Tuesday, December 25, 2012

True manifest or thought experiment - „Blindsight” by Peter Watts

Blindsight - science fiction novel by Peter Watts...
It has been sometime since I have read this book and I'm still uncertain whether it sincerely represents its author's view of life (or perhaps author's world view) or it is a sort of gigantic thought experiment.

First, some facts. It is certainly one of the best science-fiction books I have ever read. Set in the second half of XXI century it describes an encounter between humans living on Earth with alien inteligence. The encounter starts with the apparent survey the aliens perform sending micro-satellites (called as fireflies). Humans sent a spaceship, „Theseus” to get into first contact with the aliens dwelling on a cosmic structure, a vessel-sattellite called by itself  „Rorschach”. The encounter reveils that the aliens represent totally different kind of intelligence humans expected. The intelligence is lacking consciousness yet it remain highly intelligent, surpassing humans. When the danger of this devilish creatures becomes critical, the artificial intelligence controlling the human spaceship attacks them in apparent suicide mission leaving the lonely survivor live and coming back to Earth, that, by the time of the mission undergoes a new kind of holocaust, caused by unconscious vampires ... It is possible that he is the only truly conscious subject in the entire universe...

Plot is perhaphs not the best part of the novel, though in comparison to many sci-fi(s), it is original and untypical. Language is difficult, peppered with many biological and neuroscientific terms, but the deep comprehension is rewarding. Yet not the plot itself or its language make the essence of the novel. In reality it is a philosophical treaty said in the frame of sci-fi story. It's a big discourse about human consciousnes and its nature, mind and matter interplay, essence of biology, human interaction, artificial intelligence etc.

However, when I read it carefully, I noticed that its author identifies with some quite specific views that go far from what I used to belive in... Sex seems to be presented as nothing more than a blind copulation. His views on biology seems to verge on a brink of primitive reductionism. In his world human free will seems not to exist and intelligence does not need conscious beings to express itself. I probably oversimplify it, yet this is what seems to emerge from Blindsight...

I have an impression that Watts somehow believes in propositions put forward in famous GEB (Gödel, Escher, Bach) book (by Douglas Hofstadter). Yet this book was not mentioned in the "Notes and References" to the novel. In the "Notes" author seem to explain scientific background for many of his constructs used in the novel.

I prefer to believe that Watson's novel, dark and mechanistic is indeed a kind of thought experiment - not an epiphany of some well grounded scientifically based conclusions. For example, while it is instructive to know that Metzinger's "Being No One" was one of inspirations, it is somehow reassuring that such views do not even dominate the whole gamut of current consciousness sciences...

And, as the thought experiment - it is one of the best I ever read...


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