|Left - Santiago Genovés - right- Olaf Stapledon|
"En nuestro afán de buscar la objetividad en el estudio de la historia no nos debemos olvidar que la objetividad es una sujetiva invención del hombre.”
“In our search for objectivity in our study of history we must not forget that objectivity is a subjective invention of man.”
Between late 1967 until 1971 when my Rosemary and I lived in the not-yet fashionable Zona Rosa in Mexico City we went to many cultural gatherings at a couple of places. They were the Anglo Mexican Cultural Institute and the equivalent Instituto Norteamericano de Relaciones Culturales. Between them we saw lots of very good stuff like an evening with Kurt Vonnegut (he bragged to us about having coined the expression “open beaver”, Father Theodore Hesburgh, the liberal President of Notre Dame University, several American jazz groups including the Dave Brubeck Quartet and one memorable lecture with Spanish-born Mexican Anthropologist Santiago Genovés. It was the statement (seen above as I recall it) that has influenced me ever since. What I find amazing is that I have not been able to confirm anywhere that he ever made such a statement!
Our ability to associate, what might seem to be disparate things, is what I believe makes us human. I do think that my cats do associate certain words. Niño will react to “walk-walk” and still looks up at me when I say,”Rosemary”. Both immediately go upstairs in wait of me opening Rosemary’s dresser to pull out a package of dental treats when I say, loudly, “Treats!”
When I was teaching high school in an American high school in Mexico City I found a trick that would open up my students into being personal about their opinions. I would say to them, “Imagine that you are all Martians and you send an expedition to study this planet. When the expedition returns they are asked questions on how they live, reproduce and mingle among themselves.” I could then ask anybody in my class, "What would these Earth people think about sex?” My students never caught on to my trick and they were quite good at telling us their personal feelings.
Before I gave those classes I had read in Spanish, in my 1965 Buenos Aires, a novel called Hacedor (a lovely word coined by Jorge Luís Borges) de Estrellas by English philosopher and science fiction writer, Olaf Stapledon (10 May 1886 – 6 September 1950). The book in English was published in 1937 and it was called Starmaker. I purchased,what was then a recently translated edition of the book, Ediciones Minotauro 1965, with a lovely prologue by Borges.
Such was the scope of this novel, where a man settles down to rest on a tree on a summer evening, and with his mind he soars beyond the Solar System to other worlds in space in time, that I read his complete output including my favourite Sirius. In this novel a dog and a little girl are born on the same day. The dog is given an experimental drug that gives him human-like intelligence. He and the little girl become friends. As Sirius grows up he suffers the ability of having a superhuman ear for sound and music and finds it frustrating that with his paws he is unable to play the piano.
What Stapledon does in this novel is to play that trick to remove himself from humanity via the dog and to then study us from what would seem to be an objective position.
Last night when I got to page 207 of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2021 novel Klara and the Sun I was floored.
page, I had been reading what seemed to be an easy-to-read novel written from the almost simplistic point of view of an AF or Artificial Friend. These are
humanoid robots that look very much like the children they sort of accompany
and baby-sit. Klara is seen by her human companion, Rosie as being French
because of her short hair. There is little information given by Ishiguro on why it is that in the novel, a world, perhaps in a near future, it is strange that some children acquire these AFs.
Because these AFs learn little by little through observation how young humans and (and adults, too), behave, function, and think, their description is elementary almost childlike. The novel reads like a juvenile novel. AFs are powered by sunlight and you find out that Karla worships the Sun as if the Sun were an entity. But then the novel for me changed explosively.
Here are the paragraphs that ushered in for me the enormity of Ishiguro’s novel.
‘So you see what’s being asked of you, Klara,’Mr. Capaldi said, ‘You’re not being required simply to mimic Josie’s outward behavior. You’re being asked to continue her for Chrissie [Rosie’s Mother]. And for everyone who loves Josie.’
‘But is that going to be possible? the Mother said. ‘Could she really continue Josie for me?’
‘Yes she can,’Mr. Capaldi said. ‘And now Klara’s completed the survey up there, I will be able to give you scientific proof of it. Proof she’s already well on her way to accessing quite comprehensively all of Josie’s impulses and desires. The trouble is, Chrissie, you’re like me. We’re both of us sentimental. We can’t help it. Our generation still carry the old feelings. A part of us refuses to let go. The part that wants to keep believing there’s something unreachable inside each of us. Something that is unique and won’t transfer. But there’s nothing like that, we know that now. You [author uses italic here] know that. For people our age it’s a hard one to let go. We have [author italic] to let it go, Chrissie. There’s nothing there. Nothing inside Josie that’s beyond the Klara’s of this world to continue. The second Josie won’t be a copy. She’ll be the exact same and you will have every right to love her just as you love Josie now. It’s not faith you need. Only rationality. I had to do it, it was tough but now it works for me just fine. And it will for you.’
This novel brings into my present alien world, where young people with their limited vocabularies (they don’t read much) seem to show little emotion or warmth and an awareness that goes beyond self-driving cars and phones with three cameras. Where is artificial intelligence going? Will it catch up to us? Don't ask Ishiguro.