Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Celebrities In Fiction

Poul Anderson's Time Patrollers meet several real historical persons but does any contemporary celebrity appear under his own name in any of Anderson's works? Maybe. Anderson himself is mentioned in There Will Be Time. I often ask a question here, then immediately find an unexpected answer! But Anderson the writer remains off-stage. And is there anyone else? I have certainly not read every word of fiction written by Anderson.

I ask this because I have just reread Stieg Larsson's second novel up to the passage where suddenly Paolo Roberto is the viewpoint character. An Airport Customs officer recognizes Roberto and addresses him by his first name as you or I could if we saw him on the street. Roberto recognizes Lisbeth Salander's face on the billboards. He knows this fictional character although the real world Roberto can't. Fictional characters converse with Roberto as an acquaintance in the novel and the actors playing those characters converse with the real Roberto playing himself in the film. Amazing.

SM Stirling presents real sf writers, including Poul Anderson, at the beginning of In The Courts Of The Crimson Kings. These fictional avatars of real people have a curious status, half in and half out of the real world. Any of these writers also appears, one step closer to reality, in a biographical or autobiographical text. Aldous Huxley wrote that he was wearing jeans during a drug experience but his wife, thinking that he ought to be better dressed for his readers, persuaded him to change the text to refer instead to gray flannel trousers. There are indeed some strange reality-fiction interfaces. 

Back To A Future

John C. Wright, The Golden Age (New York, 2003), Chapter 13, section 2, p. 210.

Phaeton, expressing his ambition to win peerless renown, anticipates the following response from the entity with which he is conversing:

"...that the desire for a life of glory was nothing more than selfishness and self-aggrandizement; that all human accomplishment was the outcome of a collective effort."

Even in such a multifarious society, will responses be so predictable and also so mean-spirited? Many accomplishments are collective. Humanity has built civilization. Any civilization, especially a highly technologized one, enables many individuals to accomplish great things, including many talented and creative individuals who do not seek renown but who rightly receive it.

I do not feel that Wright's plotting protagonists measure up to the dynamism and creativity of their own civilization.

Back To The Present

I am finding John C. Wright's AI future difficult and am back in the Internet present with Lisbeth Salander hacking Mikael Blomkvist's computer in Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played With Fire. Instead of emailing, Lisbeth, wanted by the police, communicates with Mikael by untraceably creating documents using his own Word programme.

The Time Patrol, if they needed to, which they don't, would be able to trace Lisbeth by using future technology. We are told that the computer glimpsed by visitors to Manse Everard's New York apartment is a fake and that he changes the subject when they recommend their preferred brand of PCs to him. But he was not using computers when he joined the Patrol in 1955. Then he had to visit a public library to read back issues of the London Times from the late nineteenth century. The Patrol eases its members into advanced technology and carefully conceals from everyone else any evidence that it is using such technology.

Lisbeth is wanted for murders that she did not commit but it is not the job of the Patrol to solve such murders and might even be their job to ensure that the murderer is not apprehended if it is historically recorded that he was not apprehended. I would not be able to work for the Patrol.

Mass Minds II

"...icons grew larger as more and more members of the mass-mind turned their attention to the scene."
-John C. Wright, The Golden Age (New York, 2003), Chapter 13, The Mass Mind, section 2, p. 210.

But, in that case, the individual minds have not committed suicide by entering the mass-mind. See here. Instead, a, b, c etc can enter M and can thus share its enhanced experience and (I think) the memories of other members but can then return enriched to their original individuality.

On pp. 209-210, a false dichotomy is posited: "...comfort, rest, renunciation and peace..." (p. 209) as against "Deeds of renown without peer." (p. 210) There are other options like understanding and a peace that that is dynamic rather than passive.

We are told on p. 210 that mass-minds are the last refuge of those who in previous periods would have drowned their individuality in collectivism, mobs, mindless conformity and pious fads or frauds. Well, that is bad obviously but, until we were told that, mass-minds had not sounded like mindless mobs or pious frauds. Would such a negative mentality persist into a totally transformed sociotechnological milieu? Wright seems to ask us to imagine that everything has changed and yet that something deep inside us has not really changed. Some thoughts or motivations can occur only in certain contexts, e.g., we would probably, though not necessarily, fight over the last oxygen cylinder if we were trapped inside a space station with a diminishing air suppy but we do not fight for the air that surrounds us on the Terrestrial surface. We do not scapegoat a minority for causing social deprivation if there is no social deprivation. Imagine shared abundance and you simply eliminate material causes of conflict.

Loss Of Ego

See Mass Minds.

"Any effort or attempt to break out of the Zen Hedonist thought system would be defeated by loss of ego, which formed the core of the doctrines."

I think that "ego" means a sense of separate selfhood? In this sense, I also think that ego has to be transcended because nothing is separate. Everything is interconnected and interdependent. This self, or individual subject of consciousness, is a transient manifestation and expression of the cosmic totality, like a wave of the sea.

However, ego is transcended by realizing interconnectedness, not by being caught in a thought system or a set of doctrines. Realization is approached by the practice of awareness, not by acceptance of the idea of "interconnectedness." I used to read, think and talk about Buddhism. Now I sit for meditation. No credit to me. I have been incredibly slow to start to understand what all the words have been pointing towards. Books on Zen are legs on a snake.

Mass Minds

John C. Wright, The Golden Age (New York, 2003), Chapter 13, The Mass Mind, section 2, pp. 203-204.

Whereas Poul Anderson imagines human minds interacting and merging with artificial intelligences, Wright extrapolates such imaginings to a seemingly infinite extent.

"To enter a mass-mind might be painless, and might satisfy all his wants and needs, and surround him with eternal, endless brotherhood and peace and love; but it was suicide nonetheless, an abolition of self-hood too horrible to imagine."

What does this mean? Let us imagine -

there are several individual human minds: a, b, c, d, e;
each of these minds can suffer pain, has wants and needs that are not always satisfied and does not experience endless brotherhood, peace or love;
there is also a single mass-mind, M;
M came into existence when a number of individual minds - f, g, h, i, j - ceased to exist;
this means that instead of f remembering f's past, g remembering g's past etc, a single new mind, M, now remembered f's, g's etc's pasts;
M suffers no pain, has wants and needs that are fully satisfied and experiences endless peace although maybe not also endless brotherhood and love because it is a single mind;
a enters M;
this means that the individual a ceases to exist while at the same time M acquires a's memories?

Is it advantageous or advisable for a to enter M? If a has committed suicide and no longer exists as an individual self (by which I mean a subject of consciousness), then a is not having his wants or needs satisfied or experiencing peace.

"...here was an icon leading to the Zen Hedonist thought virus, which promised to resculpt his brain to accept a self-consistent philosophy of total passivity, total pleasure, total renunciation."

Are pleasure and renunciation consistent? Yes, the optimum state might be the enjoyment of pleasure combined with nonattachment to/the ability to renounce pleasure. But we would want to approach this state through practice and understanding, not by allowing a virus to resculpt our brains. "Zen," in the present meaning of the term, is a middle way between hedonism and asceticism: enjoy and appreciate pleasures when they come your way but accept that, like all experiences, they pass.

Monday, 24 April 2017

The Price Of Individuality?

"...the simplicity and peace of the middle-period Fourth Era, when all of Earth had been swept clear of war and hate and also of personal individuality."
-John C. Wright, The Golden Age (New York, 2003), p. 203.

Must we choose between peace and individuality? I think that this is a false dichotomy in some sf. We often experience both. This experience can be generalized.

More Yamamura

My IT assistant, Ketlan, says that Murder In Black Letter by Poul Anderson is becoming even more expensive as a second hand paperback but has also become available very cheap as an ebook so I might be reading and posting about it shortly.

I once looked in a mystery specialist bookshop, exactly like an f&sf specialist bookshop except for the obvious difference of subject matter. Isaac Asimov's detective novels and Black Widowers collections and Anderson's Trygve Yamaura novels and detective short stories would be in there but not their other works and probably not Asimov's Elijah Baley novels or Wendell Urth short stories, Larry Niven's Gil Hamilton stories, Anderson's "The Queen of Air and Darkness" or "The Martian Crown Jewels" or Anderson's and Gordon R. Dickson's "The Tale of the Misplaced Hound."

I think it is fair to say that sf mysteries are read by sf fans, not by mystery fans. Years ago, there was an sf sports comic which I venture to suggest was read by sf fans like me, not by sports fans like many of my contemporaries. But I am all for any genre-mixing that our creative types may devise.

Wellsian Reference

For a neat literary reference to HG Wells, apart from the silk top hat, check out pp. 199-200 of John C. Wright's The Golden Age (New York, 2003). I did not get it until I had reached the end of p. 199. A clue, if you want it, is in the image for this post. Sf writers should acknowledge Wells as Poul Anderson does at least twice.

I apologize for the brevity of this post but I really must get out of here and do something else. Three posts have been published over an extended breakfast. Self-indulgence on my part.

Transient Consciousness

A "sophotect" (Poul Anderson) or a "Sophotech" (John C. Wright) is an Artificial Intelligence.

"'We Sophotechs agree on certain core doctrines, including those conclusions to which any thinker not swayed by passion comes...'"

(Are there any such conclusions? Yes, in mathematics and logic, at least.)

"'...but it is the nature of living systems that differences in experience lead to differences in judgments of relative worth.'"
-John C. Wright, The Golden Age (New York, 2003), p. 195.

That is fair comment. Why are some analytic philosophers Christians and others atheists? Each of us is a unique combination of genes. Each adult organism is the present expression of a unique sequence of organism-environment interactions. Each brain has developed distinctive internal interconnections of which we are unaware. How do we manage to agree about anything? Because we are also social, cooperative, linguistic organisms.

"'Many Sophotechs only exist for a few fractions of a second, performing certain tasks, developing new arts and sciences, or exploring all the ramifications of certain chains of thought, before they merge again into the base conversation.'" (ibid.)

New arts and sciences in fractions of a second! Anderson's Didonian personalities exist only temporarily. The inorganic intelligences in Anderson's Genesis divide and re-merge.

All self-conscious organisms exist only temporarily. We emerge from a social/linguistic/cultural matrix and contribute to it before our bodies re-merge with their environment. Our condition is essentially that of the Sophotechs and the Didonians. The Sophotechs contribute more in less time.