Mark Reads ‘The Science of Discworld IV’ – Chapter 14, Part II / Chapter 15

In the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters of Judgment Day, I learn an important distinction, and the tribunal begins. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld. 

Okay, so I remembered something I learned back when I was in school, and the opening part of this split immediately destroyed it. So, I referenced this a bit on video, but I was taught that the main difference between Darwin and Lamarck was in how they saw evolution happening. I distinctly recall the use of the long neck of the giraffe as a demonstration of Lamarck’s theory: that features could be directly passed on to offspring. In particular, because the neck of the giraffe somehow got longer, the giraffe passed that on to their offspring, and that’s how evolution occurred. Granted, that’s a TERRIBLE summary of it, but the basic idea is there: if a new skill or physiological feature is “acquired,” then it is passed on to offspring. The blacksmith example the authors use is much better at explaining this. Thus, Lamarck was “wrong” about his theory, and now we accept Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

Except then this book makes a brilliant case for that not quite describing anything, and there is an element to Lamarck’s theory that manages to get closer to what actually happens. As the authors put it:

…the old distinction between Lamarck and Darwin has lost its power to distinguish technical from organic evolution. 

And then we’re given the dual examples of the okapi and the plecs, AND MY MIND WAS BLOWN. Y’all, I love getting to learn shit like this. So, Lamarck’s theory had some basis in truth, as changed animal behavior can become the root of an evolutionary change. Exaptation! I learned a thing! The same goes for the example using VHS tapes and Betamax to explain that evolution doesn’t always follow a predictable path. Again:

As in natural ecologies, it often happens that a less-adapted, often foreign, invader exploits the ecosystem more effectively, forcing the demise of well-established local species.

I bet each of us has heard of this happening in our lifetimes; I know that one such invasion occurred near the wildlife preserve where I grew up. The invader? Bamboo. There were these massive, incredibly dense groves of BAMBOO near the Santa Ana River that constantly had to be cut back because they so quickly overgrew the area and threatened the entire ecosystem. I didn’t think a near-desert climate in Southern California was the perfect place for bamboo to grow, but it THRIVED. I will say that will I loved this point, I think the parallel between the grey squirrel and Spanish conquistadors was… ill-made? Like, I get that the authors were trying to say that both “invaders” carried diseases that killed indigenous life, but there was a more purposeful and intentional destruction on the part of the Spanish here. The analogy falls apart real quick once you examine it. 

Anyway, otherwise: the science chapter here was a lot of fun. I didn’t know what potoroos were either, so hello to THAT cute creature that’s now a new favorite. Seriously, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos about them before I wrote this review, and now I’m certain my video recommendations are all going to be animal videos. I’m okay with that.

Thus, it was a treat that the Discworld chapter ended up being just as exciting (perhaps more!) as the science chapter. (It’s hard to compete with potoroos, so bravo.) Y’all, THE TRIBUNAL HAS STARTED. And now, the initial arguments of the plaintiffs have been made, and lord, I wasn’t ready for this. First, though, I do love that we’re getting so much of Vetinari in this book. His appearance here places him in between genuine interest and annoyance. He is intrigued by the arguments that are going to be made, but he also realizes that there’s not really anything criminal going on here, so the whole thing is a bit perplexing. But also: HE GETS A GAVEL. I would also like to have the power of a gavel someday. 

Once this begins… oh, I should have seen this coming. All of the time spent discussing the origin and shape of our world has come to fruition, because as it turns out, the Omnians (at least this more recent incarnation of them) believe that the Discworld is actually round and that it doesn’t rest on elephants standing on the back of a turtle. It does not matter that people have seen the creatures with their own two eyes, or that countless people have been to the Rim and ostensibly seen the water spilling over the side. It does not matter that there is evidence to the contrary. The Reverend Mister Stackpole has his ideas about the universe, and they are right, and clearly, it is absurd to assume otherwise. As far as I can tell, he has no interest in compromise, and he’s certainly not willing to even entertain the notion that he might be wrong about… well, anything.

Granted, we only get the plaintiff’s opening remarks, but I am guessing this trial is going to visit a lot of the same misconceptions and faulty logic that the authors discussed in the science section. And I also don’t think it’s going to work. Something tells me that Vetinari isn’t going to take too kindly to being told that the evidence of the Disc being flat is wrong.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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