Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom

Wednesday, 19 March, 2008

Today is a sad day, as Sir Arthur C. Clarke has just passed away at the unfortunately young age of 90. Therefore, in remembrance for such an influential science fiction author and scientist (published theoretical work on the premise of satellite communication twelve years before the launch of Sputnik 1, and therefore widely credited as the inventor, though it is probable that is was invented independently thereafter) , I have decided to make this week’s quote one of his. Unusually though, I have selected a work of futurism, rather than science fiction, in quoting from Sir Arthur’s Profiles of the Future, first published in 1962 and revised in 1973. I quote a few select sentences from the closing words of Chapter Eighteen (titled ‘The Obsolescence of Man’), which seem much more complete without the truncation I have given them, but in the interests of conciseness, I wish to give a broader picture with fewer words:

“[T]his is, perhaps, the moment to deal with a conception which many people find even more horrifying than the idea that machines will replace or supersede us. It is the idea […] that they may combine with us. ”

“But how long will this partnership last? Can the synthesis of Man and Machine ever be stable, or will the purely organic component become such a hindrance that it has to be discarded? If this eventually happens – and I have given good reasons for thinking that it must – we have nothing to regret, and certainly nothing to fear.”

“No individual exists for ever; why should we expect our species to be immortal? Man, said Nietzsche, is a rope stretched between the animal and the superman – a rope across the abyss. That will be a noble purpose to have served.”

In broaching these subjects so early, with works such as Childhood’s End (1953), The City and the Stars (1956), the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey (and both the preceding work – The Sentinel – and the sequels), plus many others, all dealing with the subject of human enhancement (albeit usually mediated by an alien intelligence rather than our own), it is surely true that Sir Arthur C. Clarke served such a noble purpose. He will be missed.


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