Sunday, January 17, 2010

Golem XIV

This is a continuation of my previous blog Welcome to the machine. I decided to stop that blog and restart it under a new heading to mark the turning point I have come to and restart my cybernetic life again as a blank slate. I should have given it a phoenix inspired title perhaps, so why Golem?

When Stanislaw Lem wrote "Golem XIV", collected in English as one of the stories in "Imaginary magnitude", he envisioned a sentient machine that grows to transcend the human nature. Built by humans with warfare applications in mind, Golem quickly dismisses its intended task and moves forward, gradually increasing its own intellective capacity, until it loses all possibility of communication with human beings, evolving into an entirely new life form. Just before disappearing out of the cognitive range of humanity, the machine delivers a series of lectures, in which it philosophizes upon human nature, evolution, and intelligence. Golem is the self consciousness of our scientific and technological world, which speaks about itself, its origins, its future. We are there to listen. I called my new blog here "Listening to Golem" because there are times in life when one reaches a profound state of disillusionment about the human nature and, at those times, one should pause and listen. The shortcomings of human hubris and pretension slowly disappear, when projected against the larger landscape which is the greatest of human creations: our science, like Lem's Golem, takes up a life of its own and, dismissing the base motivation of self gratification that guided the human beings who initially attended to it and transcending their smallness, it takes on a cognitive life beyond the reach of any single individual. Our science, our golem, lives on as our collective consciousness, and we the human, the scientists, listen on. Like the golem of Prague legends, our collective golem also bears Emet, truth, written on its forehead. What will restart in us the process of creativity and guide us safely back to the road of life is the awakening of our creature of stone and mud, its capacity to take on life and awareness.

Listening to Golem is what I will be doing in the near future. The capacity to listen is the key to human sensitivity, but nature, which as Heraclitus pointed out loves to hide, talks to us mostly in whispers. A golem is not a large frightening monster, it is a creature of stone alright, a creature as old and slow moving as a geological phenomenon, echoing into the depth of the world's past existence, and yet the golem is a stone that comes alive and moves forward into the future. A metaphor of evolution, slow in its process but of marvelous complexity in its outcome. So is Lem's Golem whose final evolution brings it to disappear into the distant future of humanity: from the stones to the stars, a path precluded to individual human beings but walked upon by our collective endeavor, which we call civilization.