Sunday, April 12, 2009

Vegnor Vinge on Godhood

I have been on a serious science fiction kick lately. It was Larry Niven who started it off with "The Integral Trees", but what really got me stuck, was "A Deepness in the Sky", by Vinge Vignor, which was a prequel to "A Fire upon the Deep" though they are actually barely related. I am about halfway through Fire.

One of the themes he continually comes back to is the interaction of superior civilizations and inferior ones. There is much here that would be of interest to both the Transhuman and Singularity movements.

Without revealing too much of the plot (hopefully) in Deepness you have two civilizations of humans, one conquered by the other, stuck in space next to a technologically primitive race of 'spiders'. So with the humans, you have a clash of paradigms; control vs freedom. The control aspect is extensive surveillance far surpassing anything we are capable of at the moment (but we approaching) and a kind of soft mind control they call "Focus". Scary stuff, and not all impossible. The good guys (the Qeng Ho, they call themselves) by contrast, are a very pluralistic free society of interstellar merchants. It was also interesting to see the kind of limits technology made for how long a civilization could last.

In contrast to this, you have the Spiders who are on the verge of a scientific revolution. They have just invented radio and are discovering everything for the first time, and nearly destroy themselves in the process, due in no small part to malicious interference from the bad humans. At the end is a happy one and the Spiders and Humans work together to repair the spaceships damaged at the beginning of the book.

But as interesting all that all is, it is the book that comes after it that is the most interesting for our purposes. The galaxy has different zones where different levels of thought and technology are possible. We, for instance, are in the Slow Zone where the Speed of Light is a limit. In the Beyond, faster than light travel is possible, and technology is advanced to match. And out a little further, you have the Transcend, where technology is infinitely more powerful and makes the inhabitants something like Gods. There is always a steady trickle of civilizations attempting to move from one level to a higher one. Often they are successful, but not uncommonly they are not. And occasionally things go very wrong. This book starts with things going VERY wrong with the loss of several civilizations and worlds. Here, once again, we have "gods" dealing with mortals in the Beyond who can barely comprend the least of their dealings, and these same mortals interacting with a group of pack dog aliens who are only a little more advanced than the bow and arrow. And thus far, the help the humans are giving the dog aliens is exactly the help they don't need. It looks like playing God (using the term loosely) can help a lot, but is fraught with danger too.

It reminds me of Orson Scott Card's harsh words Star Trek's "Prime Directive" where advanced societies are prohibited from assisting lessor societies.

Interestingly, our own government has thought about this, and passed laws about it. You can't make this stuff up, but I will save that for a future post.

1 comment:

Lincoln Cannon said...

It sounds like the zones could be compared to degrees of glory in eternal progression.