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26 February, 2006

It's in here somewhere...

These carbon-based data storage/display devices are great for most purposes, but books could do with a decent search utility.  Maybe in version 2.

I've been reading 'The Science of Discworld' (Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart & Jack Cohen, 1999) this week, which alternates chapters of a Discworld story with chapters on corresponding topics of popular science. Following the 'narrative' from the Big Bang to the evolution of the Earth and life upon it, it's a very readable introduction to key scientific concepts. It has no patience with creationism, but isn't strident about that; arguments are clearly made explaining that there's no reason to think external intervention was ever necessary – not saying that intervention was impossible, but that the outcome can be fully explained without it. There are no gaps where the religious could cry "Aha! That has to have been consciously designed!"
Conversely, comparison of 'Roundworld' (us), which functions according to scientific 'rules', with Discworld, which runs on narrative imperative, highlights humanity's need for stories.

Somewhere in the book there's a good analogy which makes the idea of a soul, able to transcend physical death, faintly ridiculous, but without the ability to seach for the word 'eggbeater' I don't have much chance of finding it again.

Hang on; I have a slightly photographic memory, and remember the passage's relative location: top of a left-hand page, itself the final page of a 'science' chapter... found it!

It is curious that the strongest believers in the soul tend to be people who denigrate material things; yet they then turn their philosophy on its head by insisting that when an evident process – life – comes to an end, there has to be a thing that continues. No. When a process stops, it's no longer 'there'. When you stop beating an egg, there isn't some pseudo-material essence of eggbeater that passes on to something else. You just aren't turning the handle any more.
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