Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Summa Technologiae

Summa Technologiae

Stanisław Lem
TRANSLATED BY Joanna Zylinska
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 448
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Summa Technologiae
    Book Description:

    The Polish writer Stanisław Lem is best known to English-speaking readers as the author of the 1961 science fiction novelSolaris, adapted into a meditative film by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972 and remade in 2002 by Steven Soderbergh. Throughout his writings, comprising dozens of science fiction novels and short stories, Lem offered deeply philosophical and bitingly satirical reflections on the limitations of both science and humanity.

    InSumma Technologiae-his major work of nonfiction, first published in 1964 and now available in English for the first time-Lem produced an engaging and caustically logical philosophical treatise about human and nonhuman life in its past, present, and future forms. After five decadesSumma Technologiaehas lost none of its intellectual or critical significance. Indeed, many of Lem's conjectures about future technologies have now come true: from artificial intelligence, bionics, and nanotechnology to the dangers of information overload, the concept underlying Internet search engines, and the idea of virtual reality. More important for its continued relevance, however, is Lem's rigorous investigation into the parallel development of biological and technical evolution and his conclusion that technology will outlive humanity.

    Preceding Richard Dawkins's understanding of evolution as a blind watchmaker by more than two decades, Lem posits evolution as opportunistic, shortsighted, extravagant, and illogical. Strikingly original and still timely,Summa Technologiaeresonates with a wide range of contemporary debates about information and new media, the life sciences, and the emerging relationship between technology and humanity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8903-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology, Technology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-xxii)

    Is the human a typical phenomenon in the Universe or an exceptional one? Is there a limit to the expansion of a civilization? Would plagiarizing Nature count as fraud? Is consciousness a necessary component of human agency? Should we rather trust our thoughts or our perceptions? Do we control the development of technology, or is technology controlling us? Should we make machines moral? What do human societies and colonies of bacteria have in common? What can we learn from insects? For answers to all these questions and more, Stanisław Lem’sSumma Technologiaeis undoubtedly the place to go.

    Lem (1921–...


    • 1 DILEMMAS
      (pp. 3-10)

      We are going to speak of the future. Yet isn’t discoursing about future events a rather inappropriate occupation for those who are lost in the transience of the here and now? Indeed, to seek out our great-great-grandsons’ problems when we cannot really cope with the overload generated by our own looks like a scholasticism of the most ridiculous kind. If we could at least use the excuse that we are trying to find some optimism-enhancing strategies, or acting out of love for the truth, which is to manifest itself clearly in the future. (In our vision, such a future would...

      (pp. 11-40)

      It is difficult for us to understand the process whereby ancient technologies emerged. Their utilitarian character and their teleological structure remain undisputed, yet they did not have any individual designers or inventors. Trying to get to the origins of early technologies is a dangerous task. Successful technologies used to have myth or superstition as their “theoretical foundation” their application was either preceded by a magic ritual (medicinal herbs supposedly owed their properties to a formula that was being recited while collecting or applying those herbs), or they themselves became a form of ritual, in which a pragmatic element was irrevocably...

      (pp. 41-76)

      How exactly have we been searching for a direction in which our civilization is headed? By examining our civilization’s past and present. Why have we been comparing technical evolution with biological evolution? Because the latter is the only process of improving the regulation and homeostasis of very complex systems that is available to us. This process remains free from human intervention—which could distort the results of our observation and the conclusions drawn. We have acted like someone who, in trying to find out about his future and the possibilities that await him, studies himself and his environment. And yet...

      (pp. 77-154)

      In this chapter we aim to investigate whether intelligent activity that manifests itself in technoevolution is a dynamic and permanent process, one that does not alter its expansive nature during any period, or whether it must undergo a transformation until any similarity to its original state has disappeared.

      Please note that this discussion will differ considerably from the cosmic debate that preceded it. Everything we said about extraterrestrial civilizations was not a product of vacuous speculation, yet the hypotheses we discussed had been based on further hypotheses, as a result of which the plausibility of our conclusions was at times...

      (pp. 155-190)

      We discussed earlier the design factors that could result in the emergence of the “metaphysics of homeostats.” In the process, we adopted a rather simplified classification of the sources of the “metaphysical attitude.” This may have created an impression that, by referring to cybernetic analogies, we were attempting to solve on just a few pages problems as difficult and transhistorical as the meaning of existence, the finitude of an individual life, and the possibility of transcendence.

      I want to defend myself against any such accusation of “shallowness.” I do not want to withdraw anything I said; yet those earlier discussions,...

      (pp. 191-234)

      We are faced with the following problem: how do we create realities for the intelligent beings that exist in them, realities that are absolutely indistinguishable from the standard reality but that are subject to different laws? By way of introduction, we shall start with a more modest task. We shall ask, Is it possible to create an artificial reality that is very similar to the actual one yet that cannot be distinguished from it in any way? The first topic focuses on the creation of worlds, the second on the creation of illusions. But we are talking about perfect illusions....

      (pp. 235-296)

      We seem to be at the end of an era. I am not referring here to the age of steam and electricity, which then mutates into the age of cybernetics and space science. Such terminology indicates yielding to various technologies—which will become too powerful for us to be able to cope with their autonomy. Human civilization is like a ship that has been built without any design plans. The construction process was extremely successful. It led to the creation of enormous propeller machinery and resulted in an uneven development of the inside of the ship—but this is something...

      (pp. 297-358)

      Several million years ago, the cooling of the climate began. It was a harbinger of the approaching ice age. Mountains grew, continents rose, jungles gave way to grass planes owing to the rising drought. The formation of steppes resulted in the shrinking of the living environment for the four-pawed wood animals. The latter’s in-the-air existence among the tree branches made their hand movements much more precise and positioned their thumbs opposite their other fingers, while turning their eyes into their main orientation sense. This particular environment required them to adopt a vertical posture, perhaps more frequently than any other. Various...

    (pp. 359-362)

    A book’s conclusion is to some extent its summary. It may thus be worth pondering once again the eagerness with which I have shifted responsibility for the future Gnosis of our species onto the dead shoulders of nonexistent machines. Someone could ask whether this was not caused by some kind of frustration of which the author himself was not fully aware, a frustration resulting from the fact that—owing to historical and his own limitations—he was unable to penetrate science and its prospects. Consequently, he seems to have invented, or rather slightly modernized, a version of the famousArs...

  6. NOTES
    (pp. 363-400)
    (pp. 401-404)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 405-410)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 411-414)