Quotes from Lem’s One Human Minute

Draft of 2007.01.11 ☛ 2015.03.17

Two noteworthy extracts stumbled across in Stanislaw Lem’s One Human Minute. First, a statement in the “review” of the eponymous book, which is worthy of engraving and presentation above any Web browser:

One might think that the technology of communication had advanced for the express purpose of revealing to us the microscopic capacity of the human brain. What good is it if everything that is beautiful lies at our disposal, and can be called up on the screen of a home computer, if we are—again—like a child facing the ocean with a spoon?

And from “The Upside-Down Evolution”, a [p]review of a history book from the future:

New disciplines were taught in the military academies: crypto-offensive and crypto-defensive strategies, the cryptology of counter-coiunterintelligence (the covert enticement-deception of agents raised to the next power), applied enigmatics, and finally “cryptocryptics”, which presented in a secret manner the secret use of weapons so secret that there was no way anyone could tell them from innocent phenomena of nature.

Blurred, also, was the distinction between real and spurious hostilities. In order to turn its people against another nation, a country would produce on its own territory “natural” catastrophes so obviously artificial that its citizens were bound to believe the charge that the enemy was responsible. When it came out that a certain large and wealthy nation, in offering aid to those that were underdeveloped and overpopulated, supplemented the provisions it sold (cheaply) of sago, wheat, corn, and potato flour with a drug that diminished sexual potency, the Third World became enraged. This was now an undercover, antinatural war.

Thus peace was war, and war peace. Although the catastrophic consequences of this trend for the future were clear—a mutual victory indistinguishable from universal destruction—the world continued to move in that fatal direction. It was not a totalitarian conspiracy, as Orwell once imagined, that made peace war, but the technological advances that effaced the boundary between the natural and artificial in every area of human life, even in extraterrestrial space.

When there is no longer any difference between natural and artificial protein, or between natural and artificial intelligence—say the theoreticians of knowledge, the philosophers—then neither can one distinguish a misfortune that is intentional from one for which no one is to blame.

and finally, in “The World as Cataclysm”:

Culture exists and has always existed in order to make every accident, every kind of arbitrariness, appear in a benevolent or at least necessary light. The common denominator of all cultures, the source of ritual, of all commandments, of every taboo, is this: for everything there is one and only one measure. Cultures have taken chance in small, careful doses—for fun, as games and amusements. Chance, when domesticated and held in tight rein as a game or lottery, ceases to be dangerous. We play the lottery because we want to; no one forces us….

The end of the twentieth century has seen a general turning away from those thousands of years of stubbornly, desperately held beliefs. The destruction-or-creation alternative must finally be rejected. The huge clouds of dark, cold gases circling in the arms of galaxies are slowly undergoing fragmentation into parts as unpredictable as shattered glass. The laws of Nature act not in spite of random events, but through them. The statistical fury of the stars, a billion times aborting in order to give birth once to life, a life slain by chance catastrophe in millions of its species in order to yield intelligence once—this is the rule, not the exception, in the Universe.