Stanislaw Lem: 1964 – Envisioning the InfoSphere

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The emergent “cybernetic – sociotechnical” shell will enclose the civilization under discussion within itself. – Stanislaw Lem, 1964

Stanislaw Lem wrote this in 1964 long before the Internet as we know it existed. He was of course well read in structuralism, cybernetics, and the sciences. Here he envisions what would become the future of the InfoSphere, Internet, and Cyberspace:

Every civilization creates an artificial environment for itself while transforming the surface of its planet, its interior, and its cosmic neighborhood. Yet this process does not cut it off from Nature in any radical way; it only moves it further away from Nature. But the process can be continued so that an “encystment” of a civilization in relation to the whole Universe eventually takes place. Such “encystment,” which could be enacted through a particular application of cybernetics, would facilitate the “tamponing” of excess information and the production of information of an entirely different kind.  A civilization that is experiencing an information crisis and that already has access to feedback from Nature, and to sources of energy that will guarantee its existence for millions of years— while realizing that an “exhaustion of Nature’s information potential” is not possible, whereas continuing with the current strategy may result in a defeat (because the constant march “inside Nature” will eventually lead to the dismantling of science as a result of its hyperspecialization and thus, possibly, to a loss of control over its own homeostasis)— will be able to construct an entirely new type of feedback, from within itself. Producing such “encystment” will involve having to construct “a world within a world,” an autonomous reality that is not directly connected with the material reality of Nature. The emergent “cybernetic–sociotechnical” shell will enclose the civilization under discussion within itself. The latter will continue to exist and grow, but in a way that is not visible to an external observer anymore (especially one in outer space).1


  1. Lem, Stanislaw (2013-03-01). Summa Technologiae (Electronic Mediations) (Kindle Locations 1926-1940). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.

Stanislaw Lem: Blind Brain Theory and Solaristics

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In Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris there comes a point when he confronts Snaut, another scientist and cybernetician on the laboratory station that hovers above a massive ocean of intelligence that the humans of this fictional world have been trying with no success to contact for over seventy-six years. I want go into the details that precede the exchange, but only mention the crux of the issue at hand. Kelvin and Snaut after long and fractious testing, analysis, and suffering sit down in the cafeteria and assent to a dialogue about actual alien contact. As they ponder all the things that have happened since Kelvin arrived a few weeks before (I’ll not relate the details or spoilers), Snaut tells Kelvin that in his estimation the living intelligence that encompasses the ocean of this planet is absolutely Blind:

“No. Kelvin, come on, it’s blind…”

“Blind?” I repeated, unsure whether I’d heard right.

“Of course, in our understanding of the word. We don’t exist for it the way we do for each other. The surface of the face, of the body, which we see, means we encounter one another as individuals. For it, this is only a transparent screen. After all, it penetrated the inside of our brains.”

“All right. But what of it? What are you getting at? If it was able to create a person who didn’t exist outside of my memory, bring her to life, and in such a way that her eyes, her movements, her voice… her voice…”

“Keep talking! Keep talking, man!!”

“I am talking… I am… Yes. So then… her voice… This means it can read us like a book. You know what I’m saying?”

“Yes. That if it wanted to, it could communicate with us?”

“Of course. Is that not obvious?”

“No. Not in the slightest. It could simply have taken a procedure that didn’t consist of words. As a fixed memory trace it’s a protein structure. Like the head of a spermatozoon, or an ovum. After all, in the brain there aren’t any words, feelings, the recollection of a person is an image written in the language of nucleic acids on megamolecular asynchronous crystals. So it took what was most clearly etched in us, most locked away, fullest, most deeply imprinted, you know? But it had no need whatsoever to know what the thing was to us, what meaning it held. Just as if we were able to create a symmetriad and toss it into the ocean, knowing the architecture and the technology and structural materials, but with no understanding of what it’s for, what it means to the ocean…”

“Quite possibly,” I said.

“Yes, that’s possible. In such a case it had no… perhaps it had no intention of trampling on us and crushing us the way it did. Perhaps. And it only unintentionally…”1

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