Monday, 19 August 2013

Requiem For A Universe

Poul Anderson liked to remind us that probably other countries will become dominant in the future. Thus, there is a Swedish world order in Tau Zero and a Pacific world order in the Maurai History and Spanish is the international language in "Requiem For A Universe." (All One Universe, New York, 1997)

We gather that the narrator and viewpoint character of "Requiem For A Universe" is an African-American called John Henry. He is addressed as "Jack" (p. 37) and as "Sr. Henry." (p. 38) At first glance, I misread "Sr. Henry" as "Sir Henry," which, of course, would have been a British form of address and would have meant that "Henry" was his first name rather than his surname.

Jack, like characters in The Avatar and in a few other Anderson works, is a human-computer link, adding human creativity to electronic computation, although, in the terminology of this story, he is a "linker," not a "holothete." (p. 43) A linker can imagine the origin of a planetary system and apply the laws of physics to it whereas a holothete can change the laws creatively while running the program.

Jack, addressing the reader, says:

"The world outside our skins is real, but what we directly experience is our sensory impressions. From those we infer - we construct - sunlight, trees, lovers, everything. We do this on so deep, instinctive a level that we can properly say we experience these things themselves." (p. 43)

He goes on to say that atoms and galaxies must always be abstractions, not immediate realities, except to holothetes in linkage.

Jack contradicts himself, first denying that we directly experience the external world, then saying that we can properly say that we do experience it. My way of accounting for perception is to say that we do directly experience the real world outside our skins and do not merely infer it. Cerebrally processed sensory impressions are the means by which we perceive the world. I see you and infer, for example, the existence of your parents - but I do not see sensory impressions and infer you.

If we place an inanimate object and some increasingly sensitive and complex organisms near a hot fire, then, after a while:

the object and the organisms are hot;
organisms capable of sensation feel hot;
organisms capable of perception see and feel that the fire is hot;
some of the organisms capable of conceptualization understand heat.

Members of this fourth group infer a cause of the fire but they do not infer the fire. They see and feel it.

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