Question 4

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There ought to be a question about machine intelligence – the Drones and Minds. Is it a problem for the Culture that the Minds (such as ship Minds and the orbital Hub) have almost incomparably superior intelligence in comparison to people?

Also, is there anything else you'd like to talk about on this topic?

Comments

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    Seems to me that one of the post-scarcity features is that both people and Minds have become accustomed to this situation, to the point where it doesn't bother either group. It's almost as though there are two Cultures, one for each.

    Player of Games contains relatively little which you might term from a Mind's perspective (excluding the fact that the whole narrative is from the POV of a drone). Some of the other Culture books - I'm thinking Excession at last, and probably others) have much more of it.

    My guess is that Iain Banks initially intended to have a largely person-centred perspective, but after a while wanted to explore a Mind-centred one too. Hence the shift in later books.

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    It's obviously not a problem for the Culture because the Culture is being successful. I think it rests on what the Culture is for. It's not about expansion, efficiency, or other such capitalist-inspired value judgements. If that were the case, the Minds would get rid of all the humans and you'd be left with just a few Minds controlling much of the galaxy. Instead, the Culture is about happiness and fulfilment of its citizens. Why run a donkey sanctuary? You don't do it because of the value created by the donkeys; you do it because it makes the donkeys happy. It's a similar situation with the Minds keeping the humans around.

    As for story-telling, it makes things hard. The Minds are so much more intelligent, there's no way for mere humans to understand what they're doing or why. They also have different glands, so their emotions are different, with different causes and effects . That makes it hard to tell stories about them and what they do. IIRC, Excession came about because the fans wanted a Mind-based book. It's not a very good book.

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    I find this compelling in some ways. One thought is spurs is "what if the minds are really just a single mind which uses multiple points of contact to connect with the human race". The MIND then, is a supreme being with different aspects (like Greek gods - the God and The Devil?) manipulating its playthings in a more or less open world simulation. I think there's a fair bit of potential in there. Especially if we consider that The MIND might be insane.

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    > @Apocryphal said:
    > .... Especially if we consider that The MIND might be insane.

    Which was sort-of the premise behind Consider Phlebas (but without the interlinking of all Minds)
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    This is, btw, my first Culture book. I did read The Algebraist once many years ago, but I seem to recall that's not a Culture novel.

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    > @Apocryphal said:
    > This is, btw, my first Culture book. I did read The Algebraist once many years ago, but I seem to recall that's not a Culture novel.

    I think The Algebraist is supposed to be set before the Culture came into being. That was kind of spoiled for me because the Big Idea seemed very obvious to me on gravitational grounds early on in the story, and I kept thinking I must be missing something.
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    Excession is interesting. I didn't much like it when I first read it, but on a reread I found it far better. Not so much for the main story but the smaller stories and characters out there.

    As for the universal presence of machine intelligence, and a partnership with humans (in later books termed panhumanity - they're pretty much human but varied) as well as the superior Minds - that's pretty much the definition of the Culture. I don't think Consider Phlebas is a completely successful book, but the protagonist is from an outside the Culture and views them as enslaved by the machines.

    But the Minds are fundamentally moral beings, by design and intelligence, out for the interest of all sentients - though perhaps only in the big picture.
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    The Culture is successful for it's people because the Minds are it people and the Minds run it. The people are the mice that live in the walls. :D

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    Based solely on this book, I guess the most devious part of the Minds and the Drones is how the Drones appear to be individuals, but actually work in concert with the goals of the Minds to manipulate humans, or at least Gurgeh. I mean, three of the Drones are all the same being (Mawhrin-Skel / Loash / Flere-Imsaho) and even kindly old Chamblis participates in the deception by taking away the “remains” of Mawhrin-Skel so that Gurgeh cannot examine them. Once you think of it, they seem like individuals, but their not.

    That’s probably how Culture people seem to outsiders, though.

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    Regarding whether the Culture is for the happiness and fulfillment of people, I agree perhaps with one of these but not the other. The happiness of individual humans (I’ll call them “humans”) seems to be a high value, but humanity’s fulfillment does not seem to me to be a value at all (and perhaps an anti-value).

    The rhetoric of individual choice and individual happiness truncates what is possible for people in the Culture. I’m not sure if this has been orchestrated solely by the Mind(s), but it seems possible, so I’ll put my comments about this here. They are similar to but distinct from the comments I made last month (geez, I’m sorry for skipping out this long) about the Culture not being a utopia.

    Of course, individual liberty and freedom of choice is part of a free society, and if that were the only measure, it might look like the Mind(s) have made that happen. But there is a communal aspect of being human that I don’t see here. Sure, we see people doing things together, but I don’t see any “thick” relationships or communities or institutions at all, which I think are essential to human fulfillment. Relationships constrain us, and I don’t see any relational constraints depicted here at all. No one refrains from doing whatever they want in order to be with someone else or in order to further the interests of their group; no one refrains from anything at all as individuals.

    The Culture’s radical ideology is the flip side of that of Azad, but I wonder whether one is just as totalitarian as the other. If you can’t even think about communality because the language can’t express it, you’re oppressed even if you’re happy.

    Rousseau said that some freedoms are only possible because of the constraints put on our free will by civilization. So I do recognize that there are some freedoms people in the Culture have that I don’t, but it seems that I am free to develop in ways that people in the Culture are not.

    If this ideology has been designed by the Mind(s), it seems like a way to protect people from themselves, which is a tactic R. Daniel Olivaw (or Giscard, I can’t recall which) decided was the wrong approach for the Zeroth Law of Robotics, in Asimov’s Robot (and Foundation and Empire) meta-series.

    Lastly, seeing how genetically modified people have become, k do wonder whether the Mind(s) have engineered people to be docile and accepting of what I think of as thin relationships and lack of meaning (mentioned in another thread last month). Where are the “crimes” of passion?

    So I don’t know whether any my thoughts here are directly related to the Mind(s), but I wondered while reading the book whether the Mind(s) really have the best interests of people in mind in the same way I think of our best interests.

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    Excellent points, @WildCard! The fact that they agree with mine is only a curious happenstance! Thanks!

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    I disagree with the "constraints make us human" idea, but I agree that close "thick" relationships can make people happy. And we don't see any of those in the Culture. There are friendships, but there's nothing like a marriage. OK, the economic imperative for marriage is gone (no need to share the burden of running a household and raising children), but that's not the only reason for marriage.

    Good insight.

    Have Culture humans been bred for domestication? What is the point of being alive? These are questions at the heart of the first, previous Culture book Consider Phlebas.

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    @WildCard said:
    Of course, individual liberty and freedom of choice is part of a free society, and if that were the only measure, it might look like the Mind(s) have made that happen. But there is a communal aspect of being human that I don’t see here. Sure, we see people doing things together, but I don’t see any “thick” relationships or communities or institutions at all, which I think are essential to human fulfillment. Relationships constrain us, and I don’t see any relational constraints depicted here at all. No one refrains from doing whatever they want in order to be with someone else or in order to further the interests of their group; no one refrains from anything at all as individuals.

    Yes, some great points here, thanks! When we started reading The Book of the New Sun it seemed to me that Gene Wolfe wanted to write about a far-future society which was extremely institution-focused, in contrast to Jack Vance's Dying Earth which (it seems to me) is very individual-focused. Now, I'm not sure that Gene Wolfe stuck to that principle as he progressed through the books - certainly I didn't think so - but at least he started out that way.

    So it's a really interesting insight to me that The Culture is also very individual-focused. So is Azad (the society, not the game), though in a different way, so Player of Games is not really about any clash between individual and collective action... but one can imagine a slightly different story which might have explored this.

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    I don't have much to contribute ATM, but loving the discussion, thanks. I find I really like the intersection of philosophy and fiction.

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    I think @WildCard has nailed the flaw in the Culture. Most people seem reasonably fulfilled, but somehow in a shallow way. There are no deep relationships, no love - just casual friendships and equally casual sex.

    There is an incident of love and a crime of passion in Excession, but the love, not just the crime, is exceptional.

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    edited April 16

    @dr_mitch said:
    I think @WildCard has nailed the flaw in the Culture. Most people seem reasonably fulfilled, but somehow in a shallow way. There are no deep relationships, no love - just casual friendships and equally casual sex.

    There is an incident of love and a crime of passion in Excession, but the love, not just the crime, is exceptional.

    Well, A flaw, at any rate! :D

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