Mark Reads ‘The Science of Discworld IV’: Chapter 20, Part II / Chapter 21

In the twentieth and twenty-first chapters of Judgment Day, I learn of the evolutionary need for beliefs, and Marjorie gets the world thrown at her head. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Science of Discworld IV.

Look, it’s true, isn’t it??? SHUSH.

So, let’s begin with some science! I would love to read a longer piece about the cultural differences in the amount of belief. The authors make mention of the fact that Americans, on the whole, are a lot more religious than Britain. Which I don’t doubt! That feels right to me and aligns with what I’ve seen and experienced living in the States. But why is that? How is that my country has clung to religious belief so strenuously? I don’t know the answer to it! I bet you could find part of the answer in history, other parts in sociology, and even then, I assume the answer is deeply complicated. The chapter doesn’t focus on this, though, but goes in a very interesting direction by stating that it isn’t actually bad in and of itself to HAVE beliefs. Indeed, that’s probably what helped humans survive for so very long! I loved learning the distinction between System 1 and System 2 thinking, as well as how they fit into this idea of survival. Because both have their merits, one for the more immediate future, but one for more long-term survival. Depending on the context, of course.

And that context complicates matters, and the authors also run us through the idea that our brains are kinda like Bayesian decision machines. WHICH WAS ALL VERY COOL TO READ ABOUT. Because we make decisions based on beliefs, and those beliefs come from a wide variety of sources: our parents. Our direct community. Our larger society. Our experiences. And that last one is important because it helped me understand why the authors put forth this idea of the Bayesian decision machine. Intuition and prior probabilities combine in our minds to create a fascinating decision-making device. OUR BRAINS ARE SO COOL. And really, that UFO belief example was so helpful in demonstrating this all. As the text puts it:

So Bayesion inference does not disprove the existence of UFOs: instead, it quantifies the view that ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.’ And a photo isn’t extraordinary enough.

Fox Mulder has something to say about that. 

From here, the book moves into the big moment of the case of Roundworld: The surprise appearance of a last-second “witness.” AND WHAT A SURPRISE THIS WAS. It’s been ages since we’ve seen Pastor Mightily Oats on the page. (He was mentioned a lot in recent books.) Here, he arrives to IMMEDIATELY dunk on the Latter-Day Omnians and their misguided and un-true beliefs. Y’all, I know I said this on video, but WOW. He changed so much since his first appearance in Small Gods, and it’s a delight to see him move into the future with the bulk of his religion. (As far as I understand it, most Omnians are far more progressive than their more round-earth believers.) (That is such an odd sentence to type but it literally is true here.) He also carries a lot of social weight with him! He’s generally liked by the populace, so bravo on Vetinari; he summoned Pastor Oats, knowing the effect he would have on the gathered crowd.

That being said: I did not expect Stackpole to literally summon Om to the tribunal. I can tell that Pratchett had a blast writing this, too. One of the biggest gods on the whole Disc shows up, and, even more voraciously than Oats, dunks on Stackpole. OVER AND OVER AGAIN. Because Stackpole is wrong! What’s telling, though (and what I should have expected, given what much of this book has discussed) is that Stackpole openly admits that it was never really about the truth. Or what’s right. It’s more about what the Latter-Day Omnians want to be right. And this case: it’s them. Reality doesn’t matter, because when you blaspheme the church, that act is now the most important thing. It’s a weird circular logic that I am very much familiar with, especially from arguments I had as a kid and a teenager. I remember trying to push back on so many things, like original sin or the afterlife or the hierarchy of punishments. (Meaning: which sins were worse? Which deserved a worse punishment?) And logic did not matter in these conversations. What mattered was the other party convincing me; there was no real conversation happening. That’s the same thing here in this chapter. Stackpole wasn’t interested in a real case or a conversation or listening to the evidence. He had one goal: to defeat the “infidels” and to fight for what he and his followers wanted.

And when they couldn’t get it because Vetinari decided against them? They were clearly prepared for this possibility, weren’t they? Because they STOLE IT. Those hooded figures were way too ready for this. I love that Marjorie’s librarian instincts kicked in, and a “valuable volume” was just stolen, so clearly, she must get it back! Even then, I see that final act—throwing Roundworld at Marjorie with the intent of harming her—to be exactly in line with these people and their beliefs.

If they can’t have it, then no one can.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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