His Master's Voice - Stanislaw Lem

literature Feb 21, 2023

One of the greatest of writers, for me, is Stanislaw Lem. I think that sci-fi has the most natural affinity to philosophical realm. Lem (and PKD and LeGuin) seamlessly travel between sci-fi and philosophy. I read Lem's Solaris many years ago after watching Steven Soderbergh's movie. I did not know of Andrei Tarkovsky's masterpiece at the time. Later I watched that too. Solaris (the book) remains one of the greatest works on the unfathomable and mysterious.His Master's Voice is one of the greatest sci-fi book I have read. Deep and mysterious. It makes one think the hardest while trying to read.
Some lines that remain present for me:

There is, surely, a difference between a caricature and a portrait.

I have wondered what versions of my own life would be agreeable to me given the same unalterable facts...

With sufficient imagination a man could write a whole series of versions of his life; it would form a union of sets in which the facts would be the only elements in common.
Clarity of thought is a shining point in a vast expanse of unrelieved darkness. Genius is not so much a light as it is a constant awareness of the surrounding gloom, and its typical cowardice is to bathe in its own glow and avoid, as much as possible, looking out beyond its boundary.<hr>

The rationalist's substitute is a shapeshifter.

To him who seeks a reason but cannot abide any hypothesis of a design, whether in the form of Providence or of the Diabolical, there remains only the rationalist's substitute for demonology—statistics.

One of my greatest, but perhaps doomed, goals is to throw some light on the dogma that science has become today. If only we were all able to doubt ourselves a little more.

Information at second hand always gives an impression of tidiness, in contrast with the data at the scientist's disposal, full of gaps and uncertainties.

This, I thought, illustrated a certain small but characteristic feature of the history of science, because neither the fortuitous bends in the road of research nor the accidental circumstances assisting at the birth of a discovery ever completely detach themselves from its final form.

If you ever needed a clairvoyant, Lem is one.

It turns out, however, that freedom of expression sometimes presents a greater threat to an idea, because forbidden thoughts may circulate in secret, but what can be done when an important fact is lost in a flood of impostors, and the voice of truth becomes drowned out in an ungodly din? When that voice, though freely resounding, cannot be heard, because the technologies of information have led to a situation in which one can receive best the message of him who shouts the loudest, even when the most falsely?

The technologies of information have created, supposedly, a paradise in which anyone who desires to can know everything; but this is a complete fiction. Selection, tantamount to resignation, is as unavoidable as breathing.

But even the College of Cardinals can be led to cannibalism, provided only that one proceeds patiently and by small degrees. The mechanism of psychological adaptation is inexorable.

And I meet Voltaire again with the same ship of mice. I met him once when I walked in search of the sufis and mystics of the Ottoman empire.

And yet, as Voltaire put it, when the grain is shipped to the Sultan, does the Captain concern himself about the comfort of the mice on board?

On the unsurpassable limits of the doomed race of man.

From a chemical analysis of the ink with which a letter is written to us, we will never deduce the intellectual attributes of the writer.

Defense Kayser expressed this with the maxim "The thin starve before the fat lose weight."

Of course, I would have turned out as badly as I have, even with the world being what it is.

Before we parted, he said, "Don't take it so much to heart, Mr. Hogarth. Without you things would have turned out just as badly."

Perhaps there not many better ways to go..

He who wields the imagination shall perish in the imagination.