Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Pan narrans?

Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen suggest that Homo sapiens is misclassification. In its place, they suggest Pan narrans, the third chimpanzee; literally, 'the storytelling ape'. They do admit, though, that while we have 98% of our DNA in common with chimpanzees, we also have more than 40% of it in common with cabbages. Perhaps, they say, DNA doesn't mean all that much then. They still seem happy to classify us as the third chimpanzee, though. The Science of Discworld II: The Globe presents many interesting ideas, but as a whole I didn't find it's logic desperately convincing. I sill learned a lot from it.

If you've been paying attention, you might be saying 'Hang on, if you're talking about a Discworld book, Terry Pratchett should come into it somewhere.' (You might not, but it's easier to write this post if I imagine you are, so just play along, please?) Indeed, Terry Prachett is the biggest name emblazoned on the front cover and he's certainly endorsing the science in it, but I don't think he wrote more than half the book. I'm sure he wrote the part about the faculty of Unseen University. I'm not so sure about the non-fiction part. Prose that reads like this(!) seems out of character for a man who makes beautiful comments about the relationship between insanity and multiple exclamation mark usage, or who wrote 'he could think in italics'. So I'm ascribing those thoughts, along with the prose to Cohen and Stewart.

It's not awful prose (in fact it's mostly quite good), but it's not very Pratchettian. Since I"m comfortable criticising their prose, it leads me to criticise their logic. I don't think they've really shown anything about Pan narrans. There are some fascinating ideas but not very much in the way of plot. So I think I'll be sticking with Homo sapiens for now.

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