Sunday, October 21, 2012

Understand - a novelette by Ted Chiang

This is one of my all-time favorite short stories: Understand - a novelette by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang writes...
The initial impulse to write "Understand" arose from an offhand remark made by my roommate in college; he was reading Sartre's Nausea at the time, whose protagonist finds only meaninglessness in everything he sees. But what would it be like, my roommate wondered, to find meaning and order in everything you saw? To me that suggested a kind of heightened perception, which in turn suggested superintelligence. I started thinking about the point at which quantitative improvements -- better memory, faster pattern recognition -- turn into a qualitative difference, a fundamentally different mode of cognition.
Something else I wondered about was the possibility of truly understanding how our minds works. Some people are certain that it's impossible for us to understand our minds, offering analogies like "you can't see your face with your own eyes." I never found that persuasive. It may turn out that we can't, in fact, understand our minds (for certain values of "understand" and "mind"), but it'll take an argument much more persuasive than that to convince me.

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