Tuesday, January 22, 2008

An extract from The Star Diaries

Below is an extract from Stanislaw Lem's The Star Diaries. A specialist in "Mechanical Psychiatry" presenting his findings before a committee investigating an incident involving a computer gone mad... (the part about how the electronic brain was seduced by a mathematician's wife really cracked me up!)


"Gentlemen! he said in a quavering yet still resonant voice. "For some time now it has been known that electronic brains must be not only constructed but educated as well. The lot of an electronic brain is hard. Constant, unremitting labour, complex calculations, the abuse and rough humour of attendants - this is what an apparatus, by its nature extremely delicate, must endure. Little wonder then, that there are breakdowns, and short cicuits, which not infrequently represent attempts at suicide. Not long ago I had, in my clinic, one such case. A split personality - dichotomia profunda psychogenes electrocutiva alernans. This particular brain addressed love letters to itself, employing such endearing terms as 'relay baby,' 'spoolie,' 'little digit drum-dump' - clear proof of how badly the thing needed affection, a kind word, some warm and tender relationship. A series of electroshock treatments and a long rest restored it to health." [....]

"There are certain insensitive natures who have no sympathy for this. They provoke the brains out of all patience. An electronic brain, gentlemen, wishes us nothing but good; however the endurance of coils and tubes has its limits too. It was only as a result of endless persecution from its captain, who turned out to be a notorious drunkard, that the electronic calculator of Grenobi, designed to make in-flight corrections, announced in a sudden fit of madness that it was the remote-control child of the great Andromeda and therefore the hereditary emperor of all Murgalandria. Treated at our most exclusive institution, the patient finally quieted down, came to its senses, and is now completely normal. There are of course more serious cases. Such for example was a certain university brain, which, having fallen in love with the wife of a mathematician professor, began out of jealousy to falsify all the calculations till the poor mathematician grew despondent, convinced that he could no longer add. But in that brain's defense it must be stated that the mathematician's wife had methodically seduced it, asking it to total up the bills for her most intimate undergarments."

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