Mark Reads ‘The Science of Discworld IV’: Chapter 22, Part I

In the first half of the twenty-second chapter of Judgment Day, I learn whether or not humanity and life are special. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Science of Discworld IV. 

I was indeed raised to believe that humanity was special. Like the authors point out in this chapter, it’s a hard notion to disprove, especially since we lack so much evidence. As it stands, we have not discovered life anywhere else in the universe, though I believe there’s some slight evidence that maybe there was life on other planets. (Perhaps Mars? I recall a story from the last year or two, but I can’t remember the details.) As a kid, this was used as proof that the universe was designed by God and that we humans were placed here on Earth by God as well. From there… well, it all varies. Some religions teach that we need to accept the incredible privilege this is and to take care of the planet we are on because this shit is special. Others veer into a darker territory, and I’ve met fundamental Christians who truly believe we can do whatever we want to the planet because God intended us to. If we weren’t supposed to use fossil fuels, why are they there? (A fun, but ultimately frustrating game could be played here: try to get those same people to admit what fossil fuels were and where they came from. Often, these same type of Christians think the world is only a few thousand years old and that dinosaurs are either fake or lived just before Adam and Eve. So… yeah. That was a thing.)

Once again: I wish I had information like this when I was younger and did not have the words or the wisdom to counter the brainwashing that was forced upon me. Actually, not just for that purpose, but in general, I think it’s fantastic to be able to learn about this sort of stuff! We don’t all have to be scientists to understand the basic principles, and as dense as the science got towards the end of this split, I found pretty much all of this very coherent. There’s a great trip through history and Copernican principles. I learned that William of Ockham’s philosophical principle is WAY older than I thought it was. (I thought it was from the 18th century, not the 15th century.) And I learned how we, as humans, came to understand that our human-centered view of our system was flawed. (That’s a lot of spherical orbits, by the way.) (I don’t know why, but the idea of the M31 galaxy “whizzing” all the way around the Earth is extremely funny to me.)

As it stands, I don’t believe in the Strong Anthropic Principle, and I am not even sure I believed it as a kid. I performed that belief, but there was a part of me as a kid that was sure that what I was being fed wasn’t exactly true. Which is a weird thing when I give it thought, and I definitely have over the years. How did I know? What was it about my upbringing that triggered that instinct in me? I’ve tried to trace my beliefs backwards, and truthfully, it’s a huge thematic element of my next book. Emotionally, though, I wonder if I rejected the notion that humanity was special because I didn’t feel special. Granted, that’s a REAL dark thought; I acknowledge that. But how could a God create a world so perfectly designed for humans, and yet I felt so imperfect? How did those two pieces match up with one another?

I know that’s not a scientific analysis at all, but I like to think that the emotional basis of it has some relevance here. I think what we might consider “designed” is because of our relative position. It is so easier to look back and assume not that pieces fell into place over hundreds and thousands and millions of years, but that they were always this way, that it all happened specifically for us. And maybe pan narrans  takes over here, and we spin a story about our place in the universe because it just feels good, not because it’s necessarily true. It’s not always a bad thing, and I realize as a storyteller that pan narrans is who I am and who I’m probably going to be for the rest of my life. 

There’s a lot I don’t know. A whole lot. And reading these Science books exposes me to new ideas, corrects misconceptions I have had, and sometimes ventures into territory that is deeply confusing and hard to understand. But that’s a good thing. I want to greet new information with my arms spread wide, with my heart and mind open to accept that our understand of the universe is going to constantly change. My own life has changed a million times over in my thirty-six years; I can deal with some more. Hell, I welcome it most of the time. 

Anyway, just some thoughts on Anthropic Principles and learning! Onwards I go, friends; there are only two more of these reviews before we move on to Raising Steam, which I am still ignorant about. 

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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