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[*]Lem (once again) reads me when I him

August 29, 2011

Stanislaw Lem, author of Imaginary Magnitudes, source of the “eruntics” portion of this blog’s title, also wrote The Futurological Congress, which I am currently in the middle of. Here is a passage, from pretty late in the game. (If you’ve read any Lem, though, you know it’s impossible to be spoiled, so don’t worry.)

“[…] without a couple of good, stiff shots I couldn’t be a futurologian today!”

“A futurologist?”

“That word means something different now. A futurologist makes profutes, prognoses, prophecies, while I deal exclusively with theory. This is a completely new field, unknown in our day. You might call it divination through linguistic derivation. Morphological forecasting! Projective etymology!”

“Never heard of it. How does it work?”

To tell the truth, I had asked more out of politeness than curiosity, but he didn’t seem to notice. Meanwhile the waiters brought our soup and, with it, a bottle of Chablis, vintage 1997. A good year.

“Linguistic futurology investigates the future through the transformational possibilities of language,” Trottelreiner explained.

“I don’t understand.”

“A man can only control what he comprehends, and comprehend only what he is able to put into words. The inexpressible therefore is unknowable. By examining future stages in the evolution of language we come to learn what discoveries, changes and social revolutions the language will be capable, some day, of reflecting.”

“Amazing. How exactly is this done?”

“Our research is conducted with the aid of the very largest computers, for man by himself could never keep track of all the variations. By variations of course I mean the syntagmatic-paradigmatic permutations of the language, but quantized…”

“Professor, please!”

“Forgive me. The Chablis is excellent, by the way. A few examples ought to make the matter clear. Give me a word, any word.”

“Myself.”

“Myself? H’m. Myself. All right. I’m not a computer, you understand, so this will have to be simple. Very well then–myself. My, self, mine, mind. Mynd. Thy mind–thynd. Like ego, theego. And we makes wego. Do you see?”

“I don’t see a thing.”

“But it’s perfectly obvious! We’re speaking, first, of the possibility of the merging of the mynd with the thynd, in other words the fusion of two psychic entities. Secondly, the wego. Most interesting. A collective consciousness. Produced perhaps by the multiple dissocation of the personality, a mygraine. Another word, please.”

[…]”But these words have no meaning!”

“At the moment, no, but they will. Or, rather, they may eventually acquire meaning, provided [they] catch on. The word ‘robot’ meant nothing in the fifteenth century, and yet if they had had futurolinguists then, they could have easily envisioned automata.”

A little deterministic, yes, but god I like that this is a thing. Wish I’d found this book when I was taking that cyberpunk class, I could write a million papers for it right now.

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