Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Lem's magnitude

Stanislaw Lem, it turns out, is very funny.

Imaginary Magnitude is a collection of introductions to nonexistent books.

One of my favourite segements is a promotional pamphlet for an encyclopedia that works on finely tuned prognostication, the wanted volume opening to the desired page as the reader stands in front of the shelf. The "extelopedia" predates Douglas Adams' infinite improbability drive by several years and books of J.K. Rowling's devising by a few decades, but it sounds to me like a hybrid of their magic technology.

This program subsequently underwent a thousandfold intensification and Extrapolational adaptation, thanks to which not only can it FORESEE WHAT WILL HAPPEN, if ANYTHING does happen, but also forsee [sic] precisely what will happen if It doesn't happen even a little, i.e., if It doesn't occur at all.


It's over the top, screaming with all its might in that most mysterious of all allegedly successful marketing ploys: Random CAPS!

Naturally, knowing MERELY THE LANGUAGE in which people will be communicating with one another and with machines ten, twenty, or thirty years hence does not mean knowing WHAT THEY WILL THEN most readily and most often be saying. And it is precisely THAT which we shall know, because as a rule people speak FIRST, and think and act LATER. The fundamental defect in all previous attempts at constructing a LINGUISTIC FUTUROLOGY, or PROGNOLINGUA, resulted from a FALSE RATIONALITY of procedure. Scholars have tacitly assumed that people will say ONLY REASONABLE THINGS in the Future and thus will have progressed.

Meanwhile, studies have shown that people LARGELY say SILLY THINGS.


Among the instantaneous updates are those to the price, "which — as you will appreciate, considering the state of the world economy — cannot be prognosticated more than twenty-four minutes beforehand."

The latter half of the book, "Golem XIV," an account of a supercomputer, is a little over my head (particularly in my lately stressed and flu-addled state), but the bonafide introductions, in their wit and interconnectedness, were highly entertaining.
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