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Sci-Fi Technology

The Future According To Stanislaw Lem 196

An anonymous reader writes "The Paris Review has an article about SF author Stanislaw Lem, explaining Lem's outlook on the future and his expectations for technological advancement. Lem tended toward a view that technology would infect and eventually supplant biological evolution. But he also suggested an interesting explanation for why we haven't detected alien civilizations: "Perhaps ... they are so taken up with perfecting their own organisms that they've abandoned space exploration entirely. According to a similar hypothesis, such beings are invisible because technological ease has resulted in a 'Second Stone Age' of 'universal illiteracy and idleness.' When everyone's needs are perfectly met, it 'would be hard, indeed, to find one individual who would choose as his life's work the signaling, on a cosmic scale, of how he was getting along.' Rather than constructing Dyson Spheres, Lem suggests, advanced civilizations are more likely to spend their time getting high.""
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The Future According To Stanislaw Lem

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  • A race could not become so technologically advanced without curiosity. Pretty sure they would want to know what is out there
    • Maybe... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @04:52PM (#47898389) Journal

      Maybe immortality cancels out curiosity.

      • Yes, that's what he suggests, and it isn't a new thought, though it is 'worriesome'.

        • Re:Maybe... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @05:13PM (#47898483)
          I disagree. It isn't worrisome at all.

          I look forward to the day I can break away from daily "work" and just pursue my interests and hobbies.

          And in fact, this is the economy of Start Trek: an economy of plenty, rather than our current economy based on scarcity. People do what they do because they want to, not because they get paid for it.

          I don't think the Star Trek scenario is unreasonable, if we were to find better ways to generate energy. Nobody has to be idle (though they could be if they wanted). That isn't a species-killing idea, it's just another evolutionary step.
          • Life in the year 2100.
            The entire population has moved underground. The planet looks more like it did before human arrived than it did today. One lives in a apartment that is totally secure and sound proof. There is a totally automatic transportation system in underground tubes. One can not even visit an address unless one has permission from the occupant. The apartment will not have a kitchen since all food will be centrally cooked and distributed. The rooms will always be at a certain temperature and

          • Re:Maybe... (Score:4, Insightful)

            by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @08:56PM (#47899363) Homepage

            In principle, I'm all for this. Practically, however: life always expands to take up all the space/resources available to it. The Star Trek economy needs either infinite resources (impossible) or population controls (distasteful) to be feasible. Otherwise at some point you'll get a virus such as a religious doctrine that says have as many kids as you can and suck up as many public resources as possible, and do nothing else with them, and we'll be right back at the edge of scarcity and collapse.

            "Which is the greater danger - nuclear warfare or the population explosion? The latter absolutely! To bring about nuclear war, someone has to DO something; someone has to press a button. To bring about destruction by overcrowding, mass starvation, anarchy, the destruction of our most cherished values-there is no need to do anything. We need only do nothing except what comes naturally - and breed. And how easy it is to do nothing."
            -- Isaac Asimov

            • I wish that people would stop this silliness about population controls. Have you been asleep for 40 years? Right now, in an age when European politicians are pulling out their hair trying to get people to make more kids, it's hard to find an industrialized country that it making children at the replacement rate. Many countries are actually shrinking, including populous ones like Japan, Italy, Russia, etc. Many more would be shrinking were it not for immigration. In countries like Mexico that are traditional

              • The Earth as a whole is exploding in terms of human population.

                • It would be shrinking were it not for immigration.

                  ... !?
                • Latest UN figures say population will top out in 2050 at about nine billion and then decline, with most growth now in Africa and parts of Asia. As education levels rise (particularly amongst women) fertility rates go down. Much of the developed world is not reproducing at replacement rates.

                  Overpopulation is a red herring.

            • Otherwise at some point you'll get a virus such as a religious doctrine that says have as many kids as you can and suck up as many public resources as possible, and do nothing else with them, and we'll be right back at the edge of scarcity and collapse.

              S'uthlam was in that exact position in "Tuf Voyaging".

          • Re:Maybe... (Score:4, Funny)

            by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @10:35PM (#47899745)

            As one alien species said (about humans):

            "You mean you have to pay to live on the planet you were born on??"

      • by CODiNE ( 27417 )

        That says more about you than the nature of a being that doesn't die.

        • That I just threw out a premise out there for others to play with? I doubt you had that in mind with "about you".

          It's a premise for a 1950-ish sort of scifi.
          You could even back it up with some philosophy about civilizations and how they calm down and anchor intelligent species and even some science about how lower testosterone levels kill off the drive to do anything.
          You know... to make the box you're putting it in seem more solid.

          Except it's still thinking inside a box.
          The main question is "Where are the E

          • by CODiNE ( 27417 )

            Don't worry I've seen Zardoz. :-)

            I feel the idea that immortality = boredom is way off for several reasons.

            #1 Death isn't everyone's motivation to do things. Sure it works for some people, but those people should pause before throwing around such blanket statements.

            #2 Shades of the "everything has already been invented" thinking. The idea that we'd run out of things to do. That's hubris. Seriously that's "Watch me predict the entire future of humanity right here in 10 seconds" kind of thinking.

            #3 Motives? D

            • I'm not talking about humans.
              Particularly stock humans. As a stock human I could go for days just looking at the second hand on a watch making rounds.

              I'm talking about aliens who have achieved immortality through... say... genetics, BUT inadvertently ticked off the check box for "curiosity" in the process.
              Or better yet, like you say, ticked on the check box for boredom.

              Not being bored because immortality is boring, but bored cause now they can't NOT BE bored.

              The Borg would probably be bored out of their min

      • Or maybe they accidentally caught a broadcast of Idiocracy and just aren't into sequels...
    • Re:unlikely (Score:4, Interesting)

      by gbjbaanb ( 229885 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @04:56PM (#47898409)

      not necessarily. That just applies to us, and its a fallacy to assume that others are like us.

      Imagine an alien race so super intelligent that they consider they've already invented everything, they don't actually invent it until they have a need for it, and frankly, talking to the chattering money-boys on a distant planet just hasn't been something they need, strangely enough

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      No, they'd outsource that work to engineered squids.

    • by dclydew ( 14163 )

      I don't think its terribly unreasonable to postulate that a sufficiently advanced society may be world bound and following their bliss.

      A sufficiently advanced society may actually have come to the realization that FTL travel/communication is impossible and that travelling to the nearest inhabited planet would be a centuries long one way expedition with little or no return on investment. So, if an advanced civilization figures out that they are forever trapped in a single solar system, with one or two habita

  • highly probable (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jaeztheangel ( 2644535 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @04:40PM (#47898335)
    our memories and attention spans have gotten noticeably worse over the last century, though our quality of life has increased immeasurably. he may be right. solving our economic needs who wouldn't want to focus on feeling better?
  • getting high (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2014 @04:43PM (#47898345)

    The trouble with getting high is that there's always some jerk who ISN'T getting high because they're jacked up on taking advantage of everyone else's idleness to promote their own self-interest. Sorry, but evolution isn't going to let people get away with being sloths.

    • Re:getting high (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gbjbaanb ( 229885 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @04:46PM (#47898353)

      your high is different to mine.

      Some people might smoke pot, others get drunk. Some gamble and others fuck as much as they can.

      And some have "making money" as their high, some have "screwing other over in power games" as theirs.

      But there's also going to be someone who likes doing stuff as their personal meaning. Even in a society based on self-interest and personal abuse, there's going to be a few Crazy Eddies.

    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      ...evolution isn't going to let people get away with being sloths.

      Evolution "isn't going to let people get away with being sloths" and simultaneously be successful at propagating their genes.

      A lot of the slothful are fine with that.

  • Eh... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 13, 2014 @04:47PM (#47898357)

    The most reasonable explanation why we haven't found alien life is...

    Alien life got a good look at us.

    Crazy? Yep. Greedy? Yep. Still fight over dirt? Yep. Not trusworthy? Yep. Supercrazy religions in charge? Yep.
    Destroying our own environment? Yep. Wipe out any other species for fun, profit, or they're just in the way? Yep.

    Why would any intelligent creature want anything to do with us?

    • "Why would any intelligent creature want anything to do with us?"

      In the same way that some people here on earth study primitive societies there would surely be some alien anthropologists out there interested in us.

    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      Sounds reasonable.

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )

      The most reasonable explanation why we haven't found alien life is...

      ...the aliens live (or used to live before their star blew up) light years away from us, and they have to follow the same laws of physics as us.

    • by Bogtha ( 906264 )

      Why would any intelligent creature want anything to do with us?

      If we found lower forms of life on another planet, would we roll our eyes at them and ignore them? Or would we be fascinated by them and study them?

  • but then, many things are possible. What if one of these hypothesized aliens derives a higher reward from blasting signals into space than from any other method? What if it sees that as the ultimate fulfillment of its being? We don't know what their psychology is like, or even if they have a psychology. They're hypothetical aliens hypothetically doing something. We have no relevant facts to constrain our speculation.

  • Twitter (Score:5, Funny)

    by Livius ( 318358 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @05:04PM (#47898437)

    So, interstellar Twitter is *not* a sign of an advanced civilization.

    (Though that would have been my guess all along.)

  • I would like to subscribe to your newsletter

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @05:12PM (#47898477) Homepage

    Records of human civilization go back over 3000 years. Industrial civilization goes back less than 200. A good starting point is the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830, the first non-demo steam passenger railway. There were earlier locomotives, but this is the moment the industrial revolution got out of beta and started changing people's lives.

    Only in the last 80 years or so has human exploitation of natural resources been able to significantly deplete them. Prior to WWII, human efforts just couldn't make a big dent in the planet. Things have picked up since then.

    There are lots of arguments over when we start running out of key resource. But the arguments are over decades, not centuries or millenia. The USGS issues mineral commodity summaries. [usgs.gov] There are decades of resources left for most minerals, but a lot of things run out within 200 years. Mining lower and lower grade ores requires more and more effort and energy. For many minerals, that's already happened. People once found gold nuggets on the surface of the earth. The deepest gold mine is now 4 miles deep.

    For many minerals, the easy to extract ores were used up long ago. Industrial civilization got going based on copper, lead, iron, and coal found in high concentrations on or near the surface. All those resources were mined first, and are gone. You only get one chance at industrial civilization per planet.

    Civilization can go on, but it will have to be more bio-based than mining-based. Energy isn't the problem; there are renewable sources of energy. Metals can be recycled, but you lose some every round. It's not clear what this planet will look like in a thousand years. It's clear that a lot of things will be scarcer.

    (And no, asteroid mining probably won't help much.)

    • With the obvious exception of U-235, mining something doesn't actually make it disappear. It'll still be around in a landfill somewhere, if it whatever it was made into wasn't recycled.

      So, no, we're not going to run out of raw materials unless our population keeps growing exponentially. And the best projections have it peaking in the 10-12B range, then declining back to lower than it is now (note that, absent immigration, the USA and western Europe are already experiencing a population decline).

      On the o

    • by dryeo ( 100693 )

      Given a couple of hundred million years things would probably be back to plentiful when it comes to all those resources.

      • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

        Given a couple of hundred million years things would probably be back to plentiful when it comes to all those resources.

        Possibly true, but that isn't much help for those of us who plan to live (and have our descendants live) during the next few centuries.

    • There are lots of arguments over when we start running out of key resource.

      Well, the only key resource we're actually in danger of running out of is phosphorous. Anything else we have lots of, can recycle, or can substitute for.

    • The deepest gold mine is now 4 miles deep.

      That's 4 km [mining-technology.com] not miles

  • by DrJimbo ( 594231 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @05:14PM (#47898491)

    Lem wrote about all kinds of possible futures. A small percentage do match the description in the summary but the vast majority conflict with it. Most of his work is about reaching out and exploring in various ways. His work is so varied it is difficult to come up with one theme that describes it all. If I were to try to come up with major themes then I would give at least these:

    1. Alien life is so different from our own that despite our best efforts we are unable to communicate with it or understand it.
    2. Mechanical life begets (creates) biological life which begets mechanical life, and so on. The origins are lost in the shrouds of pre-history.
    3. People are mostly idiots and don't realize it. Present company not excepted.
  • The whole series of his reviews of fictional books is wonderful.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    One of my favorites is Die Kultur Als Fehler, or 'Civilization as a mistake':

  • Yes, maybe they're all genetically modified self absorbed drug addicts... Eventually they'd get bored and come on over to see if we had better drugs here than they had; something they hadn't tried before. Or maybe they'd just get the munchies and come here looking for better snack food. Or get tired of us bringing down their high with all our fighting; and come by to tell us to "mellow out, man."
  • by TheSync ( 5291 ) on Saturday September 13, 2014 @05:39PM (#47898561) Journal

    Evolutionary selection pressures never stop. Even within a dominant species, if there is any level of genetic difference, there will be both genetic drift and evolution. Other species also apply selection pressures (think of evolving viruses, for instance).

    • Evolutionary selection pressures never stop. Even within a dominant species, if there is any level of genetic difference, there will be both genetic drift and evolution. Other species also apply selection pressures (think of evolving viruses, for instance).

      Evolution never stops permanently at least.

      It is conceivable that the selection pressure on humans could go away temporarily if we achieve something like perfect medicine, or a world where any person would be equally likely to have biological children and grandchildren. The effect of that would be to radically increase diversity among humans both in terms of genes and in terms of traits. This would then lay the groundwork for potentially rapid evolution once the selection pressure reappears due to some syst

    • Evolutionary selection pressures never stop.

      It has yet to be proven that intelligence has any long-term evolutionary advantage for a species. Horseshoe crabs have been rocking along on tiny brains for about three orders of magnitude longer than Homo sapiens has been around.

  • Science Fiction author? At least that is what I thought.

    Evidence from our oribital flights gives plenty of evidence of tissue damage in space from both lack of gravity and radiation. We can't reasonably do much about the radiation without having massively heavy spacecraft which does not seem practical.

  • TFS is written primarily in the present tense, which is kind of odd seeing as Lem has been dead for nearly a decade. We are already living in Lem's future, and the future for Lem himself is pretty much a steady-state.

  • but with a whimper.

  • Just read one of his books sometimes. If you are an engineer or a scientists, you will notice pretty fast that they are techno-mysticism and fairy-tales set in a pseudo-technological setting. His "predictions" will be of comparable quality.

  • Niven's view of such devices seemed pretty realistic, that the problem would take care of itself after a few generations.

    Even if you were immortal, a droud would still be equivalent of death; remove the constraint of time, and limitation is measured by the boundaries of your mind's total potential state-space.

    Any sufficiently intelligent being - no matter how powerful or long-lived - would avoid pleasure-death.
  • "one individual who would choose as his life's work the signaling, on a cosmic scale, of how he was getting along"

    well, that certainly wouldn't be a problem for humans. There are already plenty of humans who make it their lifes work the signaling of how they are getting along. And if they could do it on a cosmic scale, they would.

    It stands to reason that any sufficiently advanced alien race would reach a point where they invent their version of facebook. It also stands to reason that the invention of the

  • This really irritates me. I am sure Stanislav Lem is an interesting and I am sure Stanislav Lem 's reputation in not going to be harmed by me, so I feel free to really let go on this.

    The first point I'll make is this is extremely low quality speculation, and the second point I'll make is it's extremely and insidiously destructive of our own future in some very specific ways.

    First, this is the rankest type of speculation; it's not even thought provoking, at least productive-thought provoking. Lem is posit

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