Science of Discworld 2

Let’s get one thing right: I love me some Discworld, all the time. Except the first 2. And the kids ones. Actually, more especially, I love the ones where TP gets all allegorical up on our asses. Except the last couple. Going Postal? Do I really need a history of the post office? Well maybe. And I always found Rincewind highly irritating (even as played by David Jason).

Anyway, I’m straying from my point. Which is that this is a good book. But it doesn’t have a lot of good jokes in. And the mix between fantasy and science is patchy. I guess what I really want from this book is just the science. I don’t think that the wizards arsing about fighting elves adds much illumination, and it doesn’t add that much humour.

In case you’re interested, it’s a history of the development of the human mind, which is a fascinating subject. I have several books on it, and I don’t think I’ve ever read all of the way through one. It’s certainly easy to digest. And, at the risk of sounding smug, quite a lot of the ideas are pretty close to how I had imagined things (OK, the brain) work. Except for the bits where I was way off. Like emergent dynamics – I was a touch Laplacian in that I was under the impression that with a good enough idea of initial conditions, you could model anything, whereas it is in fact almost completely impossible to do this. There’s apparently no way of knowing where Pluto will be in 100 million years, and we can model the motion of planets (and not quite planets, sorry Pluto) pretty accurately compared to neurons.

Amazon: SoD2: The Globe

Also, I learned that elephants may have evolved by going back to sea, developing their trunk as a snorkel, and then coming back onto land. Where else are you going to find that kind of fact*? (Hint: not Dawkin’s The Ancestor’s Tale – for all its brilliant facts, it doesn’t have that.)


See also:

Jared Diamond, The Third Chimpanzee, which covers similar ground (and is in the bibliography)

The Bloomsbury Book of The Mind, which I have dipped into, and found interesting but hard to follow

David Lodge, Thinks…, which also covers similar ground, but from a more novellists are the true explorers of the mind point of view.


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