Archived entries for science

Mapping the Social World: From Aggregates to Individuals | Limn

Belgian astronomer Adolphe Quetelet (1796-1874) introduced to the human sciences the idea of the average man, of the regularity and predictability of average behaviors, as opposed to individual behaviors, which are random and especially unpredictable. When human traits, such as size, become “normally” distributed, say according to a bell curve, their average supposedly represents a superior ontological reality, a whole comprised of specific properties, distinct individual cells. This idea would be the basis of future quantitative social sciences, Emile Durkheim’s Le Suicide being the prototype: sociology is not the uniting of individual psychologies.

via Mapping the Social World: From Aggregates to Individuals | Limn.

Devourer Of Encyclopedias: Stanislaw Lem’s “Summa Technologiae”

…By the late 1950s, his work had become darker, increasingly focused on the limits of humanity’s knowledge and the limits of human society in pursuing both truth and virtue. Lem esteemed his classic novels like Solaris because “[t]hey incorporate cognitive problems in fictions that do not oversimplify the world.”

More than any other author, Lem integrated science into science fiction, putting much “hard” science fiction to shame. But it was not enough to get facts right and respect the laws of physics: great speculative fiction needs to use creativity within the parameters of scientific and philosophical naturalism in order to explore the limits of what is metaphysically and sociologically possible. Many of Lem’s works take the form of thought experiments.

Lem does not integrate his concerns into a single unified theory; Summa is a fantasia that follows certain lines of speculative thought as far as Lem can take them. The spur, as ever for Lem, is the cognitive limitations of humanity. Lem announces early on that humanity is on the brink of becoming obsolete because it is reaching a scientific “information barrier” beyond which disorganized humans will not be able to process the amount of knowledge we are obtaining: “Science cannot transverse this barrier; it cannot absorb the avalanche of information that is moving in its direction.” That is, Lem sees that with the exponential growth of knowledge that has taken place since the Scientific Revolution, humanity is reaching a choke-point where the physical capacities of our brain, in conjunction with any and all possible societal configurations in which our brains can work together, will simply not be sufficient to (a) continue the work of scientific research, and (b) maintain a stable civilization. If we wish to exercise some sort of collective self-determination, we must accept that our current sentient forms aren’t up to the task.

via Los Angeles Review of Books – Devourer Of Encyclopedias: Stanislaw Lem’s “Summa Technologiae”.

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