Monday, 7 August 2017

The Big Issues

Hi. Since posting this morning, I have visited friend of Italian descent, Andrea, in his three dimensional maze of an apartment above his brother's Old Pier Bookshop, and have attended Lancaster Zen Group.

It is getting late. I will try to post less often late in the evenings because it seems to interfere with sleep patterns. After this post, I will read and maybe take notes for posting tomorrow.

Meanwhile, let us reflect on the range of issues raised by the works of Poul Anderson and of related sf writers and discussed on this blog:

theism, Buddhism, secularism or a synthesis?
a hereafter or not?
extraterrestrial intelligences and civilizations or not?
future Artificial Intelligence or not?
cosmogony and cosmology;
reasons for the rise and decline of civilizations;
the optimum society for human beings? (freedom and diversity, at least);
the origins of life, civilization and science;
literary traditions in sf;
the art of writing fiction;
adaptations from prose to visual media;

Or, to put it another way: everything.

Be here tomorrow, folks.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    I hope your friend Andrea is feeling better!

    And of the ideas, themes, topics, etc., you listed, I find speculations about Artificial Intelligence the ones I think least likely to come true in real life. I mean intelligent, self aware, conscious, independently acting computer programs.


    1. Sean,
      I think that a computer program is inherently unconscious and that a conscious artifact/artificial brain will be something other than a computer.

    2. Andrea still has his problems but will receive some medical test results today.

    3. Kaor, Paul!

      I hope Andrea's test results will be positive, or at least show problems which can be successfully treated.

      Hmmm, but I am not sure if it will be even possible to have a conscious, self aware artifact/artificial brain without somehow using computer programs. Albeit, I'm skeptical of the entire idea!


  2. I'm skeptical of "strong AI" claims; they always prove to be absurdly over-optimistic.

    Calling the brain a computer is a metaphor, like our ancestors' habit of comparing it to a clock.

    Metaphors are useful, but you have to be careful not to literalize them.

    I like Penrose's observation that expecting consciousness out of a computer simulation is like expecting to get wet after jumping into a dry swimming pool full of ping-pong ball models of water molecules.

  3. Dear Mr. Stirling,

    At least the ping pong balls would keep you from getting hurt after jumping into such a pool! (Smiles)

    Sometimes you have used strong AI ideas in your works. Such as Center, a "character" seen in THE GENERAL books you co-wrote with Dave Drake. But I do agree with your skepticism about such strong AI claims.


  4. Well, I write -fiction-. I'm perfectly ready to accept non-factual hypotheses for the purposes of a story.

    1. Sean and Mr Stirling,
      I would like sf writers who present AIs to emphasize that they are something more of other than bigger and better computers.

    2. Dear Mr. Stirling and Paul,

      Mr. Stirling, and I agree with that attitude! Good fiction writers SHOULD try our many different ideas or hypotheses.

      Paul, I think Poul Anderson did that with the sophotects seen in the HARVEST OF STARS books and the AIs seen in GENESIS. Drake/Stirlin's "Center" was more like a "computer" but still very interesting, IMO.