Mark Reads ‘The Science of Discworld IV’: Chapter 6

In the sixth chapter of Judgment Day, I get to discuss the intersection of magic, storytelling, and science. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Science of Discworld IV.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of grief, death

Hi, friends. I’m back.

I spoke a bit more about this on video—the first Mark Reads video I have made in weeks—but just wanted to include a note of thanks here at the beginning, too. So: thank you. Suffice to say these weeks have been terribly, terribly difficult, and there’s still a part of me that wants to never leave my home again, never write another word, but this is me trying. Trying to regain this part of my life back. Thank you dearly for the words of support, for those who donated to Baize’s family, to myself, and for being so graciously patient as I tried to find some semblance of normalcy amidst heartbreak and chaos. I cannot overstate how thankful I am to have all of you to come back to. I know what a big deal it is.

So, once more: thank you.

And with that said, let’s jump back into The Science of Discworld IV. Which I’ve found to be a relatively easy thing to do, since I was not very far along in this book when I took my hiatus. Even better, I think it was good luck that I am beginning here with a Roundworld section rather than a Discworld one. Though even that story is just at the beginning, too! All this to say: this was a nice place to continue reading at. Not super, super dense in terms of science, and it’s got a whole lot of interesting things to say about how we perceive technology and science as humans. It got me thinking about something I’ve discussed in another context, but still fits here. It is sometimes very surreal to see how quickly the world is developing and changing. I feel like technology was slow to improve and was adapted at a similar pace until the mid 2000s, and since then, it’s just been an explosion, so much so that it’s hard to keep up with what’s changing. I can’t believe high-definition televisions that are enormous are now cheap. Well, relatively speaking, I should say. I never thought I would own more than one computer; I have an iPad, a smart phone, a Switch, and a whole host of technological advances at my disposal that have all been folded into my life. 

And twenty years ago, all this shit would have seemed like magic to me. I know the authors use this example for someone from much longer ago, but even just TWO DECADES in human life, the world has changed drastically. It really is hard to wrap my mind around it all, you know? Though I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the authors that you can split this experience into the binary that they do. Especially since the binary is just between people who are “scientists” and those who are “religious people.” I’ve nitpicked this before, but I think it’s worth bringing up again because I don’t actually see how this bolsters the point the authors eventually make. To an outsider, a lot of science probably DOES seem like magic. I consider myself a pretty big non-believer, but there’s a lot of scientific stuff I don’t understand, won’t understand, and just write off as scientific magic, basically. So I don’t think the split really works.

But let’s talk about how this leads the authors to the idea of causality and determinism, as that’s something that’s been on my mind a lot. I really did enjoy this section a great deal, and we’ve definitely addressed the notions of the Many Worlds theory, alternate universes, and the nature of the passage of time. Here, though, it was hard not to think about a number of conversations I’ve had with friends this past month and a half. More than ever before, the very nature of causality has been something we’re all obsessing over. When someone dies tragically and suddenly, it’s hard not to. So, is there a world where this didn’t happen? Did one single decision lead to the event happening? I found this statement really helpful to read:

Enough to say that there is not any single cause of any event; it is almost always truer to declare that all of the preceding events contribute, than to point to one cause. 

And isn’t that exactly what the authors claim we do? We’re humans. We try to understand life in a linear manner, with an appreciation for what a story does. Things happen in order, one after another. And while that is true in the most general sense, reducing life to such a simplicity isn’t fair to the complexity of life. It’s so much more than that. So maybe it’s not a universe full of every possibility, branching off at each split, and maybe it’s not all deterministic either. I think a great deal of us struggle with this very notion, and we’ll continue struggling with it until we, too, perish. Because we just don’t know. There is so much to this life that’s unexplained, that is a terrifying but intriguing mystery. Yet knowing about how much uncertainty and mystery I’ve experienced recently, I like that I got to come back to this, to an exploration of that mystery, all of which is an attempt to understand our university. Causality and technology are marvelous, confusing things, but there’s some comfort in being able to explore all the complicated twists and turns that you find in these concepts. If you’ll excuse the pun, it feels pretty damn magical.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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