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Summa Technologiae

2014
Author:

Stanislaw Lem

Summa Technologiae

From the acclaimed author of the science fiction novel Solaris, a pre-Dawkins exposition of evolution as a blind and chaotic watchmaker

In Summa Technologiae, Stanisław Lem produced an engaging and caustically logical philosophical treatise about human and nonhuman life in its past, present, and future forms. After five decades this work has lost none of its intellectual or critical significance, resonating with contemporary debates about information and new media, the life sciences, and the emerging relationship between technology and humanity.

At the end of the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas wrote the Summa Theologiae, an ambitious compendium of all orthodox philosophical and theological knowledge about the world. Seven hundred years later, science fiction author Stanisław Lem writes his Summa Technologiae, an equally ambitious but unorthodox investigation into the perplexities and enigmas of humanity and its relationship to an equally enigmatic world in which it finds itself embedded. In this work Lem shows us science fiction as a method of inquiry, one that renders the future as tenuous as the past, with a wavering, ‘phantomatic’ present always at hand.

Eugene Thacker, author of After Life

The Polish writer Stanisław Lem is best known to English-speaking readers as the author of the 1961 science fiction novel Solaris, adapted into a meditative film by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972 and remade in 2002 by Steven Soderbergh. Throughout his writings, comprising dozens of science fiction novels and short stories, Lem offered deeply philosophical and bitingly satirical reflections on the limitations of both science and humanity.

In Summa Technologiae—his major work of nonfiction, first published in 1964 and now available in English for the first time—Lem produced an engaging and caustically logical philosophical treatise about human and nonhuman life in its past, present, and future forms. After five decades Summa Technologiae has lost none of its intellectual or critical significance. Indeed, many of Lem’s conjectures about future technologies have now come true: from artificial intelligence, bionics, and nanotechnology to the dangers of information overload, the concept underlying Internet search engines, and the idea of virtual reality. More important for its continued relevance, however, is Lem’s rigorous investigation into the parallel development of biological and technical evolution and his conclusion that technology will outlive humanity.

Preceding Richard Dawkins’s understanding of evolution as a blind watchmaker by more than two decades, Lem posits evolution as opportunistic, shortsighted, extravagant, and illogical. Strikingly original and still timely, Summa Technologiae resonates with a wide range of contemporary debates about information and new media, the life sciences, and the emerging relationship between technology and humanity.

Summa Technologiae

Stanisław Lem (1921–2006) was the best-known science fiction author writing outside the English language. His books have been translated into more than forty languages and have sold more than 27 million copies worldwide.

Joanna Zylinska is professor of new media and communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is the author of Bioethics in the Age of New Media and The Ethics of Cultural Studies.

Summa Technologiae

At the end of the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas wrote the Summa Theologiae, an ambitious compendium of all orthodox philosophical and theological knowledge about the world. Seven hundred years later, science fiction author Stanisław Lem writes his Summa Technologiae, an equally ambitious but unorthodox investigation into the perplexities and enigmas of humanity and its relationship to an equally enigmatic world in which it finds itself embedded. In this work Lem shows us science fiction as a method of inquiry, one that renders the future as tenuous as the past, with a wavering, ‘phantomatic’ present always at hand.

Eugene Thacker, author of After Life

Summa is a fantasia that follows certain lines of speculative thought as far as Lem can take them. Lem’s sober materialism may seem dehumanizing, but he brings back to the frontier a question that has plagued civilization since the beginning, and whose shifting, always insufficient answers have always signaled revolutions in culture: what is it to be human?

Los Angeles Review of Books

With Summa Technologiae, his masterwork of non-fiction which has been translated into English for the first time, Lem has taken Western civilisation for a spin—with spectacular consequences.

New Scientist

Summa Technologiae

Contents

Translator’s Introduction. Evolution May Be Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts, but It’s Not All That Great: On Lem’s Summa Technnologiae
Joanna Zylinska

Summa Technologie
1. Dilemmas

2. Two Evolutions
Similarities
Differences
The First Cause
Several Naïve Questions

3. Civilizations in the Universe
The Formulation of the Problem
The Formulation of the Method
The Statistics of Civilizations in the Universe
A Catastrophic Theory of the Universe
A Metatheory of Miracles
Man’s Uniqueness
Intelligence: An Cccident or a Necessity?
Hypotheses
Votum Separatum
Future Prospects

4. Intelectronics
Return to Earth
A Megabyte Bomb
The Big Game
Scientific Myths
The Intelligence Amplifier
The Black Box
The Morality of Homeostats
The Dangers of Electrocracy
Cybernetics and Sociology
Belief and Information
Experimental Metaphysics
The Beliefs of Electric Brains
The Ghost in the Machine
The Trouble with Information
Doubts and Antinomies

5. Prolegomena to Omnipotence
Before Chaos
Chaos and Order
Scylla and Charybdis: On Restraint
The Silence of the Designer
Methodological Madness
A New Linnaeus: About Systematics
Models and Reality
Plagiarism and Creation
On Imitology

6. Phantomology
The Fundamentals of Phantomatics
The Phantomatic Machine
Peripheral and Central Phantomatics
The Limits of Phantomatics
Cerebromatics
Teletaxy and Phantoplication
Personality and Information

7. The Creation of Worlds
Information Farming
Linguistic Engineering
The Engineering of Transcendence
Cosmogonic Engineering

8. A Lampoon of Evolution
The Reconstruction of the Species
Constructing Life
Constructing Death
Constructing Consciousness
Error-based Constructs
Bionics and Biocybernetics
In the Eyes of the Designer
Reconstructing Man
Cyborgization
The Autoevolutionary Machine
Extrasensory Phenomena
Conclusion

Notes
Bibliography
Index

Summa Technologiae

UMP blog - Evolution is not all that

How do things emerge in the world?

What is the relationship between an organism and its environment?

In recent years both the humanities and the sciences have embraced a more process-based, relational way of thinking about these questions, with matter seen as stabilizing into organisms which always remain intertwined with their environment. If the process of organismic differentiation is continuous, the organism needs to be perceived not as an entity but as multiple processes of entanglement, a temporally unfolding set of relations that keep making and unmaking the topological boundaries.

Read the full article.