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Summa Technologiae

From the acclaimed author of the science fiction novel Solaris, a pre-Dawkins exposition of human and nonhuman life

By: Stanisław Lem (Author), Joanna Zylinska (Translated by)

440 pages, 1 b/w illustration

University of Minnesota Press

Paperback | Jan 2014 | #212330 | ISBN-13: 9780816675777
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £18.50 $23/€21 approx
Hardback | Mar 2013 | #204119 | ISBN-13: 9780816675760
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NHBS Price: £25.99 $32/€29 approx

About this book

The Polish writer Stanisław Lem is best known to English-speaking readers as the author of the 1961 science fiction novel Solaris, adapted into a meditative film by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972 and remade in 2002 by Steven Soderbergh. Throughout his writings, comprising dozens of science fiction novels and short stories, Lem offered deeply philosophical and bitingly satirical reflections on the limitations of both science and humanity.

In Summa Technologiae – his major work of nonfiction, first published in 1964 and now available in English for the first time – Lem produced an engaging and caustically logical philosophical treatise about human and nonhuman life in its past, present, and future forms. After five decades Summa Technologiae has lost none of its intellectual or critical significance. Indeed, many of Lem's conjectures about future technologies have now come true: from artificial intelligence, bionics, and nanotechnology to the dangers of information overload, the concept underlying Internet search engines, and the idea of virtual reality. More important for its continued relevance, however, is Lem's rigorous investigation into the parallel development of biological and technical evolution and his conclusion that technology will outlive humanity.

Preceding Richard Dawkins's understanding of evolution as a blind watchmaker by more than two decades, Lem posits evolution as opportunistic, shortsighted, extravagant, and illogical. Strikingly original and still timely, Summa Technologiae resonates with a wide range of contemporary debates about information and new media, the life sciences, and the emerging relationship between technology and humanity.

"At the end of the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas wrote the Summa Theologiae, an ambitious compendium of all orthodox philosophical and theological knowledge about the world. Seven hundred years later, science fiction author Stanisław Lem writes his Summa Technologiae, an equally ambitious but unorthodox investigation into the perplexities and enigmas of humanity and its relationship to an equally enigmatic world in which it finds itself embedded. In this work Lem shows us science fiction as a method of inquiry, one that renders the future as tenuous as the past, with a wavering, 'phantomatic' present always at hand."
– Eugene Thacker, author of After Life



Translator’s Introduction. Evolution May Be Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts, but It’s Not All That Great: On Lem’s Summa Technnologiae
Joanna Zylinska

Summa Technologie
1. Dilemmas

2. Two Evolutions
The First Cause
Several Naïve Questions

3. Civilizations in the Universe
The Formulation of the Problem
The Formulation of the Method
The Statistics of Civilizations in the Universe
A Catastrophic Theory of the Universe
A Metatheory of Miracles
Man’s Uniqueness
Intelligence: An Cccident or a Necessity?
Votum Separatum
Future Prospects

4. Intelectronics
Return to Earth
A Megabyte Bomb
The Big Game
Scientific Myths
The Intelligence Amplifier
The Black Box
The Morality of Homeostats
The Dangers of Electrocracy
Cybernetics and Sociology
Belief and Information
Experimental Metaphysics
The Beliefs of Electric Brains
The Ghost in the Machine
The Trouble with Information
Doubts and Antinomies

5. Prolegomena to Omnipotence
Before Chaos
Chaos and Order
Scylla and Charybdis: On Restraint
The Silence of the Designer
Methodological Madness
A New Linnaeus: About Systematics
Models and Reality
Plagiarism and Creation
On Imitology

6. Phantomology
The Fundamentals of Phantomatics
The Phantomatic Machine
Peripheral and Central Phantomatics
The Limits of Phantomatics
Teletaxy and Phantoplication
Personality and Information

7. The Creation of Worlds
Information Farming
Linguistic Engineering
The Engineering of Transcendence
Cosmogonic Engineering

8. A Lampoon of Evolution
The Reconstruction of the Species
Constructing Life
Constructing Death
Constructing Consciousness
Error-based Constructs
Bionics and Biocybernetics
In the Eyes of the Designer
Reconstructing Man
The Autoevolutionary Machine
Extrasensory Phenomena


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Stanisław Lem (1921–2006) was the best-known science fiction author writing outside the English language. His books have been translated into more than forty languages and have sold more than 27 million copies worldwide.

Joanna Zylinska is professor of new media and communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is the author of Bioethics in the Age of New Media and The Ethics of Cultural Studies.


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