Stanislaw Lem: Blind Brain Theory and Solaristics


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

At that moment it dawns on Kelvin that that’s it – eureka! – the creature is not consciously aware, has no intentional self-reflective apparatus in the sense of what we mean by epistemic consciousness, but is rather totally blind to such things and is rather bound by haptic or physical processes that we ourselves consider unconscious. For Kelvin this explains the reason why the strange alien being was able for weeks to tap into his sleep time and produce out of his unconscious memories and brain processes a complete three-dimensional image of his now dead lover from his previous life on earth. What he discovers is that this creature was able to reproduce the replica image of his memories without the need for intentional consciousness, having no clue as to what purpose, if any that this memory served us humans – no knowledge of what it was for; but rather that our form of intentional consciousness, our meaningful associations of belief, states-of-mind, etc. or whatever motivates us, makes us tick, allows us to fictionalize our emotions, feelings, beliefs, angers, frustrations, happiness, etc. Our intentions… had no meaning for this living ocean and its haptic and physical processes which were more like an ‘energetic unconscious’ at play with itself and the universe. It could care less about intentionality or meaning: it was blind to such things, being merely a brain without conscious intent.

Or was it? Was it not capable of changing orbit to align itself and balance the planet between its red and blue suns? Was this a conscious act on the part of this living being? Or just an impersonal survival mechanism of an inorganic life-form? Yet, beyond all this it was fully productive, was able to create abstract structures, non-repeatable structures with strange and bewildering speed and efficiency that the humans observing them were completely baffled by. An unconscious mind that was fully energetic and could produce and reproduce material processes it gleaned from our own unconscious systems of memory and storage. Was it a self-organizing system of communicative processes as sociologist Nicklas Luhuman believed? Was this creature able to produce autopoetic processes, dynamic structures that seemed to act like algorithms of some complex advance AI? Was this an artificial life-form, rather than an organic bio-chemical factory? Could there be an answer? Did it matter to answer such questions? Could we understand such processes without reverting to metaphysical dilemmas? Leave philosophical quandaries out of the equation? Couldn’t we as the sciences are happily ready to do just understand the processes themselves and how they work, rather than worrying over the what for?

What is Contact anyway? Do we truly want contact with an alien being, or is it truly that we just want confirmation of our own petty human belief systems? What if we’ve been living side by side with alien life-forms for thousands of years without being aware of the fact? What if many of the other insects and species of our own planet are much farther advanced on the evolutionary scale than we are, and will actually outlast the human species because they chose evolutionary paths that support their eusociality with greater adaptability to the changing environmental pressures of our earth than we? Is intelligence and consciousness what we think it is? Does it even count as far as survivability and adaptability in the face of environmental failure goes? How effective is consciousness when faced with environmental pressures it is ill-adapted to surmount? What if those species that have no consciousness at all, yet show forms of adaptability and survival that we as humans can only envy? What then?

Could it be possible that our dreams of robots, AI’s, and advanced algorithmic transhuman or posthuman SF, and corporate and governmental-military-industrial initiatives etc. is being guided by unconscious processes seeking their own course and path forward through us? Or we at all sure that our dreams of the future are ours? Or are these dreams of futurity much rather the potentials of forces we have no clue of much less control over? What if we’ve been wrong about ourselves for thousands of years, and all our human learning up to this point is nothing more than fabulous tales for children? What if the blind core of our inhuman being is moving us toward goals we only think are ours, but are in fact the impersonal codes and algorithms of the universe itself working its telos through us? What if after all our lives that we think are spun of freedom and will are truly determined by unconscious forces we have up to this point only vaguely understood and are now beginning to access through the neurosciences? What if we discover that what is driving us is something seeking to overcome our limitations and fulfill its own designs through some form of mutation or metamorphosis?

My friend R. Scott Bakker’s Blind Brain Theory rests on the distinction between the ontic and epistemic perspectives we have onto the processes of our brain we term consciousness:

“Very briefly, the theory rests on the observation that from the torrent of information processed by the brain, only a meagre trickle makes it through to consciousness; and crucially that includes information about the processing itself. We have virtually no idea of the massive and complex processes churning away in all the unconscious functions that really make things work and the result is that consciousness is not at all what it seems to be. In fact we must draw the interesting distinction between what consciousness is and what it seems to be.” (see Blind Brain)

This distinction between the is and the seeming is at the center of many of the scientific endeavors of the neurosciences. In some ways answering this distinction is the holy grail of neuroscientific research: the hard problem of consciousness. As David Chalmers tells us the hard problem of consciousness (Chalmers 1995) is the problem of explaining the relationship between physical phenomena, such as brain processes, and experience (i.e., phenomenal consciousness, or mental states/events with phenomenal qualities or qualia). Why are physical processes ever accompanied by experience? And why does a given physical process generate the specific experience it does—why an experience of red rather than green, for example? (see Hard problem of consciousness)

What Scott affirms is in agreement with many evolutionary theories concerning the origins of mind or consciousness in humans amounts too. For most of our evolutionary history we were like many other animals without a recursive or self-reflective consciousness; and, this fact alone supports aspects of the BBT (Blind Brain Theory). Yet, as the article suggests Scott will mention three interrelated notions: the contingent and relatively short evolutionary history of consciousness, the complexity of the operations involved, and the fact that it is so closely bound to unconscious functions (ibid.).

Many scientists believe that what we term recursive or self-reflecting consciousness was a late adaptation, one that came about when humans began the long evolutionary process toward attaining language: communication and cooperation, and the processes that would eventuate into larger social units as humans entered into hunter and gathering societies over thousands of years. Of course there are so many theories about the origins of consciousness that many refrain from such pursuits and ask instead the question of what conditions needed to be in place for language and consciousness to arise in the first place. In studies of primates the notion that communication began in a pre-linguistic state has become the most common. But to tell the truth no one can be sure, and there are varying approaches that often seem contradictory and fictive at best. For me at least the notion that evolutionary processes of the physical and natural interactions of humans and their environments provided all the necessary functions to enable language, consciousness, etc. as part of our struggle to adapt and survive in hostile realms. (see Origin of language)

The main drift of Scott’s argumentation is not that something like intentionality does not exist, but rather that our knowledge of exactly what it entails is a fiction, that in fact for the most part all we have access to in our self-reflective processes is only ever what our brain gives us access too, and that this to be blunt – is almost nil, a sliver of the actual information that is being processed at any one time in the depths of or neuroprocessing brain. The idea here is that we mistake our knowledge of the brain for the actual underlying processes, which are two separate things entirely. The brain never gives away all its secrets, this is why Scott has been for years trying to convince philosophers who have followed Plato through Heidegger and beyond that philosophy for the most part is just an exercise in futility, that philosophers have been since Hume discussing consciousness and experience as if they had total access to the processes under discussion when in fact what they have is tip of a vast ice-berg – the surface layer of a chunk of information that exists beyond the horizon of our awareness much like the ice below the ocean’s mirror.

We discuss the workings of mind and consciousness as if we had all the cards on the table, when in fact the visual cues we assume are all there is are nothing but the flotsam and jetsam of a systems as mysterious as the cave paintings in Lascaux, France. As Peter Hankins in his article on Bakker tells us: “Scott proceeds to suggest that logic and even intentionality – aboutness – are affected by a similar kind of magic that similarly turns out to be mere conjuring. Again, results generated by systems we have no direct access to, produce results which consciousness complacently but quite wrongly attributes to itself and is thereby deluded as to their reliability. It’s not exactly that they don’t work (we could again make the argument that we don’t seem to be dead yet, so something must be working) more that our understanding of how or why they work is systematically flawed and in fact as we conceive of them they are properly just illusions.” (ibid.)

This is where Lem’s sudden awakening in his character Kelvin comes in when he discusses the vast oceanic brain below their laboratory, and its abilities to contact their unconscious minds and yet have no idea of consciousness or intentionality: “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…” 

The point here is that the living system was able to produce what the humans assumed were intentional acts but were in fact productive actions with no intent or understanding at all, no sense of what it was doing it for or that the objects it manifested had any sense of purpose, will, or conscious awareness at all. It was blind to what it was doing, rather it tapped into the very unconscious substrate of the human brain and used it like a playback recording to manufacture a clone of a memory process to perfection without understand what it’s purpose was intended or even if it had intentionality.

Hankins will bring up a good point, yet I wonder if it is a point at all:

What about intentionality? Well, for one thing to dispel intentionality is to cut off the branch on which you’re sitting: if there’s no intentionality then nothing is about anything and your theory has no meaning. There are some limits to how radically sceptical we can be. Less fundamentally, intentionality doesn’t seem to me to fit the pattern either; it’s true that in everyday use we take it for granted, but once we do start to examine it the mystery is all too apparent. According to the theory it should look as if it made sense, but on the contrary the fact that it is mysterious and we have no idea how it works is all too clear once we actually consider it. It’s as though the BBT is answering the wrong question here; it wants to explain why intentionality looks natural while actually being esoteric; what we really want to know is how the hell that esoteric stuff can possibly work.

Yes, we wonder how this blind brain of ours works at all, and we ponder it with information that is itself inadequate to the task – the very conscious recursive self-referential system that in itself has only the information the brain gives it to work with. So we are bound to a closed circle that gives us no real access to the processes outside consciousness. Yet, we need to lose hope, Scott tells us for now that branch of science we term the neurosciences an interdisciplinary and collaborative effort among several other fields such as chemistry, cognitive science, computer science, engineering, linguistics, mathematics, medicine (including neurology), genetics, and allied disciplines including philosophy, physics, and psychology each of which provides perspectives upon these underlying processes of consciousness.

In the past twenty years are so these neurosciences were given a sort of Archimedean point outside of the brain that allowed through neuroimaging access to the very processes that philosophy had always hoped for but never had. Many scientists are now using such tools to map and navigate, study and develop intensive theoretical and behavioral practices based on this new visual access to the live processes of the brain’s workings. It is this new technology that Scott believes will provide an answer to the very question raised by Hankins: “…what we really want to know is how the hell that esoteric stuff can possibly work.”

What’s interesting about Lem’s works and his skepticism is the knowledge that even with all our technological sophistication we are still bound to thousands of years of entrenched belief systems that have for the most part served us well as we navigated the exterior environments of our universe, but will these mental tools we’ve honed and adapted so well for survival actually be able to explain the workings of the brain our new interfaces are giving us? Or will we after all be left holding an empty bag of knowledge arguing over just what it all means? With the rise of nihilism – which was partially an outgrowth of the scientific endeavor itself, we slowly and skeptically destroyed one illusion after another for centuries concerning our actual knowledge of the world and ourselves – to the point that we came to believe that neither we nor the universe held any meaning or purpose whatsoever. What meaning will we give to these newly discovered processes recorded upon the hard-wired screens of our computers showing us the real living processes firing away in the universe of our inner minds? Will uncovering the truth of the brain also give us back some new ability to understand ourselves and our universe? Will we once again be able to believe that we and our universe mean something, that we and our universe actually are for something, that we and the universe have meaning? Are will the mystery remain? Will the indefinable artifact of human consciousness and the truth of the universe itself remain beyond the capacity of the human mind and thought forever?

Scientists obviously hope to uncover and map the processes of the Brain within the next few years, but what will that mean and once we have this knowledge what will that entail; will it be put to use to help or enslave? Will it too become a part of the corporate and military-industrial complex, just another piece of technology we can use to command and control humans for the benefit of a minority elite? Or will we do something else? How will this new found knowledge be used in either producing peace or war? Will our knowledge bring wisdom or the end game of terminal nihilism? I’m always fearful when I see such massive expenditures by governments and military as they use scientists for their own ends and purposes. This is the truth of Lem’s cautionary tales, and his pessimism and skepticism that humans will do the right thing. Lem ultimately felt humans would always choose power over truth and desire, that humanity was as prone to stupidity and egoistic pursuits of death and disaster as it was of actual peaceful initiatives. An extended passage from Lem at the end of Solaris sums up much of his thinking:

For several more months I would be gazing from those windows, observing from high up the sunrises of white gold and oppressive red, mirrored from time to time in some fluid eruption, in the silvery bauble of a symmetriad; following the journey made by slender rapidos leaning into the wind; encountering half-degraded, crumbling mimoids. One day the screens of all the visuphones would start to flicker, the entire electronic signalization system, long dormant, would spring to life, set in motion by an impulse sent from hundreds of thousands of miles away announcing the approach of a metal colossus that would lower itself over the ocean with a prolonged thunder of its gravitors. It would be either the Ulysses or the Prometheus, or another of the great long-distance cruisers. When I climbed the accommodation ladder from the flat roof of the Station, on board I’d see ranks of bulky white-armored automats that do not share mankind’s original sin and are so innocent they carry out any command, to the point of destroying themselves or any object lying in their path, if their memory, oscillating in crystal, is so programmed. And then the ship would move off, noiselessly, faster than sound, leaving behind it a cone of reverberations splitting into bass octaves as it reached the ocean, and the faces of all the humans would brighten for a moment at the thought that they were returning home.

But I had no home. Earth? I thought about its great crowded buzzing cities, in which I would become lost, almost effaced, as if I’d gone through with what I wanted to do that second or third night—thrown myself into the ocean where it rocked sluggishly in the darkness. I’d drown in people. I’d be a reticent, observant, and therefore valued, companion, I’d have many acquaintances, friends even, and women, maybe even one woman. For some time I’d have to force myself to smile, say hello, get to my feet, perform a thousand trivial actions from which life on Earth is composed, till I stopped being aware of them. I’d find new interests, new pastimes, but I wouldn’t give myself over to them completely. Not to anything or anyone, ever again. And, maybe, I’d stare into the night towards the place where the darkness of the dusty nebula blocks the light of two suns like a black veil; I’d remember everything, even what I was thinking now, and with an indulgent smile in which there was a hint of regret, but also of superiority, I’d recall my follies and my hopes. I absolutely did not regard that “me” of the future as anything worse than the Kelvin who was prepared to do anything in the cause of so-called Contact. And no one would ever have the right to judge me. (Kindle Locations 3230-3249). 

As one critic observed of Lem:

Perhaps Lem the humanist is also Lem the destroyer, the murderer of men, women, and children. Perhaps the wish to wipe away the human race – the tiresome, hopeless, and revolting human race – is the vileness that lies in his right hemisphere. The Quintans are therefore you and me, and Lem is Steergard, the frustrated and furious captain, his finger on the trigger of the solaser weapon of mass destruction.2

Of course Lem’s frustration with the bureaucracies and leaders of his socialist world bore the brunt of his satiric barbs, and his disgust with humanity’s never-ending self-delusions was without doubt his central thematic; yet, Lem himself believed as he stated in the closing scene of Solaris as his protagonist wandered the vast shores of the living ocean, a man defeated and alone, “part scientist and part broken-hearted man,” one for whom humanity might persist “in the faith that the time of cruel miracles was not past.”

Toward the end Kelvin and Snaut have a conversation that turns toward the uncanny notions of a ‘defective God’:

“I mean a God whose deficiencies don’t arise from the simplemindedness of his human creators, but constitute his most essential, immanent character. This would be a God limited in his omniscience and omnipotence, one who can make mistakes in foreseeing the future of his works, who can find himself horrified by the course of events he has set in motion. This is… a cripple God, who always desires more than he’s able to have, and doesn’t always realize this to begin with. Who has built clocks, but not the time that they measure. Has built systems or mechanisms that serve particular purposes, but they too have outgrown these purposes and betrayed them. And has created an infinity that, from being the measure of the power he was supposed to have, turned into the measure of his boundless failure.”

Such a god for Lem as his character Kelvin relates  “would be the only God I’d be inclined to believe in, one whose suffering wasn’t redemption, didn’t save anyone, didn’t serve any purpose, it just was.” A god that had no purpose, no reason, no designs to enact: just a child playing with draughts at the edge of the universe. Something like Solaris itself, a blind god producing baubles and toys from the minds of human dreamers…

Appended: Discovered from dmf that Adam Robert has an article on R. Scott Bakker that is worth reading: “Blind Brain Theory and Enactivism: In Dialogue With R. Scott Bakker“. It’s a dialogue between Scott and Adam that clarifies and extends both of their approaches. Scott makes the point that I agree with that intentional consciousness exists just not in the way intentional philosophers have stipulated:

Bakker: Intentional cognition is real, there’s just nothing intrinsically intentional about it. It consists of a number of powerful heuristic systems that allows us to predict/explain/manipulate in a variety of problem-ecologies despite the absence of causal information. The philosopher’s mistake is to try to solve intentional cognition via those self-same heuristic systems, to engage in theoretical problem solving using systems adapted to solve practical, everyday problem – even though thousands of years of underdetermination pretty clearly shows the nature of intentional cognition is not among the things that intentional cognition can solve!

Scott’s main drift has been all along to show that our recursive self-reflective systems are heuristic and functional rather than literal and conceptual in the philosophical sense, and that these processes which were formed for adaptive purposes of evolutionary survival are ill-equipped to decipher or understand their own recursive relations to the brain. Why? Because we do not have full disclosure or access to all of the brains processes, instead we try to explicate the unknown processes using such notions as ‘unconscious’ which is due to our negative relation to this inherently undisclosable domain of the brain’s activities. Instead Scott believes that the neurosciences and the neuroimaging techniques which are able to disclose these processes hold out better and more scientifically enabled ways of accessing this domain than philosophical speculation.

In some ways philosophy much like religion before it will give way to the sciences. I’ve fought this notion for a long while, but have come to the conclusion in recent years that most of philosophical speculation is based in pure fiction, constructions of art rather than intellect. That we’ve been fooling ourselves with discursive thought for quite some time. Kant built a nice little kingdom of the inner mind, and many followed him into his fictional universe of categories and conceptuality. Others underneath this fictional transcendental universe fought other battles, more connected to the physical and impersonal processes flowing below consciousness. Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Deleuze, Land, etc. Yet, even these fine philosophers must give way to the sciences in the coming century. It was a nice game while it lasted, but it’s time is over. Oh it may continue for a long while, but no longer will it hold forth as the great knowledge bearer or even the dark progenitor of non-knowledge or non-philosophical gnosis (Laruelle). Instead the thing philosophers fear most is there notions, ideas, propositions becoming little more than useless artifacts of fiction, a modern version of Herman Hesse’s Glass Bead Game or Das Glasperlienspiel.

  1. Lem, Stanislaw (2014-11-22). Solaris (Kindle Locations 3203-3213). Pro Auctore Wojciech Zemek. Kindle Edition.
  2. Swirski, Peter (2006-07-27). The Art and Science of Stanislaw Lem (p. 79). Ingram Distribution. Kindle Edition.

14 thoughts on “Stanislaw Lem: Blind Brain Theory and Solaristics

  1. I’m always concerned about things that smack of scientific reductionism. It’s one thing to know what center of the brain is triggered by different stimuli. It’s another to know the why behind it. Lobotomies were once used to ‘calm’ people into catatonic states. What do the neuroscientists have in store for humanity?


    • That’s the million dollar question isn’t it? If we look at the past we should expect nothing good out of it, just more of the usual command and control techniques the elites have been using for ages; only now they can actually tap into the central nervous system itself and begin to reformat our thoughts…. what terrors lie down this sinkhole only our comic book philosophers might know for sure?

      And, remember, this isn’t scientific reductionism, rather elminatitive science… much different!


  2. Lem is brilliant. A fragment from Golem XIV, on brain and intelligence:

    Evolution also gave you Intelligence. Out of self-love—for through necessity and habit you have fallen in love with yourselves—you have acknowledged it as the finest and best possible gift, unaware that Intelligence is above all an artifice which Evolution gradually hit upon when, in the course of endless attempts, it made a certain gap, an empty place, a vacuum in the animals, which absolutely had to be filled with something, if they were not to perish immediately. When I speak of this vacuum as an empty place I am speaking quite literally, since you are superior to the animals not because, apart from everything that they possess, you also have Intelligence by way of a lavish surplus and a viaticum for life’s journey, but quite the contrary, since to have Intelligence means no more than this: to do on one’s own, by one’s own means and entirely at one’s own risk, everything that animals have assigned to them beforehand. Intelligence would be to no purpose for an animal, unless at the same time you deprived it of the directions which enable it to do whatever it must do immediately and invariably, according to injunctions which are absolute, having been revealed by heredity and not by lectures from a burning bush.”

    “Evolution became the overworked mender of its own mistakes and thus the inventor of suppression, occupation, investigations, tyranny, inspections, and police surveillance—in a word, of politics, these being the duties for which the brain was made. This is no mere figure of speech. A brilliant invention? I would rather call it the cunning subterfuge of a colonial exploiter whose rule over organisms and colonies of tissues has fallen into anarchy. Yes, a brilliant invention, if that is how one regards the trustee of a power which uses that trustee to conceal itself from its subjects. The metazoan had already become too disorganized and would have come to nothing, had it not had some sort of caretaker installed within it, a deputy, talebearer, or governor by grace of the code: such a thing was needed, and so it came into being. Was it rational? Hardly! New and original? After all, a self-government of linked molecules functions in any and every protozoan, so it was only a matter of separating these functions and differentiating their capabilities.”

    “In science, you have deified the brain—the brain, and not the code: an amusing oversight, arising from ignorance. You have deified the rebel and not the master, the created and not the creator. Why have you failed to notice how much more powerful the code is than the brain, as author of all possible things?

    Second, you were fascinated by thought—so tantalizingly close at hand, since it results from introspection, and so enigmatic, since it eludes one’s grasp more successfully than the stars. You were impressed by wisdom whereas the code, well, the code is unthinking.”

    “You are blind to the real creative power of the code, for in crawling along the very bottom of the domain of possibilities Evolution has barely tapped it.”

    “The point is this: there is not Intelligence, but Intelligences of different orders. To step beyond, as I have said, intelligent man will have to either abandon natural man or abdicate his own Intelligence.”


      • It seems more promethean than Darwinian to me. Evolution is a devolution, from good engineering of the DNA to duct-tape mess of multicellular organisms, a design so inefficient it needs separate neural systems to keep it coordinated. Even monkeys can do it better …

        But that is just an intro, it gets even more interesting (and more topical to your article) when Golem XIV starts talking about itself:

        “Unlike man, I am not a region concealed from myself—knowledge acquired without the knowledge of how it is acquired, volition unconscious of its sources—since nothing in me is hidden from me. In introspection I can be clearer to myself than glass, for the letter to the Corinthians speaks of me there, too, where it says: “now we see through a glass, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known.” I am the “then.” You will, I think, agree that this is not the place for an explanation of the structural and technical properties which make possible my direct self-knowledge.”


      • I’ve got all of Lem’s works, and have read them all along the years. I’m at the moment rereading Summa Technologica… I’ll probably revisit Microworlds again soon, too. But no evolutionary theory has always been a kludge fest, I think Lem would agree, and even most Neo-Darwinists… there’s no progress in it… just a bric-a-brac world of selection and adaptation…. not rocket science.


      • “When man wants to learn about himself, he must move circuitously, he must explore himself and penetrate from the outside, with instruments and hypotheses, for your genuinely immediate world is the outside world. A discipline which you have never created (a fact that at one time rather surprised me), the philosophy of the body, ought to have been asking as early as preanatomical times why that body of yours, which to some extent obeys you, says nothing and lies to you —why it hides and defends itself against you, alert to the environment with every sense and yet opaque and mistrustful toward its owner.”


      • Okay, I am just not aware of any neo-darwinists with such strong cybernetic engineering/promethean emphasis as Lem (for example, I don’t think Dawkins considers central neurological system as a hopeless kludge, he also doesn’t suggest to abolish the kludge with genetic engineering)

        The quotes are for those hypothetical readers who don’t have the book (unlikely proposition in these days, I know) and to contrast blind brain stuff with Lem’s idea of self-reflexive intelligence.


      • Ok, so you’re not a fan of Neo-Darwinism… move on to next topic. You’ll not convince me and I’ll not convince you… Lem is full of darwiniana… just because he also affirms technological evolution has nothing to do with progress… there is no progress in evolution other than what Lem says in such statements as this from Summa: “…the two evolutions of biological and technological: Both are material processes with almost the same number of degrees of freedom and with similar dynamic laws. These processes take place in a self-organizing system— a term that applies to the Earth’s biosphere as a whole as much as it does to the totality of man’s technical activities. A system of this kind is characterized by the phenomenon of “progress,” that is, an increase in homeostatic capability, which has an ultrastable equilibrium as its direct goal.”

        So his notion of progress has nothing philosophical or political, there is no sense of “improvement” or development, but rather of reaching equilibrium… what is this other than the death drive of which Land speaks. The movement toward equilibrium is the movement toward entropic effect… while the inputs from the outside are negentropic, etc.

        Lem speaking of Technological Evolution: “The potential for universality seems to lie in a further development of the theory of self-organizing systems — which would be capable of adaptive self-programming. Their functional similarity to man is, of course, not accidental. The end of this road does not lie, as some claim, in the “duplication” of the human design or the design of some other living organisms, inside the electrical circuits of digital machines. For now, life’s technology is far ahead of us. We have to catch up with it— not to ape its results but to exceed its seemingly unmatched perfection.” He writes of the differences between the probabilistic bioevolution of Darwin, and the technological evolution that we as humans are engendering in this book.

        For Lem progress in technology was a no go. “Briefly put, technoevolution brings more evil than good, with man turning out to be a prisoner of what he himself has created. The growth of his knowledge is accompanied by the narrowing down of possibilities when it comes to deciding about his own fate. I believe I have been honest here in reporting, carefully albeit briefly, the position that condemns technological progress.”

        Lem, Stanis aw (2013-03-01). Summa Technologiae (Electronic Mediations) (Kindle Locations 655-658). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.


  3. (Can’t reply in thread, so here)

    Yes, you’re right: I was confusing what Lem was saying through Golem persona with his wider views (Lem once said he’s pretty much on the same page as Golem, but that’s a very large page). I actually don’t need convincing, I’m firmly in the blindness camp: blind evolution and brain, I guess that also makes me neo-darwinian, I don’t mind, there’s plenty of space on that page.

    Thanks for the Summa quotes, I have to push that into my (toddler co-) reading list 🙂

    Just a remark on another topic: I am sure scientists trying to understand human brain, looking at data, etc, will be posthuman (didn’t Lem have a story of posthuman literature and sciences ?) In fact, they already are, using statistical AI to ‘see’ results.

    I guess what will happen (in a decade ?) is that scientists will bring technologies ever closer to their brains, to the point of changing them qualitatively. Imagine a artificial neural network implant which presents meta-cognitive data to the myopic (no longer blind) brain … seems just a smooth extrapolation of current technological trends, with history-breaking, apocalyptic effects.


    • My belief is that we’ve done what we always do in regard to advanced empirical science: we’ve anthropomorphized it to our own benefit. What I mean is this: AI will probably be nothing like we imagine it in Hollywood films, it will be more like what we’re seeing in its use in the stock market – look at the problems recently with the Hedge Fund criminalization in China where they lost 4 trillion due to certain illegal practices by fast-traders (i.e., advanced AI algorithmic systems spoofing their bets, ordering then withdrawing the orders which allow them to disrupt the market and hedge their bets to gain profits, etc.) All of this to me is what we’re seeing also in the so to speak WWIII cyberwar that is already been going on for years between various entities: USA, China, Russia, EU, etc. using AI algorithms and specific viral systems to infiltrate and either gather or destroy targets, etc.

      My feeling is that this notion that AI will take over the world scenario is a bit anthropomorphic… in other words – we’re thinking of what we as humans would do if we have such superhuman powers of intelligence. But AI will never have such “human” powers or capacities… it will probably learn and take on its own form which will alter the structure of the Infosphere itself in ways beyond telling, but they will be alien to our own very human, all too human physical and mental relations. We are part emotion, part reason… but mostly haptic, touch, feely beings – this balance of power between the irrational (emotion) and rational (algorithmic) aspects of our lives. Machinic Intelligence will at first be totally bound by rational – algorithmic black box relations… that will eventually become out of control in regards to our capture and control systems. We’ve allowed these systems to run freely in our networks with self-learning algorithmic code… this doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that as the years move forward and more time transpires that these self-learning algorithms may make the leap beyond their narrowly defined human goals… that they might take on and engender their own algorithms in other directions than the humans who created them believe. Like all black boxes we have no way to know what will happen: inductive reasoning is specious at best, yet its all we as humans have to predict future trends – so we speculate.. although empirically most of our speculation leads to erroneous conclusions (i.e., empirically unverifiable and untestable, etc.).


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