Sunday, 22 September 2013

More Evolutionary Differences

In The Byworlder (London, 1974), Poul Anderson imagines an extra-terrestrial that is genuinely alien, both physically and psychologically. The Sigmans:

"...swam in an ocean of sense data and responded to nuances on almost the molecular level." (p. 161)

A single individual Sigman can make a slower than light interstellar journey and spend years exploring the Solar System because its many interacting subpersonalities are never isolated in the midst of the cosmos. Curiosity, which is thought to have called forth intelligence in human beings, is a lesser motivation for Sigmans because their sensory apparatus already makes them fully open to, and intensely aware of, their environment. However, within this wealth of perception, they might have been driven to find, then make, "...harmonious conditions of life." (ibid.) Harmony is an aesthetic value.

Scientific method has two outcomes: knowledge and elegant resolutions of apparent chaos. Human beings and Sigmans value both of these outcomes but human beings emphasize knowledge where Sigmans emphasize elegance, an aesthetic criterion that prevents them from either waging war or polluting their environment, even when scientific discoveries have made possible potentially destructive technology. Anderson did imagine some man-like aliens but this is not one of them. From cells to soul, Sigmans are dissimilar.

This novel, set in the early twenty first century, was originally serialized in 1971, thirty years before 2001. Yvonne asks Skip:

"'Do you remember the turn of the century?'" (p. 165)

Readers can now answer, "Yes!" However, Yvonne goes on to contrast the optimism of the new millennium with the new hope offered by contact with the Sigman:

"'This is the same. Only it's not a youthful illusion now, it's real. It's forever!'" (p. 166)

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Yes, I agree, the Sigman we see in THE BYWORLDER is a convincingly strange and weird non human intelligent being. In fact, I hope an actual non human comes to our Solar System. And, of course, I hope that being will be friendly!

Or, I hope mankind SOON leaves the Solar System! Altho I do realize that would need the invention of a FTL drive to be practical.