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From: Peter Stephenson <pws@ibmth.df.unipi.it>
Subject: Re: (urth) Is Jonas a Man?
Date: Wed, 16 Jun 1999 13:46:56 +0200

"Roy C. Lackey" wrote:
> I wrote:
> >>I think the all-too-human tendency to anthropomorphize is evident both
> in Wolfe's writing about Jonas and our speculations about him.<<
> Animals, cartoon characters, gods and machines,
> whatever fanciful human attributes they may be imbued with, do not in fact
> possess them.
>     Hey, it's only a story!: I know that and have posted in that spirit. If
> you want to label Wolfe's work as fantasy, then anything goes, and I
> withdraw my reality quibbles.

I still can't really agree with this for two reasons.

In the first place, it's not at all so clear that reality is like that.
There are plenty of people arguing for one extreme or another, i.e. either
for a religious fundamentalist form of strong dualism, or that by next
Friday someone will have invented a machine which has all (and the strong
AI people do seem to mean all) the characteristics of a human being (plus a
whole lot of others just to show how clever the inventor is).  Plus there
are plenty of possibilities in the middle depending on your attitude to
emergent phenomena and what constitutes duality, humanity, `attitude',
`what', `the' and every other word in the dictionary; it's not simply a
question of science versus religion.  In plain English, nobody knows.  So I
can't accept that you can so easily point the finger at possible violations
of this corner of reality in a work of science fiction.  (And we'd better
not get started again on what constitutes realism in a work of fiction.)

In the second place Wolfe knows that perfectly well, and that there are
real questions which he can't answer but can put in different ways.  Mr
Million is a good example; I think Wolfe is quite openly saying he doesn't
know when a machine becomes a human being --- and all this goes way beyond
orthodox theology.  The chems on the Whorl have such complex human-like
behaviour that simply to deny flat out that they can possess human
characteristics seems to me to miss the whole point.  The same goes for
Jonas.  Such beings are there in the form of a question about human nature
to which, as far as I can see, neither we nor Wolfe have the answer.


Brief bibliography (I shall be posting a test on this next week -- not):

A. Asimov, The Bicentennial Man
R. Penrose, The Emperor's New Mind; Shadows of the Mind
etc. etc.

*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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