The Art and Science of Stanislaw Lem
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Swirski presents a collection of insights into Stanislaw Lem, with the view to evaluating his influence on Western thought, literature and culture.
alternatives before the would-be World Councillors were polarized. Either vote against betrization and, together with billions of others, remain in the war-torn and blood-stained world, or vote for (and undergo) a compulsory procedure with the speciﬁed range of side-effects that will prevent anyone from doing violence to anyone else. The parameters of this, admittedly, not strictly controlled exercise were thus, to the extent allowed by their transfer to our reality, those outlined in Lem’s
inhabitants of the planet visited by Tichy in “The Twenty-First Voyage” are no longer “themselves” because their omnipotence comprises the ability to transform themselves at will into anything they desire (and of course they make use of this possibility). Conversely, Lem’s rational beings are faced with insurmountable obstacles, with the corollary that they may no longer be needed in the great march to knowledge. Consequently, they need to use technology in a restrained fashion and with a view to
not really to be taken at his word when he declares himself a skeptic, as his more basic epistemological inclination is a kind of fallibilism. If it is granted that a scenario based on a distinction between perceptual input and autonomous doxastic agency – i.e., a capacity to guide one’s own thinking – is coherent, as Lem seems to allow, his response is to retreat to a “low standards” account of 128 Skepticism, Realism, Fallibilism knowledge that blocks the skeptical inference. Scientiﬁc
well as by our various traditions, not to mention upbringing. They all impose on us a multitude of restrictions without which, it must be said, there would be few impediments to cannibalism or rape. 8 I must return stubbornly to the problem of how to endow a robot with “desire,” even if, as seems necessary, buffered with speciﬁc prohibitions and directional guidance. This is a massively difﬁcult task, and the “solution” suggested by Isaac Asimov in his three laws of Robotics is a pure and sterile
competing would-be empires threatening the existence of life itself, caring no more for the people below than dinosaurs for mammals scurrying under their feet. But here is where Lem, ever the paradox-monger, affords a positive answer, after all: not in the lofty critiques of degraded projects but in the travels of Ijon Tichy and the robot fables, in which the Münchausen-like extravagance of narrative excess returns science ﬁction to the folktale and the tall tale, to the “organic stratum,”