2. Dark Orbit - To Observe is to Change

2

There are several themes at work in this book - two in particular stood out for me. The strongest is the idea that to understand something is to destroy it, a concept that comes from particle physics, but that Thora Lassiter also relates it to her expertise in learning systems: "To perceive, describe, explain: these are the essence of discovery. "I don't know" does not constitute learning. And yet, what happens when we encounter something so genuinely outside our previous experience that we have no mental categories for it, and the only truthful statement is "I don't know"? Why, we liken it to something we do know, however bad the analogy. We apply rules to it that lie within our experience. We resist incomprehension as reflexively as we recoil from pain."

Does this ring true for you? How was it applied to the story? Can you relate it to your own experiences?

Comments

  • 2

    I think there's two things going on here. One is our need to make mental models of things, using stories and metaphors to understand the world ("Oh, it's a forest"). That means our understanding of new things is based on what we relate it to. That, I think, is the thrust of the quote you gave.

    The other thing is that a system (e.g. an unconatacted culture) is changed by the very process of culture. When outsiders come to Torobe, their presence changes the people and culture there. That's what Sara was concerned about with the speed of interaction: there were things about Torobe she would never know because they'd have changed before she could study them.

  • 2

    Yes. At one point Ashok say: "We're all corroborationists. We've all come here to confirm our preconceptions. Some of us want to confirm that analytical thinking is best. Others want to confirm theories about how life evolves. But you know what? We're all going to be right. Because Iris is going to be exactly what we all came here to find".

    This aspect of the book reminded me of a discussion that started here at the club over another book, and that reared itself in the Lyonesse discussion as well - that the reader of a book can alter the meaning of the book by her preconceptions. Which means it's not just the writer who is responsible for the message. Both the creator and the observer have a stake.

  • 1

    Predictably I really appreciated the fact that quantum mechanical thinking (observation inevitably alters a system, often in uncontrollable ways) permeated the whole book. LIke @NeilNjae I thought the "forest" business was very striking - the things didn't really look in the least like trees, but were pigeonholed that way by the observers who then (re)interpreted the rest of the world to fit around that assumption.
    Equally, the quote you started with highlights that to do anything we have to make such assumptions and categorisations, however inappropriate they might be. "We resist incomprehension as reflexively as we recoil from pain" is a great summary.
    I want to go back to the various scientific camps (eg corroborationists) at some point in case it doesn't emerge in the other discussion starters.

  • 1
    edited February 8

    @Apocryphal said:

    This aspect of the book reminded me of a discussion that started here at the club over another book, and that reared itself in the Lyonesse discussion as well - that the reader of a book can alter the meaning of the book by her preconceptions. Which means it's not just the writer who is responsible for the message. Both the creator and the observer have a stake.

    Indeed. I believe this is why we can diverge significantly on liking a book or not. Its not only our preconceptions that filter our reading experience but also our wants and needs in the period during which we read a book. For example my first read of LOTR was a mind blowing revelation...now not so much. I'm a different person from who I was at 14 years old.

    Also, current knowledge can alter our experience. When I read West of Eden, which was a book club read in the Roludo period, the new avian theories about the origine of dinosaurs were not widely known. I enjoyed the book immensely but by the time the book club read it these theories were now very public which spoiled the book. When reading such books you have to put your historian hat on. It's very difficult to do for near-past books.

  • 1

    I'm curious about the scientific camps. At this point I couldn't even tell you what separates them.

  • 3

    I enjoyed the scientific underpinnings of the book and how it built on existing physics weirdness to create interesting sci fi situations. I think that was the strongest aspect of the book.

  • 1

    @Keith said:
    I enjoyed the scientific underpinnings of the book and how it built on existing physics weirdness to create interesting sci fi situations. I think that was the strongest aspect of the book.

    I liked that too: I could at least see how there was a vaguely plausible connection from our current understanding to what happened in the book. I also liked that different approaches to science/knowing were represented, even if (like @Apocryphal ) I couldn't tell you what they were. I thought that as a nice piece of world-building.

  • 2
    The scientific camps remind a little of the warring scientific disciplines and grand unifier in Voyage of the Space Beagle. The book thankfully didn't go in that direction, though at one stage I feared it might.

    I did like the way the connection came through in at least two ways... In the theme of cultural contamination, and in the way wending worked. Both that it wasn't possible when observed, and that the image of the traveller was changed by the mind of the receiver. It makes me wonder how the wender was changed travelling somewhere truly alien.

    Actually, three ways... as mentioned the forest. Which as well as leading up to the other big themes of the book, worked as an analogy for the act of reading a book. Anyway, this was nice.
  • 2

    West of Eden sounds pretty cool, @MARCC .

    In hindsight, I probably should have picked up on the "forest for the trees" metaphor.

    This discussion makes me think of the concept of "grok" from Stranger in a Strange Land, where to grok is to drink, which is to understand in fullness. So something can't be understood without observing it, which is much different here.

  • 1
    > @rossum said:
    > This discussion makes me think of the concept of "grok" from Stranger in a Strange Land, where to grok is to drink, which is to understand in fullness. So something can't be understood without observing it, which is much different here.

    I like that analogy, but isn't it more of a refinement of that rather than contrast? The whole point of the mission in the first place is to observe... like Schrodinger's cat if you don't observe at all then you can't say anything definite about the state of the system.
    But here we see the flip side as well, that the state of system (and observer, though this is not always considered) is inevitably changer by the interaction. Certainly the characters of Stranger in a Strange Land are altered by events and the extent to which they grok them.
  • 2

    @RichardAbbott I shall have to re-read Stranger in a Strange Land. It's been a looooong while. I suppose the quantum uncertainties in real science are a refinement of the state of science when Stranger was written.

Sign In or Register to comment.