Re: CHAT: Great Brains

From: Jim Fehlinger (
Date: Sun Mar 25 2001 - 22:45:54 MST

Zero Powers wrote:
> >From: "J. R. Molloy" <>
> > > ...a future race of men called the Great Brains
> > > concluded by means of pure logic that they were fatally
> > > flawed, and designed a successor race to embody a more
> > > desirable balance of logic and emotion.
> > >
> > > Jim F.
> Probably because that future was created by species bigot who assumes the
> superiority of the confluence of emotion and logic present in humans.

Well, one of the unusually hard-edged aspects of the future history imagined by
"species bigot" Olaf Stapledon is that,...

SPOILER ALERT for _Last and First Men_ (which I've probably already spoiled :-/ )

...when the immense span of time encompassed by _Last and First Men_ was
subsumed into the even more immense span of _Star Maker_, the careers of
the eighteen intelligent races of our solar system turned out to be a blind alley,
a mere footnote in the cosmic history summarized in _Star Maker_, not part of the
mainstream of intelligent life that finally achieved cosmic transcendence.

And further,

SPOILER ALERT for _Star Maker_

the awakened cosmos at the end of _Star Maker_ itself turns out to be
a blind alley, a mere prototype to be contemplated in completion for
an instant by the Creator before being smashed on the heap of the
potsherds of earlier universes.

Stapledon's "Extropianism" was of a different sort than that of most of
the folks on this list. **We're** all looking for a quick fix -- Transcendence
**now** (or by 2010, or 2050, or whenever -- if you're not going to make
it alive, just make sure your head gets frozen!).

Stapledon's view (as articulated by the Eighteenth Man in _Last and First Men_,
the human narrator who is vouchsafed a vision of the future in _Star Maker_,
and by the intelligence-boosted dog and "wide-awake" trans-human of _Sirius_ and
_Odd John_, respectively) was that we ought to **act** like champions
of intelligence and enlightenment, even if there's absolutely no chance of
there being anything in it for **us** (personally, or for our planet, or even
for our universe!).

It's a very grim sort of optimism, and it's also, oddly enough, one of the
darkly inspiring elements of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien:

"... a major goal of _The Lord of the Rings_ was to dramatise that 'theory
of courage' which Tolkien had said in his British Academy lecture was
the 'great contribution' to humanity of the old literature of the North.
The central pillar of that theory was Ragnarok -- the day when gods
and men would fight evil and the giants, and inevitably be defeated.
Its great statement was that defeat is no refutation. The right side
remains the right side even if it has no ultimate hope at all. In a
sense this Northern mythology asks more of men, even makes more of them,
than does Christianity, for it offers them no heaven, no salvation,
no reward for virtue except the sombre satisfaction of having done what
is right. Tolkien wanted his characters in _The Lord of the Rings_ to
live up to the same high standard. He was careful therefore to remove
easy hope from them, even to make them conscious of long-term defeat
and doom."

-- _The Road to Middle-earth_, T. A. Shippey,
   Chapter 5, "Interlacements and the Ring",
   section "Apparent paradoxes: happy sadness and hopeless cheer"
   (pp. 117-118)

Jim F.

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