Saturday, 26 July 2014

Luck

Fred Hoyle's Black Cloud explains genius in human beings:

"'The infrequency of genius is to be explained in simple probabilities. A child must learn a great deal before it reaches adult life. Processes such as the multiplying of numbers can be learned in a variety of ways. This is to say, the brain can develop in a number of ways, all enabling it to multiply numbers, but not all with by any means the same facility. Those who develop in a favourable way are said to be "good" at arithmetic, while those who develop inefficient ways are said to be "bad" or "slow". Now what decides how a particular person develops? The answer is - chance. And chance accounts for the difference between the genius and the dullard. The genius is one who has been lucky in all his processes of learning. The dullard is the reverse, and the ordinary person is one who has neither been particularly lucky nor particularly unlucky.'"
-Fred Hoyle, The Black Cloud (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1965), pp. 206-207.

A human scientist deduces that genius is not only rare but also not hereditary:

"'It also explains why a genius can't pass his faculties to his children. Luck isn't a commodity with a strong inheritance.'" (p. 207)

Here, Hoyle anticipates the plot of a Larry Niven novel. The Puppeteers promote the Birthright Lottery because they believe that luck is inheritable. Teela Brown, descended from four generations of Lottery winners, is demonstrably lucky - or so we think, although this judgment can always be revised in the light of subsequent events. Is it her genes that are lucky?

If the Black Cloud is right that genius is a matter of luck and if the Puppeteers are also right that luck is inheritable, then subsequent generations of teelas must be not only so lucky and safe that Niven cannot write interesting stories about them but also so quick-thinking and intelligent that we would not be able to understand their thought processes.

A British SF Classic II

Compare CS Lewis' angelic "Heaven"-dwelling eldila with the space-dwelling beings in works by Fred Hoyle, James Blish and Poul Anderson. These three hard sf writers present scientific rationales for their imagined extra-planetary intelligences.

Hoyle's Black Cloud, addressing human scientists, says:

"'...conventional religion, as many humans accept it, is illogical in its attempt to conceive of entities lying outside the Universe. Since the Universe comprises everything, it is evident that nothing can lie outside it. The idea of a "god" creating the Universe is a mechanistic absurdity clearly derived from the making of machines by men. I take it we are in agreement about all this.'"
-Fred Hoyle, The Black Cloud (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1965), p. 203.

I am in agreement now although not when I first read the book fifty years ago because I had been religiously indoctrinated. Hoyle through his characters, both human and non-human, addresses several important issues:

the role of scientists in society;
the relationship of science to reality;
how intelligence evolved on Earth;
whether there is a larger-scale intelligence;
why the laws of physics are as they are;
whether a larger-scale intelligence might explain the laws of physics.

(Hoyle's latter non-fiction included The Intelligent Universe and he argued against Darwinism.)

The novel is set in the 1960's, thus has become what I call a "past future," but it retains an element of futurity because its closing fictitious correspondence is dated 2021 and ends:

"Do we want to remain big people in a tiny world or to become a little people in a vaster world? This is the ultimate climax towards which I have directed my narrative." (p. 219)

So how do we in 2014 answer that question?

A British SF Classic

See previous post.

CS Lewis' reply to HG Wells' The Shape Of Things To Come, That Hideous Strength, was published in 1945, four years before Orwell's 1984 and twelve years before Fred Hoyle's first novel, The Black Cloud.

The Black Cloud contains an apt Biblical quotation but otherwise is an excellent British sf novel in the Wellsian tradition but based on updated data. Hoyle presents not Martians invading Earth but an intelligent gas cloud entering the Solar System. The chapter in which a scientist proves by answering and asking questions that the invasive cloud is alive is a perfect Platonic dialogue.

In Greek literature, "Homer and the poets" were followed by Plato and the philosophers. One of Hoyle's characters realizes that, by answering a question, he has conceded a point, as though he were arguing with Plato's mentor and dramatic persona, Socrates - and, in fact, Socrates appears as a historical character in Hoyle's later sf novel, October The First Is Too Late.

More on this later.

The Bible And Science In Literature

(i) The Bible and Homer are foundation documents of Western civilization.

(ii) Some major works have Biblical and Classical contents, e.g., Dante's Comedy; John Milton's Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes.

(iii) The cited Miltonic works also have Classical forms: epic and dramatic, respectively.

(iv) Many other works refer to the Bible but have historical or contemporary contents.

(v) Mary Shelley initiated speculative fiction about consequences of science, thus about possible futures.

(vi) Because her scientist character, Frankenstein, described in the title as "The Modern Prometheus," creates human life, a new Adam, her novel opens with a quotation from Paradise Lost.

(vii) Wells, Stapledon and others developed the new tradition of speculative fiction/science fiction/sf.

(viii) CS Lewis' interplanetary novels defend a Biblical/medieval world view against the Wellsian/Stapledonian idea that mankind can remake itself with science.

(ix) Paradise Lost influenced Lewis' Perelandra, James Blish's post-Lewis The Day After Judgement and Philip Pullman's anti-Lewis His Dark Materials.

(x) So far, we have:

an ancient Biblical tradition;
a modern science fictional tradition;
continued Biblical themes and references in fiction;
a science fictional defense of Biblical belief by CS Lewis.