Competence without knowledge: a new reading of a page of Solaris

The following is from chapter “The Old Mimoid”, in Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

“But you don’t know what I was thinking about! Tell me something. Do you believe
in God?”
Snow darted an apprehensive glance in my direction:
“What? Who still believes nowadays . . .”
“It isn’t that simple. I don’t mean the traditional God of Earth religion. I’m no expert
in the history of religions, and perhaps this is nothing new — do you happen to know if
there was ever a belief in an . . . imperfect god?”
“What do you mean by imperfect?” Snow frowned. “In a way all the gods of the old
religions were imperfect, considering that their attributes were amplified human
ones. The God of the Old Testament, for instance, required humble submission and
sacrifices, and was jealous of other gods. The Greek gods had fits of sulks and family
quarrels, and they were just as imperfect as mortals . . .”
“No,” I interrupted. “I’m not thinking of a god whose imperfection arises out of the
candor of his human creators, but one whose imperfection represents his essential
characteristic: a god limited in his omniscience and power, fallible, incapable of
foreseeing the consequences of his acts, and creating things that lead to horror. He is a . .
. sick god, whose ambitions exceed his powers and who does not realize it at first. A god
who has created clocks, but not the time they measure. He has created systems or
mechanisms that served specific ends but have now overstepped and betrayed them. And
he has created eternity, which was to have measured his power, and which measures his
unending defeat.”
Snow hesitated, but his attitude no longer showed any of the wary reserve of recent
“There was Manicheanism . . .”
“Nothing at all to do with the principle of Good and Evil,” I broke in
immediately. “This god has no existence outside of matter. He would like to free himself
from matter, but he cannot . . .”
Snow pondered for a while:
“I don’t know of any religion that answers your description. That kind of religion has
never been . . . necessary. If I understand you, and I’m afraid I do, what you have in
mind is an evolving god, who develops in the course of time, grows, and keeps
increasing in power while remaining aware of his powerlessness. For your god, the
divine condition is a situation without a goal. And understanding that, he despairs. But
isn’t this despairing god of yours mankind, Kelvin? It is man you are talking about, and
that is a fallacy, not just philosophically but also mystically speaking.”
I kept on:
“No, it’s nothing to do with man. Man may correspond to my provisional definition
from some points of view, but that is because the definition has a lot of gaps. Man does
not create gods, in spite of appearances. The times, the age, impose them on him. Man
can serve his age or rebel against it, but the target of his cooperation or rebellion comes
to him from outside. If there was only a single human being in existence, he would
apparently be able to attempt the experiment of creating his own goals in complete
freedom — apparently, because a man not brought up among other human beings cannot
become a man. And the being — the being I have in mind — -cannot exist in the plural,
you see?”
“Oh, then in that case . . .” He pointed out of the window.

My interpretation of it is in one of my previous posts.

Golem xiv: the poverty of Antigone

The best explanation I know about transhumanism, and the poverty of Antigone’s appeal to the ‘unwritten laws of the gods’, is the novel Golem xiv by great Stanislaw Lem. The frame of reference is Princeton molecular biologist Lee Silver’s marvellous book “Challenging Nature”.

All the laws are created by humans, and the famous lecture delivered by Heidegger on the “Ode on Man” of the greek tragedy, was just a restatement of the concept of ὕβρις, clearly backward. Even the Greeks, one of humankind miracles (to quote B. Russell HWP) had this superstition, let alone inferior metaphysics, trapped in pseudoconcepts like sin.

Stanislaw Lem was making reference to MIT mathematician Norbert Wiener book God and Golem although his pitch is very different. This video is a very enjoyable recap of Lem’s novel. The music of Cliff Martinez (of Soderbergh’s Solaris fame) makes for a special listening.

Theodicy 2.0

If someone is, like me, working all the time with RNGs and strives to produce MonteCarlo scenarios about events via computer simulations, he cannot help but thinking that different outcomes are due to different randomness structures (Sobol anyone?)
In view of Bostrom’s simulation argument, one cannot help but inferring that some of the troubles he may experience in life are due to the choice of the randomness generator that has been employed. Or maybe by a bug in the code of the simulation.

A better explanation of the Simulation Argument is here. This is theodicy in disguise.

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Cosmism


It appears to me that a single idea transpires through Isaac Asimov’s “New Guide to Science”, Carl Sagan’s book “Cosmos” and many more: this idea is Cosmism.
Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was a true legend, the inventor of astronautic and a pioneer of conceptualization of space exploration. He was anchored in the tradition of Russian Cosmism.
The (Soviet) film about him “Road to the Stars” was used (copied?) in several parts by Kubrick for his “2001:A Space Odyssey” as some researchers maintain.
At that time (mid 1950s) Soviet space research had the lead. Stalin had passed away since only 4 years when the Sputnik was launched: it was his posthumous triumph, for the good or for the bad.

Transhumanism is just the name we now give to this collection of ideas. They were well spread back then. Also thanks to Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (see here and here)

Notable ideas here: “zoo hypothesis” in

1) Ball, J.A. The Zoo Hypothesis, Icarus, 1973
2) Kuiper and Morris, Extraterrestrial Intelligence: An Observational Approach, Science, 1977

Exit from Eden: Milutin Milanković and his cycles

Milutin Milanković is a very interesting figure of mathematician.
His theory of cycles of glaciers is the scientific explanation of the historical fact of an Exit from Eden.
That exit triggered the advanced civilizations of the Nile and Mesopotamian valleys, and most likely lived in the memory of subsequent generations of men and women, building the myth of expulsion from Paradise.
The biblical narration was just the most influential of all the mythical reconstructions of that climatic shift; totally unable to make any sense of what Milutin explained from the vantage point of 20th century science.
Both Asimov (“New Guide to Science”) and Lee Silver (“Challenging Nature”) talk about him.

Investigate this paper: EMAM

Stanislaw Lem: Revolution in the Mind

In Summa Technologiae, Stanislaw Lem of “Solaris” fame addresses some of the most pressing questions connected to the shape human life has acquired in the modern world because of technology, summa_technologiaewhereby the ontology of previous Weltanschauungen has been replaced in re by a constantly evolving redressing of possibilities. As professor Jerzy Jarzębski puts it: “This book’s title alludes to Thomas Aquinas’s “Summa Theologiae” for a reason. In effect Lem creates an entire atheistic paradigm for the Cosmos with God replaced by Reason; the latter, a creative force independent from biology, drives the evolution towards its own, enigmatic goals.” Here, what is obviously at stake is Transhumanism (For a nice survey of the history of Transumanism see here). Almost any civilization prior to the Aufklärung (even the Greek civilization!) had a way to mask the concept of ‘limit’ and ‘boundary’ – be it Hubris, be it Sin, be it God, be it Truth. (See also B.Russell, HWP[ss.699-700]). Lem, Asimov, Sagan and their followers tried to go further, to break free. It seems to me that the construction of an entirely immanent ontology, materialistic, atheistic is the real target Lem is pursuing. Wir heimatlosen!

What about the likes of Kant and Gödel? What can we make of the limits to the human mind and its possibilities of comprehension they set with (1) “Kritik der reinen Vernunft” and (2) the famed 1931 “Incompleteness” Theorem?