than I acknowledged growing up. I wasn’t motivated to believe what I was taught because it was right, because it made sense, or because there was rigorous data to support it. It was almost entirely fear-based education. (And I really hesitate to quantify dogmatic brainwashing as “education,” but you get what I mean.) I believed what I did—and did so poorly—because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t believe it. Which truly sounds as messed up as it was now that I’m typing it out that plainly!

So when it came to the origins of the world and life here on Earth, I “believed” in the creation myth, but only in the most public, demonstrable ways. Internally? Whew, I was a hot mess. None of it made sense to me. I had a million questions, many of which I sought answers to through the library, since I wasn’t allowed to read “those” books at home. So, coming with that sort of history into this chapter means that I feel weirdly comforted that scientists, especially those who have devoted their careers to the specific issue of the origin of life, also have no fucking idea what actually happened. They have much more complicated questions than I do, of course, but even those basic ones still crop up here. Where did this all come from? Why do certain lifeforms exist? Why do we live the way that we do? What came before us?

This is also one of those chapters in the Science series where I learned a LOT. I am very thankful for Jack Cohen’s metaphor of “painting a picture,” first of all. It’s such a great way to counter the idea that everything must have “tidily distinguished stages.” And then the whole bit with thunderstorms and gamma rays and antimatter? WHAT THE FUCK, Y’ALL. I truly did not know any of this, and my mind was BLOWN. That shit is COOL AS HELL. But it also demonstrates the authors’ point so well: we summarize things to attempt to understand them, yet the entire world is a million times more complicated than we often acknowledge. Which I didn’t take as a bad thing! We all can’t know everything all the time, and that’s why there are specialists. (And not just in science, obviously.) 

The other big thing I learned involves the authors learning as well! I really, really love that this book commits to what the series has put forth over and over again: science works because it constantly challenges itself and, ideally, is willing to admit when it is wrong. There are multiple “updates” in the this chapter about information put forth in previous books, like the theories of the origin of the moon. That commitment makes this a better book, since we’re seeing this standard on display. Plus, well over ten years passed between the publishing of the first Science book and this one, and in that time, we learned more. So, the Theia theory put forth doesn’t hold quite the same weight as it did thirteen years prior. And I bet the theories discussed in the midst of this chapter won’t be as viable in thirteen more years. (Also, I hate this whole 2020 thing, because in my head, 2013 was just a few years ago. IT WAS SEVEN YEARS AGO, WHAT THE FUCK.) Hopefully, we continue to question what we know by accepting that we basically don’t know. It’s a humbling thought, but it works for me.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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