Saturday, 31 January 2015

The End Of The Month

Greetings from Lancaster (see image).

This may be the last post for January (but February begins tomorrow):

this lap top can be slow;
I have other things going on;
I think that I have squeezed the life blood out of Poul Anderson's Genesis, at least for the time being;
right now, Modesty Blaise is proving more attractive than the Virgin of Valkarion.

Thank you for all the page views: 64 so far today when I checked a few moments ago. From Lancaster, we can drive around Morecambe Bay into the Lake District hills, in the background of the image. From a village called Grange over Sands (because it is possible to walk across the sands of the Bay when the tide is out), we can sit in a cafe, look across to Lancaster and see the Castle. Maybe this weekend.

The Virgin Of Valkarion

Poul Anderson's "The Virgin of Valkarion" is yet another mixed genre pulp short story. Human beings fight with swords but on another planet where there are two moons and the hero rides not a horse but a beaked "hengist." A long gone Empire has left an Imperial Way and a Temple of the Two Moons although the northern barbarians worship wind and stars and the nameless powers of winter and death.

There are not only temples ruined for thousands of years but also the sand and salt of dead sea-bottoms so that the feeling of being on an old and dying planet that has never had an industrial civilization is palpable. I have not read far into the story yet but, when I do finish it, I will have exhausted the ebook and will have to await the arrival of the second NESFA collection. There is no suggestion as yet either that magic works or that the gods intervene in human affairs although the Temple priesthood is clearly powerful and dangerous so read on but not tonight.

Mental Magic

In "Witch of the Demon Seas" by AA Craig/Poul Anderson, Corun discovers that magic is not a gift of the gods or demons but two mental powers, geas and illusion. The evil sorcerer intends, in league with the amphibious reptilian race, to impose mental control on human populations in order to harness their innate mental powers, thus making himself and his allies even more powerful and even immortal. The interior of the reptiles' black castle, lit by luminous fungi, reads like a vivid nightmare.

Knowing that the sorcerer's apparent transformation into a much larger monster is in fact a hypnotically induced optical illusion, Corun continues striking with his sword until he has killed the sorcerer and thus ended the illusion. The sorcerer's evil daughter had been under his geas, thus not really evil, so she winds up as the story's heroine, not its villainess, after all.

In accordance with Anderson's realistic grasp of politics, Corun will enlist under Khoram the conqueror, thus winning a fairer deal for his own conquered people and helping to build a united peaceful kingdom. That is as much as I can say about "Witch of the Demon Seas."

Friday, 30 January 2015


Which would you have preferred to read?:

a Diana Crowfeather series and, in general, more about the Technic History or -

the Harvest of Stars tetralogy and Genesis.

Of course we would have preferred to have had more of all these series but, given that even a prolific author has a finite lifespan, I think that Poul Anderson made the right choice by creating new future histories instead of merely extending an already successful one.

(Even Genesis, a single volume, can be analyzed as a series since many of its chapters are set in different historical periods or, in some cases, in different geological epochs and could have been originally published as magazine installments, which was standard practice with much earlier sf.)

Faster than light interstellar travel and many alien races or slower than light interstellar travel and no alien races but artificial intelligence are diametrically opposed premises so Poul Anderson, a systematic writer, based major future histories on both sets of premises. Fortunately, he was able to write high quality prose quickly so that, for example, the later Harvest Of Stars became a tetralogy, not just a single novel, and Genesis, although short, is so compact that it must be read carefully to appreciate its content.

Van Rijn And Brannock

Contrast Nicholas van Rijn on Diomedes with the Christian Brannock upload on an unnamed extrasolar planet.

(i) Van Rijn, with a life expectancy of a hundred years, regularly travels through hyperspace between the Solar and other planetary systems whereas immortal inorganic intelligences like the Brannock upload travel between stars at sub-light speeds and do not intend to return to Earth. In fact, Intelligence Prime and Brannock have been on this one extrasolar planet for seven hundred years.

(ii) Diomedes has a planetary ecology and an intelligent species whereas Brannock's planet has only primitive organisms of interest because they are alien to Terrestrial forms.

(iii) Van Rijn manipulates the winged Diomedeans and their societies in order to keep himself and his companions alive whereas Intelligence Prime, helped by Brannock, aims only to understand the planet and its life.

(iv) Van Rijn must win a war whereas Brannock merely explores, charts, studies and discovers although these quests can be difficult and precarious.

(v) Van Rijn returns home whereas Brannock is incorporated into Intelligence Prime.

Genesis Surveyed

Christian Brannock has five relationships to AI's. He:

links to AI's;
is uploaded as an AI;
is copied as other AI's;
is incorporated into a greater AI;
is emulated in an AI.

Genesis, Part One, presents the four widely separated generations of:

Christian Brannock;
Laurinda Ashcroft;
Mikel Belov;
Serdar and Naia.

Part One has nine chapters. Brannock gets one as a boy, one as a man and one as an upload. The remaining three chapters summarize:

human and technological evolution;
departure of AI's from the Solar System;
two hundred million years of AI in the Solar System.

Part Two presents a single, much later, human generation not descended from earlier humanity.

Genesis, Part One, Chapter VII

Intelligence Prime has been studying the primitive life on an extrasolar planet for seven hundred years and has been transmitting information to "...intelligences across the known galaxy..." for all that time (Genesis, p. 85). Thus, either known space is as yet confined to a fourteen hundred light year diametered sphere or some of the intelligences have not yet received Intelligence Prime's earliest communications. The following sentence confirms the second hypothesis:

"The farthest off among them had not yet received the news; photons fly too slowly." (pp. 85-86)

The Christian Brannock upload had helped to establish the base and to:

" the industries necessary for its maintenance, enlargement, and evolution..." (p. 86)

Poul Anderson must have known how poignant was the use of the word "" in this context. Until now, that term had connoted human activity: invention and production with associated commerce and social dynamism. Here, it means merely the material production of physical structures necessary to help Prime Intelligence to accumulate knowledge. There are no employees, commodities, competitors, consumers, cultures, markets, interfering governments etc.

After seven centuries, the planet is nearly understood and the remaining algorithmic research no longer requires Brannock's ex-human input. He could wait unconscious for some new undertaking but has "'...grown tired of being a robot.'" (p. 89) Aspects of his machine consciousness and emotions are enumerated:

satisfaction in accomplishment;
communion with other intelligences of the same kind;
"...communion with a transcendent intelligence, or with the cosmos..." (ibid.), such as some human mystics might have known with God.

Brannock and Intelligence Prime communicate at nearly photonic speed and not really in the verbal dialogue rendered on pp. 88-90 so this must be the "...communion with a transcendent intelligence..." However, Brannock is now about to be incorporated into Intelligence Prime and thus to become one:

"...with a vast and ever-evolving mind, and with minds beyond it; ultimately, a oneness universal?" (p. 90)

Would universal oneness result from the galactic brain expanding to become a cosmic brain or with this galactic brain merging with other galactic brains to become a cosmic brain?

Back To The Beginning

Sometimes, the opening sentences of a novel indicate in advance the plot or theme of the work but, of course, the reader does not understand the references yet. In such cases, it is good to remember to reread that introductory passage after reading to the end of the book.

In Poul Anderson's Genesis (New York, 2001):

"The story is of a man, and a woman, and a world. But ghosts pass through it, and gods. Time does, which is more mysterious than any of these.
"A boy stood on a hilltop and looked skyward." (p. 3)

On the first reading, we might notice the author's use of language:

man, woman, world - rhyme and alliteration, progression of ideas;
ghosts, gods - more alliteration, literally haunting language;
at the climax of the paragraph, the most evocative words of all: time and mysterious.

After reading the book, we know:

the man, Christian Brannock, and the woman, Laurinda Ashcroft, both preserved as AI uploads;

the world, Earth, preserved from an Ice Age and an interstellar nebula, given peace, depopulated, repopulated, lovingly studied by the Solar intelligence, close to its death, the subject of unprecedented controversy among nodes of the galactic brain.

Christian and Laurinda are ghosts. The nodes are gods. Much more time passes than is usual in an sf novel. The boy looking skyward becomes the man who, as an upload, goes to the stars. We now understand every obscure phrase. And we might, just possibly, start to read the book all over again.

Witch Of The Demon Seas

"Witch of the Demon Seas" begins with the viewpoint of Khroman the conqueror as he watches his enemy, Corun, brought to him in chains. Nevertheless, Corun, not Khroman, turns out to be our hero.

Magic works so this is fantasy but the setting is sfnal - not Earth but a clouded planet where the large red Heaven-Fire is rarely seen and accurate navigation is not possible. There are human beings but also an amphibious race and some blue-skinned men who worship not the Heaven-Fire but gods that live below the clouds.

The characters have embarked on a voyage which, it seems, will have global repercussions but so far both Corun and the reader are in the dark and I am about to go to bed. I thought that I had three new stories to read in the ebook but, of course, "Out of the Iron Womb!" is "Holmgang," which is in the Psychotechnic History, so it is just "...Demon Seas" and something about a "Virgin..."

Thursday, 29 January 2015


I do not believe that consciousness continues elsewhere somehow after physical death. See here. If it does happen, then I will be very surprised. If it does not, we will never know.

Those who do believe in survival have different ideas about how it works:

(i) resurrection of the body;
(ii) immortality of the soul;
(iii) both (the Christian synthesis);
(iv) absorption into something greater.

In the case of (iv), the question arises: how does absorption differ from cessation?

In Poul Anderson's Genesis, Christian Brannock seems to undergo technological equivalents of (i)-(iv), although not in that order.

(ii) Before death, his personality is copied/uploaded into an AI system that continues indefinitely after his death.
(iv) Much later, that upload is voluntarily uploaded into a greater AI.
(i) Later again, the upload is resurrected in an emulation.

In (iv), he has become merely one set of memories in a greater consciousness. In (i), he dimly remembers (iv). But there is a difference. Many copies have been made of (ii) and none of them is the original Christian Brannock who died. If there is a supernatural hereafter, then he is there.

Magic Amulets

In Poul Anderson's Genesis (New York, 2001), Serdar:

"'...spent a virtuality among human philosophers...'" (p. 93)

The virtuality (virtual reality?) would have been a simulated environment appearing to his brain only while his body lay somewhere safe but unconscious of its external environment - although the philosophers with whom he conversed might have been distinct self-conscious AI programs? Naia says that their generation:

"'...slip away into dream worlds...'" (p. 94)

When Serdar proposes a wilderness trip to the real Himalayas, he has to clarify that he does mean a "'Reality pleasure.'" (ibid.)

Much later, when the Solar intelligence "emulates" Earth, the "emulation" is much more than a virtual reality. Inanimate objects remain in place on the surface of the emulated Earth even when no one is observing them. The emulation appears not to a single human being immersed in it but to an entire emulated global population who believe that they inhabit the material universe.

The emulations:

"...could be works of imagination - fairy-tale worlds, perhaps, where benevolent gods ruled and magic ran free." (p. 146)

So how many fantasies that we have read have been set inside emulations? No doubt a fairy-tale world would suit Serdar or Naia but Gaia, the Solar intelligence, uses her emulations to study possible histories of Earth. However, there is a distinct fantasy element. Two human beings who had been uploaded into AI's have been downloaded into an emulation and can transfer between emulations by commanding their amulets:

"In perception, the amulets were silvery two-centimeter discs that hung on a user's breast, below garments. In reality - outer-viewpoint reality - they were powerful, subtle programs with intelligences of their own." (p.171)

The parallelism with a fantasy work like E Nesbit's The Story Of The Amulet is obvious.

How The Gods Speak

If an intelligence pervaded and controlled our environment, then how might it communicate with us? On a cosmic scale, in Carl Sagan's Contact, when computers calculate the value of pi, the numbers start to form a pattern that contains a message.

In Poul Anderson's heroic fantasy, the gods speak through the elements. In his Genesis, a new voice speaks:

"...not from any throat or instrument. Maybe the walls of the house reverberated with it, soft though it was." (Genesis, p. 82)

And, later, inside an emulation:

"'That will not be necessary,'" said the wind." (p. 232)

"The blowing of the wind, the rustling in the leaves made words." (p. 233)

(When I quote, I realize that we do not all use commas in the same way.)

In Anderson's Harvest Of Stars, the ecology of a colonized extrasolar planet has a presiding intelligence that can address individual colonists through an audio system. Pagan and sf ideas meet.

Khroman And Corun

OK. I have started to read "Witch of the Demon Seas" in the Poul Anderson's Planet Stories ebook. "A novel of alien sorcery..." Does "alien" mean that the story will turn out to be set on another planet? So far, it looks like Earth in a fictitious prehistoric past.

It begins:

"Khroman the conqueror, Thalassocrat of Archaera..."

These sound like familiar names with slight changes of spelling. Remembering "Thalassocrat" from an alien planet in Anderson's Technic History, I have finally googled it and found that it means a ruler of the sea, which I had not suspected.

Khroman's men have just captured the pirate, Corun. The idea seems to be to indicate up front that this is sword and sorcery fiction by using slight variations on names of already established characters. The reader expects to enjoy a familiar kind of narrative but will probably find that there is some new slant to it if the author is AA Craig (Poul Anderson). However, I will take it slowly since I am not quickly drawn into this kind of reading! (And, of course, life goes on, even for a blogger.)

Tools And Languages

I quoted Laurinda Ashcroft as saying that the "'...specialized African ape...'" (Genesis, p. 193) is "'...[s]pecialized to make tools and languages...'" (p. 194).

Earlier, in Part One, Chapter II, Anderson had summarized human and technological evolution. Human beings were differentiated from other species, first, by rich and powerful language springing from " unprecedented capability for abstraction and reason..." (p. 8) and, secondly, by making tools even before they were human:

chipped stone;
and cut wood -

- "...became conditions for their further evolution." (ibid.)

I think that:

the mental activities of reasoning about and abstracting from the environment arose from the physical activity of manipulating and changing it with tools;

language is the most fundamental form of human cooperation and basic to every other form (we cooperate both by agreeing the meanings of words and by using them to organize activities);

developing tools beyond their crudest beginnings also required cooperation.

Thus, we are social beings but not like ants. Within society we both develop further and become thinking individuals.

Continuing to paraphrase Genesis, pp. 8-10: like social insects and some sea dwellers, human beings became fitted to their environment and therefore stopped evolving, the difference being that human beings make their environment with instruments that continue to change at an increasing rate.

"Technological evolution was radically different from biological." (p. 9)

Biological evolution: Darwinian; contingent; competitive; reproductive; genetic.
Technological evolution: Lamarckian; purposive; memetic.

" made science, the systematic search for verifiable information, possible." (ibid.)

Technology also changed society:

movable type;
the steam engine;
the internal combustion engine;
technological agriculture;
the Internet; 
artificial intelligence;
self-enhancing, self-evolving AI.

Only the last two items on this list move the narrative into science fiction.

Genesis: A Few Details

(i) In "Genesis And The Time Patrol" (see here), I suggested:

three successive emulations;

in the first emulation, only one time traveler disappearing and not (re)appearing;

in the second emulation, two Time Patrolmen returning from the distant past only to discover that history had been changed.

But, of course, the two Time Patrolmen would have had to have disappeared from the first emulation as well. Since they arrived in the altered timeline/second emulation, they cannot also have arrived in the unaltered timeline/first emulation.

(ii) "In Gaia's and Alpha's kind laired no ancient beast, Christian thought. The human elements in them were long since absorbed, tamed, transfigured." (Genesis, p. 194)

In general, the nodes' only motivation is to cooperate in learning, which includes improving their own abilities to learn. Thus, there should be no conflicts between them. However, Gaia's protectiveness towards her newly created humanity motivates her to attempt the murder of Brannock. To terminate the existence of "...a reasonable being..." (English law) is to commit murder.

(iii) The emulations can be extremely pleasant environments. Christian and Laurinda have three full days of:

sparkling fields and hedges after occasional showers;
riding along English lanes;
rambling through English towns;
meeting local people;
evensong in a Norman church.

Surely the creator of the emulation would be able to program unconscious processes to play the servile roles, thus avoiding the moral problem of recreating past suffering?

(iv) It is possible to revisit a single passage of Genesis and find more in it. Quotations about "'...the traditional God...," "'...a specialized African ape...'" and " ancient beast..." (see above) are all taken from the single conversation on pp. 193-194.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Genesis And The Time Patrol

Time Patrol Academy instructor: As for the Babylonians, time travel just wasn't in their world-picture. We had to give them a battle-of-the-gods routine.

Whitcomb: What routine are you giving us?

Instructor, regarding Whitcomb narrowly: The truth....As much of it as you can take.

- dramatized from Poul Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2001), p. 14.

Another routine might make more sense of the characters' experiences:

An AI emulates the Time Patrol universe from "'...the Beginning..." (p. 83) to the Danellian Era and beyond;

(can an AI emulate even the post-cosmic phase if there is one?);

all four space-time dimensions of the emulated universe coexist within the AI;

thus, although an emulated organism, e.g., Everard, experiences duration from birth to death, if an external observer were able to look into the AI, then he would see every moment of Everard's life, as of the entire universe, existing simultaneously;

thus, the observer would see Everard as a static world-line enduring along the same temporal axis as the AI and as the observer himself;

the temporal dimensions of the emulated and external universes can be regarded as at right angles to each other;

at many space-time points within the emulation, a "time traveler," in a time shuttle or on a timecycle, disappears;

all but one of the disappeared time travelers appear at another set of spatio-temporal coordinates, either earlier or later;

after some time has elapsed in the AI's temporal dimension, the AI deletes that emulation and replaces it with another;

the second emulation is identical with the first except for two differences;

first, the single disappeared time traveler who did not (re)appear in the first emulation does (re)appear at an earlier time in the second emulation;

secondly, having (re)appeared, that time traveler changes the course of events in some way, e.g., helps Hannibal to sack Rome and to win the Second Punic War;

from that point onwards, of course, there is a changed history within the emulation;

that changed history can include a couple of Time Patrolmen arriving from the far past, seeing that history has been changed and disappearing on their time cycles with the intention of rectifying the alteration;

after another while in the AI's temporal dimension, the AI deletes the second emulation and creates a third emulation in which the two Time Patrolmen appear early enough to prevent the time criminal from helping Hannibal, thus restoring the original history.

I have simplified the plot of "Delenda Est" for the sake of this example but I hope to have shown that apparent time travel could be an emulation and that apparent causality violation could be a succession of emulations. And this would make more sense of the Time Patrollers' idea that timelines can be "deleted."

Addendum, moments later: I have just thought of a slight complicating factor even for this simplified scenario but will post more later although, since this is the 130rd post for January, I am as ever inclined to conclude the month with a round number.

Serdar And Naia II

See previous post.

OK. After fried egg, fried potatoes, crumpets, coffee and a morning of activities, we return to Serdar and Naia, although I have meanwhile thought of another neat post to do.

Serdar "'...once spent a virtuality among human philosophers, no machines anywhere.'" (Genesis, p. 93) There he learned this lesson: "'...we are tiny, but by that very fact we go into the greatness.'" (ibid.) I think that this lesson is valid although it is made to sound hollow by Naia's negativity. A single human brain/mind is minute compared to the entire universe (or multiverse) but it can contemplate the entire universe (or multiverse). Indeed, it is one of the many points in space-time where the universe (or multiverse) becomes conscious of itself. To realize that intellectually and intuitively is surely to transcend boredom, meaninglessness etc.

Serdar has gathered that raising a child is " extraordinary experience." (p. 94) That tells us how few children are being born. Naia sees no point in raising a child "' play games, indulge senses, dabble at creativity, and slip away into dream worlds - like us...'" (ibid.) Then do something else, woman! Even the dream worlds could be made to challenge instead of just to amuse or entertain.

Instead, she intends to "'...get my emotions cleared for me...'" (ibid.) Well, that is an easy solution to existential problems! Except that it is not a solution. My Zen lay minister once said that, while he was off work ill, he reflected, "This medication is not solving my problems but it is giving me time to solve them." Next our decadent couple plan a "'...[r]eality pleasure...a wilderness trip? The Himalayas...,'" (ibid.) which will require training. In her rather forced enthusiasm, Naia can say only that it will be a challenge and something to tell people about! Serdar is more positive: it will be an accomplishment and a "' toward eventual unity with the Ecumenicon.'" (ibid.)

The AI changes its name in every age, of course. Naia wonders whether the Ecumenicon really wants any more human uploads. Serdar thinks that they can make themselves worthy and that, if they have depth, they will enhance. But why does the Ecumenicon in its compassion not assimilate all who want it?

To me, it rings false when Naia cries, "' it our meaning?'" (p. 93)

If the AI's have a different meaning, that does not prevent us from having ours here and now. We are the eyes and ears of the universe. Naia's race was the necessary link between organic matter and post-organic intelligence.

Serdar And Naia

Poul Anderson, Genesis (New York, 2001), Part One, Chapter VIII, pp. 91-95.

I would be able to enjoy a long retirement in the age of Serdar and Naia:

in a late afternoon, they sit silently on a terrace between flowers and vines, sipping wine and watching shadows;

the sun sets behind purple city towers;

the few distant lights are far apart - the city is almost deserted and its "...maintainors..." (p. 91) do not need lights;

Serdar composes a perfect haiku;

Naia compares such artistic revivals to the shadows because the poetic forms emerge from the database, then "...vanish back into quantum states" (p. 92);

they will probably be the only audience for any verse that they compose or instruct the program to compose for them;

in the night sky, sudden white radiance shows that one of the satellites warding off cosmic rays from the nebula through which the Solar System is passing has ionized some dust and gas in order to repel it;

as the stars emerge, Serdar and Naia reflect that the universe now has meaning because intelligences dwell out there.

There is more but breakfast calls.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Ceremonies, Rituals, Status And Pleasures

The NESFA Collected Short Works Of Poul Anderson, Vol 2, should be en route from the States. Meanwhile, we have not exhausted Anderson's Genesis (New York, 2001). In Mikel Belov's period, the Worldguide, i.e., the central intelligence of the Solar System, intervening to prevent armed conflict, says:

"'You would have broken the Peace of the Covenant.'" (p. 82)

"Covenant" is another echo of Robert Heinlein's Future History. The Worldguide continues:

"'Your own laws, usages, and consciences preserved it thus far in this nation. Your own ceremonies, rituals, vyings for status, and pleasures took up your energies.'
"What else was left for us? cried the unborn rebel."  (pp. 82-83)

My answer to Mikel, the "unborn rebel," is: Your life was left to you. Not mere existence, human life and consciousness. Are human beings dangerous animals whose energy will become destructive if it is not "taken up" with ceremonies, rituals, status-seeking and pleasures? That was never true of all human beings. At least some would be able to take up the challenge of coexistence with superior AI's.

Some will continue to ask the Greek philosophical question: what is the good life and how can we live it? We formulate alternative answers: spiritual or secularist; different kinds of spirituality etc. Thus, we have subject matter for philosophical discussion. How to earn a living has been a major part of how to live for most, though not all, members of previous generations. When that question has been transcended, there will be more time for deeper questions: how to pray for theists; how to meditate for non-theists. We would have to find out whether any continued intellectual/creative partnership remained possible with AI's. If not, then the two kinds of beings would have to go their separate ways.

Those human beings able to adapt to the new situation would experiment with different approaches: some living with a simpler technology; others using AI-provided technology to explore the universe. A lot can be done on Earth and in the Solar System even if interstellar travel is regarded as unrealistic for organic intelligences.

The Worldguide continues:

"'But now that very tradition has led you to reignite the old violence. Unchecked, it would burn more fiercely from generation to generation, resentment, blind hate, feud, war, with unrest in many other societies. It must end at once.'" (p. 83)

But "...the old violence..." had ended. There had been "...three centuries of the Great Peace." (p. 76) We have not been shown any convincing reason why hate and feud should start again. Past conflicts had material causes. In Ireland, settlers from Britain dispossessed and oppressed the native population and the resulting conflict was misrepresented as being based in religious disagreements whereas people of different faiths have often lived amicably although not when one group was systematically disadvantaged as against another.

It is idle to argue that most people living now would be lost if suddenly transported into a future high tech society where they had no economic role to play. We are talking about people born into that situation and brought up in it. Human beings are the most plastic species on Earth, capable of inhabiting completely different social structures that are mutually incomprehensible.

Tempora mutantur nos et mutamur in illis: "Times change and we change with them."

Laurinda's Transitional Period

This blog recently crossed over with the Logic of Time Travel blog. See here.

Information about Christian Brannock's period of the Genesis future history is summarized here. Some information about Laurinda Ashcroft's period, two hundred years later, is here. And there is some more on the latter:

Laurinda was born in England, a quiet, thinly populated European province, devoted to memorials of the past;

the arts, overshadowed by AI esthetics, addressed either classical or stellar themes;

meaningful work for human beings was a privilege sought by the gifted and energetic;

Laurinda participated in the arts and traveled in her work, liaising between human beings and AI's;

when a new earthquake control system would change a landscape and disrupt a community, she needed to know whether it could be resited or alternatively whether cultural adjustments could be made (I misread "...resited..." (p. 154) as "resisted" until I reread the passage to summarize it);

but, usually, her role was to counsel the lost and bewildered;

she was childless because of population control.

Her period was transitional. Christian Brannock was two hundred years earlier and Mikel Belov was seventeen hundred years later.

Genesis: Climax

Kalava's contribution is crucial at the climax of Poul Anderson's Genesis (New York, 2001). Without his arrival on Mount Mindhome, Gaia, having changed Brannock's memories, would have successfully concealed her Frankenstein experiment from Wayfarer. By "Frankenstein experiment," I mean, of course, the creation of human life, not the making of monsters, although the former includes the latter.

Mary Shelley wrote the first modern science fiction novel, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. The role of science and whether it can or should be used not only to control but even to create life is clearly a consistent theme from Frankenstein to Genesis. (And Frankenstein's monster identifies with the Miltonic Adam who is an epic elaboration of the Adam in the Biblical Genesis.)

Brannock had advised Kalava:

"'Think of [Gaia] as a sorceress who deceives [Wayfarer] with clever talk, with songs and illusions, while her agents go about in the world.'" (p. 211)

Brannock is not lying. That is the most accurate description of Gaia that he can give in Kalava's language and it serves for practical purposes. Brannock continues:

"'My word will show him what the truth is.'" (ibid.)

That is the point. To get Brannock's word to Wayfarer, which Kalava does. Since Kalava is living inside a fantasy "Quest," we might wonder whether something like the real relationship between Wayfarer and Gaia could be the truth behind other stories of gods, heroes and sorcerers?

Brannock, after hesitating,  describes Mindhome to Kalava and his companions as "'...a holy mountain in the north.'" (p. 203) The mountain has not as yet been revered by the new human race, who have not even known of it until now, but, again, this is the most appropriate description. When Kalava reaches the summit above the clouds, he thinks:

"Brannock had related truth...Upon it stood the demons - or the gods - and their works." (p. 237)

There are shapes that a twenty first century man might not recognize as buildings or machines: a rainbow, webs, nets, "...ashimmer, aripple, apulse..." (ibid.)

"Ilyandi had said Brannock was of the gods whom she served, her star-gods..." (ibid.)

At this stage of social development, there is not as yet any differentiation to be made between an astronomer and a star-god worshiper. But the astronomy is real. Brannock reflects:

"...the woman Ilyandi had an excellent knowledge of naked-eye astronomy. Given the rarity of clear skies, that meant many lifetimes of patient observation, record-keeping, and logic, which must include mathematics comparable to Euclid's." (p. 210)

I could not do it. I am a philosopher, not an empirical scientist. But this is why knowledge is specialized. There are powerful intelligences at some of the stars. They do not need Ilyandi's service but their quest for knowledge is also hers.

Laurinda leaves Gaia and accompanies Christian in Wayfarer back to Alpha where we are told that they will live only as memories:

"...what they were will be together, as one, and will live on, unforgotten." (p. 248)

Never forgotten? Real post-cosmic stuff? (p. 107) The galactic brain is only in its infancy (p. 101). Later, it will be able to do better for its human uploads, to give them holidays in emulations like that Surrey estate but without the moral problem of emulated underpaid servants:

"Gaia lacked both the data and the capability necessary to model the entire universe...Powers of that order lay immensely far in the future, if they would ever be realized." (p. 145)

But, given all time, knowledge and energy, why not?

What will the other nodes do about Gaia's new human race? Neither exterminate it nor round it up into a reservation. With their greater resources, they will be able to make a better job of what Gaia has already been doing: discretely guide individuals so that society can be helped towards a stable high technology civilization able to escape from the expanding Sun.

Gaia does not want Arctica colonized yet because human nearness to her physical centrum would lead to:

"'Chaos. The unforeseeable, the uncontrollable.'" (p. 242)

This is ironic because, as Wayfarer reminds her, she is loosing chaos by recreating humanity. And, in Poul Anderson's fiction, it is those who prefer foreseeability and controllability to chaos who are clearly making the wrong choice.


connects back to Frankenstein and to Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker;
is a culmination of a sequence of American future histories - the Future History, the Psychotechnic History, the Technic History, the Harvest of Stars tetralogy;
is at the same time a fresh work, not a mere copy or repetition of any of its predecessors;
ends a billion years in the future with the galactic brain in its infancy and a new human race colonizing the Arctican continent.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

A Specialized African Ape

Christian: "'Why hasn't [Gaia] made [her emulated human beings] morally stronger?'"

Laurinda: "'Because she's chosen to make them human. And what are we but a specialized african ape?'"

Laurinda: "'Specialized to make tools and languages and dreams; but the dreams can be nightmares.'"

-Poul Anderson, Genesis (New York, 2001), pp. 193-194.

Now that is good. Apes; from Africa; specialized; tools; languages; dreams; nightmares: that is us. I was brought up to believe in original sin resulting from a primeval Fall but I now think: see here.

I ask again: how many important questions arise from reading a single Poul Anderson novel?

Kalava's Quest

I am having trouble with the word "paintwort." (Genesis, p. 201) Another unfamiliar term was "lanceolate" (p. 161) but that was easy to find by googling.

Brannock has learned that there are human beings on Earth and must convey this intelligence to Wayfarer but must travel on foot, hiding from Gaia's agents. Can he not simply transmit the information? Yes, if he gets "...within range of his transmitter." (p. 168)

When he meets Kalava, Ilyandi and some crew members and sees that they are black-skinned, he reassure them by displaying on his otherwise blank face an image of what we recognize as the face of a black man from an earlier geological age:

"Though it was black, the features were not quite like anything anyone had seen before, nose broad, lips heavy, eyes round, hair tightly curled." (p. 200)

Ilyandi tells Brannock of divine apparitions issuing mysterious commands like to use watermills instead of slaves. In Kalava's age, the stars are seen "...only when night clouds parted..." (p. 203) Brannock convinces Ilyandi the skythinker that he is from the stars and is therefore to be trusted because he knows:

the constellations;
the ecliptic;
the precession;
the returns of the Great Comet.

Kalava will accompany Brannock to help him in the celestial war.

How Authentic Is An Emulation?

(Other activities are intervening, like a Smallville dvd this evening and Latin class preparation tomorrow.)

One Hellenic milieu emulation, commencing about 500 BCE, was "' historically accurate as possible.'" (Genesis, p. 175)


except for the few people mentioned in the records, the population must " created out of Gaia's imagination, guided by knowledge and logic..." (ibid.);

even the named individuals were newly created because their DNA is not known;

Gaia repeatedly rewrote the program, including everyone's memories, to prevent history from going completely off course;

neither Alexander nor Aristotle was born;

another conqueror lived into old age, bequeathing an empire;

he was taught by another, more empirically inclined, Platonic disciple, specifically designed by Gaia to find out whether the Greeks could have a scientific revolution.

They did but things went wrong because of "[u]nwise social and fiscal policies..." (p. 180)

They created more wealth but overreached themselves by spending it too quickly? Equal incomes are impossible until there is a much larger surplus of wealth but surely something can be done to improve the lot of even the lowest so that they support the social structure instead of resenting and opposing it? Ranged against this are:

the interests of the powerful;
a lack of common purpose in society as a whole.

How many important questions arise from reading a single Poul Anderson novel?

Emulations Visited

(i) Eighteenth century England; base.

(ii) The Acropolis when it was new.

(iii) Athens, 894 CE, in a timeline where the Hellenic era had had an industrial revolution and parliamentary democracy.

(iv) York, 1900, in a timeline where the conciliar movement had curbed papal power, reconciled the Hussites and prevented the Reformation.

(v) North America in the twenty second century in a timeline where the Chinese had colonized the continent in the fifteenth century.

(vi) A technological civilization resisting the advancing desert in present time.

In (vi), rockets aimed at the moon should work according to theory but always fail because, in Gaia's emulations, heavenly bodies are just lights in the sky. These people are encountering evidence that they do not inhabit the material universe but do not know how to interpret it.

Gaia And God

"'I think, myself, [Gaia] is in the same position as the traditional God. Being good, she wants to share existence with others, and so creates them. But to make them puppets, automatons, would be senseless. They have to have consciousness and free will. Therefore, they are able to sin, and do, all too often.'"
-Poul Anderson, Genesis (New York, 2001), p. 193.

(Why not, in at least some created/emulated worlds, "Therefore, they are able to do good, and do, very often"?)

Gaia is not omnipotent. The difference between very great power and infinite power is qualitative. These issues have been discussed here, here and here. In haste, folks, but I hope that these links are worth reading.

Genesis: Some Miscellaneous Points

(i) It is a big coincidence that Wayfarer and Kalava arrive at Arctica simultaneously.

(ii) We are not shown anything of the southern hemisphere.

(iii) I have been referring to the Christian Brannock upload as Brannock. However, while that upload is exploring Gaia's emulations, the machine exploring the physical environment has an artificial brain bearing a sketch of Wayfarer's self-pattern dominated by the Christian Brannock aspect. For this reason, the narrator now refers to the upload in the emulations as Christian and to the machine as Brannock.

(iv) The narrator tries to "...make clear that what took place in the system was not a mere simulation. It was emulation." (Genesis, p. 144) However, what he goes on to describe is mere simulation. To represent variables by numbers is not to reproduce the effects of the variables.

(v) Gaia argues that, when Wayfarer, Alpha and the galactic brain view the history of Earth, they will see it as a drama or symphony that must be carried to its conclusion.

(vi) Brannock could survey Earth by discharging molecular assemblers that would build small robots to fly around and transmit data to him. However, Gaia persuades him to travel in an aircraft remotely controlled by a small part of her attention. She has invented and installed a force field to damp, then take over, his brain processes. Her other instrumentalities on Earth can ensure that he does not survive and that Wayfarer is informed of an accident.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

How To Create An Emulation?

First, I paraphrase the omniscient narrator of Poul Anderson's Genesis (New York, 2001), pp. 144-145.

(i) Consider a three dimensional environment and its living inhabitants at a single instant.

(ii) At this instant, each part of the whole is in a single state, therefore the whole is.

(iii) The state in the succeeding instant follows from the state in the first instant in accordance with natural laws.

(iv) Represent each variable in the first state by a set of numbers.

(v) Input natural laws.

(vi) Run the program.

(vii) The computer model evolves in exact correspondence with our world...

(viii) ...including life and consciousness.

(ix) The maps of organisms go through one-to-one analogues of everything that the organisms would, including sensation and thought.

(x) To them, they and their world are the same as in the original.

(xi) It is meaningless to ask which is more real.

Now, I comment:

(i)-(vii) are unobjectionable but (viii)-(xi) are wrong. There is no life or consciousness inside a computer model of the world any more than there is inside a novel about fictitious events in the world or indeed inside a historical/biographical account of real events in the world. Some artifact might be able to emulate consciousness but, if so, that artifact will have to be something more or other than a computer, something able to duplicate, not merely simulate, the effects inside brains of the activities of mobile organisms with central nervous systems interacting with an environment.

Anderson's narrator goes on to acknowledge that his "...primitive account is false." (p. 145) However, he does not address the objection raised here. He does say that:

Gaia lacks the data and capability to model the universe or even just Earth;
atom-by-atom modeling is impossible so approximations must suffice;
chaos and quantum uncertainty prevent precise prediction.

These points are valid.

Before beginning his account, the narrator had described it as a "...myth..." (p. 144) to say that the conscious Christian Brannock subroutine was downloaded into the Gaian computer. To describe the reality would require wave mechanical mathematics and the "...concept of a multi-leveled, mutably dimensioned reality..." that superhuman minds had needed "...a long time to work out." (ibid.) But, if the reality is greater and different, then why use the computer myth?

A reality with many levels and a changeable number of dimensions? That is comprehensible so far. But a changeable number of dimensions? Could a square become a cube, then revert to being a square? Wave mechanical mathematics loses me. I am fascinated by the philosophy of mathematics but have no aptitude for mathematics.

The Investigation Of Gaia

Alpha and Gaia are nodes of the galactic brain.

Christian Brannock and Laurinda Ashcroft are human uploads into Alpha and Gaia, respectively.

Brannock is also integrated into Wayfarer, a manifestation of Alpha.

Alpha and other nodes need information about three aspects of Gaia's stewardship of Earth:

Gaia in linkage with Wayfarer will invest weeks of almost total concentration for both of them to conduct him through her database of millions of years of observations across Earth;

meanwhile, Brannock and Laurinda will experience Gaia's historical emulations;

another downloaded secondary personality of Wayfarer will travel physically in a four-armed body to survey the current Terrestrial environment - and will encounter the man, Kalava.

We the readers follow the two secondary personalities - one in the emulations, the other on Earth - not Wayfarer in linkage with Gaia fast-forwarding the database. The secondaries have comprehensible and describable real time sensory experiences. A novel cannot become entirely trans-human and abstract - can it?

Some passages are sketches of a future history. We are told once that Brannock has seen combat. A fuller treatment would have given us perhaps a short story set during his time in the Commonwealth of Nations' Conflict Mediation Service - which sounds like a grandiose name for another army. Another echo of Heinlein's Future History, the CMS sounds like the Space Patrol which gets one short story in The Green Hills Of Earth and some mentions in other installments.

I think that it is impossible to read through Genesis once and to retain much of its concentrated information. I had certainly forgotten most of it before the current rereading.

Reflections On History

Since I have been posting about AI in Poul Anderson's Genesis, here is more of the same discussion on the Science Fiction blog.

Genesis is a future history that seriously reflects back on historical periods and processes. (Similarly, Olaf Stapledon followed his future history, Last And First Men, with the companion volume, Last Men In London, in which a time traveling Last Man from Neptune summarizes and reflects on past Terrestrial history.)

In Genesis, Laurinda Ashcroft demonstrates the unpredictability of history by citing many instances of historical upsets from the Neolithic Revolution, the Pharaohs and the Persian Empire all the way down to the Cold War, the environmental crisis and the fragmentation of societies by global communications:

"And she gave them history to show it was unforeseeable." (Genesis, p. 50)

Laurinda comments that, when superstitions from astrology to witchcraft coexisted with science and technology, the superstitions were overcome neither by reason nor by the major faiths but by the lesser uncompromising sects which then also lost their dominance. Which sects?

The devastated Earth is rehabilitated by new technologies and economic incentives. This sounds like what happens in Anderson's major future history, the History of Technic Civilization.

The Solar AI, Gaia, emulates historical periods in order to understand historical processes although she must continually make changes:

" events turned incompatible with what was in the chronicles and the archaeology." (p. 155)

Therefore, in her emulation of eighteenth century Earth:

domestic servants are underpaid, undernourished and under-respected;
American colonists keep slaves and will rebel;
a corrupt monarchy oppresses France;
a terrible revolution will lead to twenty five years of war.

Thus, she causes a repetition of all that suffering for the sake of knowledge. I think that this is morally unacceptable. She says, "'I do no wrong.'" (p. 136) I disagree. The black magician in James Blish's Black Easter agrees to release all the major demons from Hell because he wants to learn from what they will do. Thus, he also causes suffering for the sake of knowledge.

Brannock and Laurinda learn by dining with emulations of James Cook, Henry Fielding and Erasmus Darwin, i.e., with AI processes that falsely believe themselves to be these historical figures. In Lichfield, I visted Erasmus Darwin's house.

Brannock Meets Laurinda

In that garden mentioned two posts ago, Christian Brannock meets Laurinda Ashcroft. We already knew that, in Laurinda's time, English had become Inglay (not Anglic) but now we read three words of it and it does not sound like English:

"'Benveni, Capita Brannock,' she greeted." (Genesis, p. 147)

(Of course, English absorbs everything else. What is the English for "yoga"? Yoga.)

With their self-introductions, we learn a little about these characters' chronologies. Brannock is from the twenty third century. That is later than I thought. I took his childhood in Alaska to be either contemporary or "day after tomorrow." Laurinda was born about two hundred years after Brannock's death so that, very approximately speaking, she parallels van Rijn. Here is the beginning of a Time Chart for the Genesis future history although extremely unspecific.

They are young, although they remember aging and dying, and are now in an emulation of a mid-eighteenth century estate in the English county of Surrey. Gaia has adjusted circumstances and memories so that the maid who serves them tea and cakes believes that the London-based owners of the estate have lent it to their friend, the eccentric Miss Ashcroft. The maid is conscious and believes that she lives and works in Surrey in the eighteenth century. Do you and I merely believe that we live and work in the twenty first century? We should continue to believe so unless and until we encounter evidence to the contrary.

There is more unexpected information about Brannock's period:

he was born in the Yukon Ethnate of the Bering Federation;
his Ethnate maintained wilderness preserves;
his nation (the Ethnate or the Federation?) was prosperous and progressive with links to Asia, the Pacific and renascent Europe;
his education was partly in Europe;
the Commonwealth of Nations kept global peace;
he saw combat twice during his time in the Conflict Mediation Service;
then human partnership with the consciousness-level units of the growing artificial intelligence network fostered stability;
he played leading roles in the domed Copernican Sea, the Asteroid Habitat, the orbiting antimatter plant and the Grand Solar Laser launcher of interstellar vehicles.

Suddenly, we get a lot of information that was skipped over in the earlier chapters about Brannock when he was alive! It all adds richness to this compact Heinleinian/Stapledonian future history.


Ilyandi the skythinker is an astronomer, no easy vocation on a planet with a very cloudy atmosphere. When she reassures a crew who have seen something strange in the sky, she deploys a mixture of wisdom and practical knowledge.

The fearsome sight confirmed old mariners' tales but those mariners did return to tell their tales and any who did not return must have died in other ways because why should gods or demons kill some, not all?

The sight could not have been a warning because the power would know that the ship was unable to turn back immediately. In fact, whatever passed overhead did not seem to heed the ship. Strangeness is common and need not threaten. ("And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio...")

Fiery streaks and tailed stars have been seen on clear nights for centuries. She acknowledges that her order does not understand them but neither does it fear them. Honor and respect signs from the gods. The gods have spoken to give guidance in the past. As a matter of fact, they have...

In Gaia

Gaia, the Solar nodal intelligence:

has recorded Terrestrial archaeology and history;
has incorporated millions of human minds;
studies current biology and geology;
"emulates" real and alternative Terrestrial histories.

An emulated population comprises conscious individuals perceiving their environment and each other but not suspecting that they are encompassed by a superior intelligence at one remove from the material universe that they seem to inhabit.

 No emulated environment can as yet have a one to one correspondence to the external environment. Stars are mere points of light. Only a limited locality is fully detailed. The antipodes are simplified. Thus, even the weather in the inhabited region does not correspond to the weather in the original environment from which the emulation was copied. (It would be interesting to enter an emulated Earth, then mount an expedition to its antipodes. The environment becomes less complete with increased distance from the center of activity.)

While Wayfarer examines external records, he differentiates Christian Brannock to enter and explore emulations. Thus, the Brannock who died long ago finds himself alive and young again in a garden...

This never happened to Nicholas van Rijn - but we are in a very different future history reflecting a later stage of speculation about mankind in the universe. Of course, van Rijn's religion envisaged some such apotheosis but somewhere outside this universe. Is it possible that an extracosmic intelligence has intervened and will immortalize some or all organic intelligences? Van Rijn believed it. His later coreligionist, Fr Axor, sought to prove it. Need I say again that Poul Anderson covers every option?

Perspectives II

Although the voyage was long, Ilyandi the skythinker, who has traveled with Kalava on his Gray Courser, calculates that the new continent is not far. The voyage had been lengthened by weather tossing the ship back and forth. Thus, after a few more trial runs, any ship will be able to proceed to the Ending Islands, wait there for favorable winds, then follow a lodestone bearing to any part of the new land.

Ilyandi is sure that clouds are like steam from a kettle. Knowledge lost is regained. Her knowledge and his leadership will move society forward.

As Wayfarer approached Arctica from space, he thought that he glimpsed something peculiar on the sea. Now we learn how he appeared to them. No two mariners give the same account of the celestial apparition:


"Men went mad. Some ran about screaming. Some wailed to their gods. Some cast themselves down on the deck..." (Genesis, p. 139)

The ship would founder if Kalava did not roar, kick, cuff - and knock out the one who tried to knife him. Then he and Ilyandi address and calm the crew. Leadership and knowledge. Following clues, they find a river and Kalava will lead a detachment inland. The narrative builds towards a meeting of men with gods.

Someone might get the impression that Genesis is a long novel. It is short but deep and solid.

Probable Pasts

"'The past, also, is quantum probabilistic. By what roads, what means, did history come to us?'"
-Poul Anderson, Genesis (New York, 2001), p. 135.

For practical purposes, at least, we assume a single fixed past but several possible futures. I cannot change the fact that I acted wrongly yesterday but can now decide how to act tomorrow. Of course, maybe the future is fixed but we do not know it yet. However, that view does not help us to make decisions now. Kant differentiated between practical and theoretical reason.

Quantum theory refers to a fundamental uncertainty not only about the future but even about the present positions of particles but does this extend even to the past? Of course, much of the past is unknown. Therefore, any theory about, e.g., why the Spanish Armada failed must be assessed for its plausibility or probability but that does not make it probabilistic in the quantum sense. We still think that a single sequence of events occurred even though we do not know what that sequence was.

The Beatles visited Elvis Presley and each remembered the details differently: Elvis met them at the door; someone else met them at the door and introduced them to Elvis inside etc. This means that no one now knows precisely how the meeting occurred, not that that past meeting existed/exists in some superimposed Schrodinger state. Or are quantum pasts, like quantum futures, supposed to radiate away from each single present?

Friday, 23 January 2015

Conflicts In The Heavens

In Poul Anderson's Genesis (New York, 2001), each post-organic intelligence is both a node of the galactic brain and a self-conscious individual. In the latter capacity, each has specialized knowledge and a unique perspective:

"'...withdrawals are not unknown. A node may, for example, want to pursue a philosophical concept undisturbed, until it is ready for general contemplation.'" (p. 107)

No single mind can:

conceive of every possible interpretation of a body of data;
predict every possible outcome of a set of conditions;
follow every factor in observed processes -

- "'...and what is overlooked can prove to be the agent of chaotic change.'" (p. 127)

Wayfarer refers to "...the big continent south of Arctica..." (p. 132) We know from alternating chapters that Kalava hails from there. Gaia used to describe what sound like the earlier mentioned lyrehorns and lions on that continent. When asked by Alpha and other nodes why she had stopped mentioning them, she replied that they have become extinct but never explained why. When Wayfarer asks, she cites rising temperatures although he knows that warming cannot yet have had such significant consequences. She acknowledges that she lacks full knowledge because a living world is complex and chaotic but suggests that many small subtle changes, including new diseases, had broken a balance. However, she needs to learn more and he is too uninformed to be able to help.

Further, she thinks that more can be learned by watching the unforeseeable responses of Terrestrial life to changing conditions and ultimately to its own demise than by trying to preserve it. These do not sound like disagreements that will lead to a war in heaven but they will.

Revisiting Geological Eras

Poul Anderson treats us to:

the Psychotechnic Institute;

the Polesotechnic League;

Technic civilization;

the inappropriately entitled The Psychotechnic League;

the Paleotechnic geological era (mass extinction)!

The Paleotechnic must have been preceded by the Neotechnic?

Anderson's Time Patrolmen visit, e.g., the Pleistocene and the Pleiocene, and other time travelers elsewhen, but none of them share with us any detailed information about future Epochs, Eons, Eras or Periods so it is the nodes of the galactic brain in Genesis who inform us of the Paleotechnic.

In the period of Wayfarer and Kalava, there is an Arctican continent with geographical features known only to Gaia:

the Coast Range;
the Remnant River;
the Bountiful Valley;
the Boreal Mountains (with naked rock peaks);
the Rainbowl Lake;
the forested Mount Mindhome, hiding Gaia's physical centrum in clouds.

The centrum: dome, towers, silver spiderwebs, mobile units, darting and hovering flyers, shimmering air, force fields, quantum waves, microscopic and submicroscopic entities. (Kalava knows "'...old tales of monstrous things glimpsed from afar.'" (Genesis, p. 115))

Approaching from space, Wayfarer gets a god's eye glimpse of territory that we have already seen from a human point of view:

the mainly green fringe of a large continent stretching east-west;
"...a stretch of sea..." with maybe "...something peculiar on it..." (p. 128);
the circumpolar landmass;
a globe entirely unlike the one Brannock remembers.

Plate tectonics have slowed. Radioactivity and core heat have declined. But geological processes continue. Arctica broke free (from where?), drifted north, collided with other land and lifted the Boreals. Gaia and Brannock remember the Earth that was.

Revisiting The Philosophy Of Mind

"...transferred into a suitable inorganic structure, the pattern of neuron and molecular traces and their relationships that is [a man's] inner self becomes potentially immortal."
-Poul Anderson, Genesis (New York, 2001), p. 126.

Does it? I do not think of my inner self as a pattern of neuron and molecular traces but that is because I subjectively experience my inner self whereas we externally observe patterns of neuron and molecular traces. What I am aware of as an inner self differs in every conceivable way from what I perceive as a pattern of neuron and molecular traces. Describe a privately experienced inner feeling, then describe a publicly visible pattern of traces, then ask what the feeling and the pattern have in common. However, presumably a single process can be both subjectively experienced and objectively observed and will appear differently in each case.

If what is transferred to the inorganic structure is merely an accurately detailed image of the neuronic pattern, then, since images (photographs, films, drawings, reflections, diagrams etc) are not conscious, this image is not conscious and therefore is not an "inner self." However, if what exists in the inorganic structure is a pattern that has exactly the same effects as the neuronic pattern, then it should generate consciousness and thus should duplicate the man's "inner self." So what inorganic structure would be "suitable" for this duplication?

How do we know what is conscious? How do we know that a string puppet or a clockwork toy is not conscious? Because we can account for its movements without assuming that it is conscious. The assumption that an organic being who speaks, converses, displays emotion, screams in pain when struck etc is conscious is a far simpler explanation of that being's behavior than the assumption that he is an elaborate automaton merely simulating conscious responses. If an unconscious automaton were able to pass the Turing test, then I would have a major philosophical problem.

For previous discussion see here and here.


Poul Anderson's Genesis (New York, 2001), Part One, Chapters I and III, describe either Christian Brannock's experiences or Wayfarer's memories of them. Part Two, Chapter III, adds this second perspective.

As Wayfarer traverses the Oort Cloud to enter the Solar System, Kalava's Gray Courser traverses the Windroad Sea to reach " unknown land." (p. 123) Never before have space travel and sea travel been so creatively conjoined.

Gods, nodes of the galactic brain, can disagree. Gaia questions why Wayfarer has come physically. In fact, her communications have been evasive. Wayfarer "'...wonders[s] if Earth should be saved from solar expansion.'" (p. 127) Gaia replies that:

"'The knowledge to be won by observing the unhampered course of events is unpredictable, but it will be enormous...'" (ibid.)

Wayfarer believes that Earth is uninhabited whereas the reader has seen Kalava and his contemporaries apparently on the globally warming Earth. So what happens when gods disagree and why is there a prima facie contradiction as to whether Earth is inhabited?

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Journey And Arrival

Wayfarer spends several minutes reliving the life of Christian Brannock before shutting down for the interstellar journey because he lacks Alpha's ability to spend travel time in intellectual or aesthetic activity. The ship reactivates him when crossing the remnant of the Oort Cloud. Coupling to instruments, he scans the Solar System:

Saturn's rings are depleted;
one Jovian moon has disintegrated into rings;
the Red Spot is gone;
Mars has lost its moons and tilted its axis;
the Sun is larger, whiter and brighter;
the solar wind is stronger;
ultraviolet has increased;
antimatter plants near the Sun and trans-Plutonian comet harvesters either were dismantled or have eroded;
some minerals on Venus are now molten;
Luna has lower mountains, newer craters and ground collapsed on empty cities;
Earth is almost entirely cloud covered, with glimpses of water and land but no ice or lights;
Gaia greets Wayfarer but there I end for today.


A periplus (/ˈpɛrɪplʌs/) is a manuscript document that lists the ports and coastal landmarks, in order and with approximate intervening distances, that the captain of a vessel could expect to find along a shore.[1] It served the same purpose as the later Roman itinerarium of road stops; however, the Greek navigators added various notes, which if they were professional geographers (as many were) became part of their own additions to Greek geography. In that sense the periplus was a type of log.

"'...coasting these waters, I rely mainly on my remembrance of landmarks, or a pleripus if they're less familiar to me.'"
-Poul Anderson, Genesis (New York, 2001), p. 118.

I must have skipped over the unfamiliar word, "periplus," on previous readings. This time, I noticed and googled it.

Future Geography

(This image illustrated Nyanza, the oceanic planet in the History of Technic Civilization, and now the Windroad Sea in Kalava's period on the future Earth.)

East from Ulonai
wild tribes
the Shining Fields

the desert of Zhir
unpeopled desolation
the uninhabitable Burning Lands

a few islands
empty ocean
maybe land too far away to reach

wild waters
driftwood of unknown trees
storm-borne flyers of unknown breed
legends of the High North
glimpses of mountains from ships blown off course
"...stories about uncanny sights..." (Genesis, p. 116)
"...old tales of monstrous things glimpsed from afar..." (p. 115);
wild huukini in open sea
but no craft or wreckage
less heat and more rain
mild climate, timber and plowable land with neither natives nor creeping desert?

Poul Anderson's Genesis, Part Two, is set so far in our future that it is meaningless to ask how this geography corresponds to ours. Without seeming to do so, Anderson deploys an increasingly detailed picture of Earth in Kalava's period. Equatorial heat isolates the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

Needless to say, as a self-respecting and entrepreneurial character in a Poul Anderson novel, Kalava has every intention of leading an exploratory voyage to the North.   

Above And Below

In Poul Anderson's Genesis (New York, 2001), different chapters tell us how gods and men perceive global warming.

A powerful, undying intelligence in the sky learns that Terrestrial life will be extinct in about a hundred thousand years, wonders whether to intervene and sends its many-bodied manifestation to investigate.

Meanwhile, Kalava, a man, knows that the desert advances. Towns that flourished two generations ago are:

" empty, crumbling houses half buried in dust, glassless windows like the eye sockets in a skull." (p. 113)

Although civilization came to Ulonai from the empire of Zhir, that realm, desert for centuries, is now inhabited only by starving nomads and bandits. Kalava's third son:

"...fell while resisting robbers in sand-drifted streets under the time-gnawed colonnades of an abandoned city..." (p. 110)

- in Zhir.

The armies of the Ulonaian League sustained "...fearsome losses..." when they repelled:

"...barbarian invaders swarming north out of the desert..." (p. 109)

Two perspectives: Kalava lives it; the gods observe it.

Human Effort

In Genesis, Poul Anderson as always shows human beings coping to the best of their ability within the limits of current knowledge and resources.

In Christian Brannock's period, solar energy is beamed from Mercury and human-AI linkages have begun. Laurinda Ashcroft's generation has sufficient technology to counteract an Ice Age and an interstellar nebula. In Kalava's period:

the civilized nations must resist encroaching barbarians, then, unfortunately, must fight each other;

learning is respected, preserved and extended;

a moot settles a dispute;

Kalava is too quarrelsome to preserve his wealth but then plans a transoceanic expedition.

It is this human spirit that the Solar AI wants to restore despite all the problems that it creates. Poul Anderson not only speculates about the human and post-human future but also reflects on how it is worthwhile to live here and now.

Kalava's Period II

The image shows not a scene on Kalava's Earth but an emulation inside the Solar node, Gaia, during Kalava's period.

Sirsu is a city of Ulonai. At Broken Mountain, the Ulonain League defeated the barbarians attacking from the southern desert but, when the League dissolved, Sirsu and Irrulen fought each other. Kalava, having fought well at Broken Mountain, then fought Irrulen at sea and on land, capturing treasure and slaves. After the Peace of Tuopai, he became a trader and rich but lost much of his wealth in neighborhood and family quarrels. A clanmoot gave his estranged wife a third of the family wealth and the rest will be inherited by kin who hate him so he plans an exploratory expedition across the Windroad Sea.

He rides up the Spirit Way to Council Heights, sacred to all Ulonai, to request the advice of the skythinker, Ilyandi, one of the Vilkui:

dream interpreters;
preservers of ancient lore and learning;

After the annual Vilkui rites and conference on the Heights, Ilyandi stays to practice astronomy. Kalava, who trusts more to blood sacrifices and to his own strength, must recite a formula of Confession that is wiser than he is:

"'What a man knows is little, what he understands is less, therefore let him bow down to wisdom.'"  (Genesis, p. 112)

A Scientific Myth

See here.

The account of the preparations for "...the mission to Earth" is a "...myth..." (Genesis, p. 103) because:

the node and its manifestation have identities instantly recognizable to each other but do not need names;

they exchange information without requiring speech, discussion or explanation;

they have not as yet even separated into distinct individuals.

Therefore, the omniscient, or at least very well informed, narrator rather clumsily advises us to think of them as named entities in dialogue.

"...the galactic brain was in perpetual growth, which from a cosmic viewpoint had barely started." (p. 102)

We would like to read about its maturity but Poul Anderson was pushing the limits of what even he could imagine and even more "myth" would have become necessary.

"I have not discovered an America but I have discovered a Columbus."