Study Guide

Nation Science

By Terry Pratchett


Scientists were nothing but people who asked silly questions. (4.23)

Or so says Daphne's grandmother. We're not sure what she has against critical thinking, since if scientists didn't ask these "silly questions" we'd still think the sun revolved around us.

Mau looked into himself and found questions, and the only answers seemed to be "because," and because was no answer at all. (6.235)

Pilu looks into himself and finds a happy little soul. Poor Mau only finds questions—he's a scientist without realizing it. Scientists aren't willing to take "because" as an answer; they try to find the reasons for the unexplainable.

I haven't hit [Pilu] or even raised my hand. I've just tried to make him think differently, and now he's scared. Of thinking. (6.255)

Mau tries to show Pilu another side of the gods—an angry, vengeful side, one that's contrary to Pilu's beliefs. But the scariest part? Learning something new. Most people have a hard time learning information that contradicts what they've always believed.

Then [Daphne] tested her conclusion, like a proper scientist would. [...] Now she had a working hypothesis. (6.265)

Daphne's trying to figure out the scientific purpose of the beer song—and she does. But does it really matter if the people of Nation believe that it works by magic? (Our iPads might as well be magic to us.)

"You have to learn to make things when it's cold for half the year." (9.160)

This is Daphne's explanation for why Northerners (like Europeans) invent things and people on tropical islands do not. Maybe islanders only invent things they really need. If you lived on a beautiful beach, would you need a Shake Weight?

"Thin little blades of papervine had bound the red thunder in." (13.82)

Mau comes up with the brilliant idea of using a plant to patch a cracked cannon. Maybe the gods are smiling on him after all. Or maybe it's just science. Or a little bit of both? Are science and magic always opposed?

"I can't deny what I see, but I can question what it is." (10.91)

Ataba sees the statue of the gods as a sign—of something. Mau sees it as a mystery to be solved, wondering how it got there and who made it. This is another big rift between science and religion, the way Nation sees it: religion generally doesn't stand for all that questioning.

"Some of [the Royal Society members] don't get on with priests at all. But they search for answers." (12.64)

The Royal Society is a group of scientific thinkers, like Sir Isaac Newton. Perhaps the two groups—scientists and priests—don't get along because they come to different conclusions about the exact same questions—and yet they're equally passionate about what they believe in.

"It's science. [...] 'Could have' isn't good enough. [...] A lot of people will try to prove you wrong. The more they fail, the more right you will become." (15.142)

Daphne's father tells her that absolute proof is crucial when it comes to science. This is a big difference from religion as Nation sees it, where "because" is often a valid answer—and proof undermines the whole principle of faith.

"Religion is not an exact science. Sometimes, of course, neither is science." (Today.68)

Ain't that the truth? Science is always changing. Just think about how many foods are good for you one day and will kill you the next. Of course, science is supposed to change: new evidence means new facts.