Stanisław Lem quotes

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Stanisław Lem

Birthdate: 12. September 1921
Date of death: 27. March 2006

Stanisław Herman Lem was a Polish writer of science fiction, philosophy, and satire, and a trained physician. Lem's books have been translated into 41 languages and have sold over 45 million copies. From the 1950s to 2000s, he published many books, both science fiction and philosophical/futurological. He is best known as the author of the 1961 novel Solaris, which has been made into a feature film three times. In 1976, Theodore Sturgeon wrote that Lem was the most widely read science fiction writer in the world. The total print of Lem's books is over 30 million copies.Lem's works explore philosophical themes through speculation on technology, the nature of intelligence, the impossibility of communication with and understanding of alien intelligence, despair about human limitations, and humanity's place in the universe. They are sometimes presented as fiction, but others are in the form of essays or philosophical books.

Translating his works is difficult due to passages with elaborate word formation, idiomatic wordplay, alien or robotic poetry, and puns.

Works

Solaris
Solaris
Stanisław Lem
His Master's Voice
His Master's Voice
Stanisław Lem
The Cyberiad
Stanisław Lem
Peace on Earth
Stanisław Lem
Imaginary Magnitude
Imaginary Magnitude
Stanisław Lem
The Star Diaries
Stanisław Lem
Fiasco
Stanisław Lem
Szempillantás
Stanisław Lem
The Invincible
Stanisław Lem

„Good books tell the truth, even when they're about things that never have been and never will be. They're truthful in a different way.“

—  Stanisław Lem

"Pirx's Tale" in More Tales of Pirx The Pilot (1983)
Context: Oh, I read good books, too, but only Earthside. Why that is, I don't really know. Never stopped to analyze it. Good books tell the truth, even when they're about things that never have been and never will be. They're truthful in a different way. When they talk about outer space, they make you feel the silence, so unlike the Earthly kind — and the lifelessness. Whatever the adventures, the message is always the same: humans will never feel at home out there.

„I did not know what achievements, what mockery, even what tortures still awaited me. I knew nothing, and I persisted in the faith that the time of cruel miracles was not past.“

—  Stanisław Lem, book Solaris

Source: Solaris (1961), Ch. 14: "The Old Mimoid", p. 204 (final lines)
Context: I hoped for nothing. And yet I lived in expectation. Since she had gone, that was all that remained. I did not know what achievements, what mockery, even what tortures still awaited me. I knew nothing, and I persisted in the faith that the time of cruel miracles was not past.

„The declining intellectual quality of political leadership is the result of the growing complexity of the world. Since no one, be he endowed with the highest wisdom, can grasp it in its entirety, it is those who are least bothered by this who strive for power.“

—  Stanisław Lem

One Human Minute (1986)
Context: The book does not contain “everything about the human being,” because that is impossible. The largest libraries in the world do not contain “everything.” The quantity of anthropological data discovered by scientists now exceeds any individual’s ability to assimilate it. The division of labor, including intellectual labor, begun thirty thousand years ago in the Paleolithic, has become an irreversible phenomenon, and there is nothing that can be done about it. Like it or not, we have placed our destiny in the hands of the experts. A politician is, after all, a kind of expert, if self-styled. Even the fact that competent experts must serve under politicians of mediocre intelligence and little foresight is a problem that we are stuck with, because the experts themselves cannot agree on any major world issue. A logocracy of quarreling experts might be no better than the rule of the mediocrities to which we are subject. The declining intellectual quality of political leadership is the result of the growing complexity of the world. Since no one, be he endowed with the highest wisdom, can grasp it in its entirety, it is those who are least bothered by this who strive for power.

„The Universe itself operated on the same principle. And for an institution as everlasting as the Universe — certainly our Building was such an institution — the speed at which these meanderings and perturbations took place was of no consequence.“

—  Stanisław Lem, book Memoirs Found in a Bathtub

Pamiętnik znaleziony w wannie (1961), translated as Memoirs Found in a Bathtub (1973)
Context: My past had disappeared. Not that I believed for a moment that this was an accident; in fact, I had suspected for some time now that the Cosmic Command, obviously no longer able to supervise every assignment on an individual basis when there were literally trillions of matters in its charge, had switched over to a random system. The assumption would be that every document, circulating endlessly from desk to desk, must eventually hit upon the right one. A time-consuming procedure, perhaps, but one that would never fail. The Universe itself operated on the same principle. And for an institution as everlasting as the Universe — certainly our Building was such an institution — the speed at which these meanderings and perturbations took place was of no consequence.

„Like it or not, we have placed our destiny in the hands of the experts. A politician is, after all, a kind of expert, if self-styled. Even the fact that competent experts must serve under politicians of mediocre intelligence and little foresight is a problem that we are stuck with, because the experts themselves cannot agree on any major world issue.“

—  Stanisław Lem

One Human Minute (1986)
Context: The book does not contain “everything about the human being,” because that is impossible. The largest libraries in the world do not contain “everything.” The quantity of anthropological data discovered by scientists now exceeds any individual’s ability to assimilate it. The division of labor, including intellectual labor, begun thirty thousand years ago in the Paleolithic, has become an irreversible phenomenon, and there is nothing that can be done about it. Like it or not, we have placed our destiny in the hands of the experts. A politician is, after all, a kind of expert, if self-styled. Even the fact that competent experts must serve under politicians of mediocre intelligence and little foresight is a problem that we are stuck with, because the experts themselves cannot agree on any major world issue. A logocracy of quarreling experts might be no better than the rule of the mediocrities to which we are subject. The declining intellectual quality of political leadership is the result of the growing complexity of the world. Since no one, be he endowed with the highest wisdom, can grasp it in its entirety, it is those who are least bothered by this who strive for power.

„We arrive here as we are in reality, and when the page is turned and that reality is revealed to us — that part of our reality which we would prefer to pass over in silence — then we don't like it any more.“

—  Stanisław Lem, book Solaris

Source: Solaris (1961), Ch. 6: "The Little Apocrypha", p. 72
Context: We are only seeking Man. We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors. We don't know what to do with other worlds. A single world, our own, suffices us; but we can't accept it for what it is. We are seaching for an ideal image of our own world: we go in quest of a planet, of a civilisation superior to our own but developed on the basis of a prototype of our primeval past. At the same time, there is something inside us which we don't like to face up to, from which we try to protect ourselves, but which nevertheless remains, since we don't leave Earth in a state of primal innocence. We arrive here as we are in reality, and when the page is turned and that reality is revealed to us — that part of our reality which we would prefer to pass over in silence — then we don't like it any more.

„Clarity of thought is a shining point in a vast expanse of unrelieved darkness. Genius is not so much a light as it is a constant awareness of the surrounding gloom“

—  Stanisław Lem, book His Master's Voice

Preface
His Master's Voice (1968)
Context: Clarity of thought is a shining point in a vast expanse of unrelieved darkness. Genius is not so much a light as it is a constant awareness of the surrounding gloom, and its typical cowardice is to bathe in its own glow and avoid, as much as possible, looking out beyond its boundary. No matter how much genuine strength it may contain, there is also, inevitably, a considerable part that is only the pretense of that strength.

„Man does not create gods, in spite of appearances. The times, the age, impose them on him.“

—  Stanisław Lem, book Solaris

Source: Solaris (1961), Ch. 14: "The Old Mimoid", p. 198
Context: Man does not create gods, in spite of appearances. The times, the age, impose them on him. Man can serve his age or rebel against it, but the target of his cooperation or rebellion comes to him from outside.

„The book does not contain “everything about the human being,” because that is impossible. The largest libraries in the world do not contain “everything.”“

—  Stanisław Lem

The quantity of anthropological data discovered by scientists now exceeds any individual’s ability to assimilate it. The division of labor, including intellectual labor, begun thirty thousand years ago in the Paleolithic, has become an irreversible phenomenon, and there is nothing that can be done about it. Like it or not, we have placed our destiny in the hands of the experts. A politician is, after all, a kind of expert, if self-styled. Even the fact that competent experts must serve under politicians of mediocre intelligence and little foresight is a problem that we are stuck with, because the experts themselves cannot agree on any major world issue. A logocracy of quarreling experts might be no better than the rule of the mediocrities to which we are subject. The declining intellectual quality of political leadership is the result of the growing complexity of the world. Since no one, be he endowed with the highest wisdom, can grasp it in its entirety, it is those who are least bothered by this who strive for power.
One Human Minute (1986)

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„We are only seeking Man. We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors. We don't know what to do with other worlds.“

—  Stanisław Lem, book Solaris

Source: Solaris (1961), Ch. 6: "The Little Apocrypha", p. 72
Context: We are only seeking Man. We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors. We don't know what to do with other worlds. A single world, our own, suffices us; but we can't accept it for what it is. We are seaching for an ideal image of our own world: we go in quest of a planet, of a civilisation superior to our own but developed on the basis of a prototype of our primeval past. At the same time, there is something inside us which we don't like to face up to, from which we try to protect ourselves, but which nevertheless remains, since we don't leave Earth in a state of primal innocence. We arrive here as we are in reality, and when the page is turned and that reality is revealed to us — that part of our reality which we would prefer to pass over in silence — then we don't like it any more.

„My past had disappeared. Not that I believed for a moment that this was an accident; in fact, I had suspected for some time now that the Cosmic Command, obviously no longer able to supervise every assignment on an individual basis when there were literally trillions of matters in its charge, had switched over to a random system.“

—  Stanisław Lem, book Memoirs Found in a Bathtub

Pamiętnik znaleziony w wannie (1961), translated as Memoirs Found in a Bathtub (1973)
Context: My past had disappeared. Not that I believed for a moment that this was an accident; in fact, I had suspected for some time now that the Cosmic Command, obviously no longer able to supervise every assignment on an individual basis when there were literally trillions of matters in its charge, had switched over to a random system. The assumption would be that every document, circulating endlessly from desk to desk, must eventually hit upon the right one. A time-consuming procedure, perhaps, but one that would never fail. The Universe itself operated on the same principle. And for an institution as everlasting as the Universe — certainly our Building was such an institution — the speed at which these meanderings and perturbations took place was of no consequence.

„A smart machine will first consider which is more worth its while: to perform the given task or, instead, to figure some way out of it.“

—  Stanisław Lem, book The Futurological Congress

The Futurological Congress (1971)
Context: A smart machine will first consider which is more worth its while: to perform the given task or, instead, to figure some way out of it. Whichever is easier. And why indeed should it behave otherwise, being truly intelligent? For true intelligence demands choice, internal freedom. And therefore we have the malingerants, fudgerators, and drudge-dodgers, not to mention the special phenomenon of simulimbecility or mimicretinism. A mimicretin is a computer that plays stupid in order, once and for all, to be left in peace. And I found out what dissimulators are: they simply pretend that they're not pretending to be defective. Or perhaps it's the other way around. The whole thing is very complicated. A probot is a robot on probation, while a servo is one still serving time. A robotch may or may not be a sabot. One vial, and my head is splitting with information and nomenclature. A confuter, for instance, is not a confounding machine — that's a confutator — but a machine which quotes Confucius. A grammus is an antiquated frammus, a gidget — a cross between a gadget and a widget, usually flighty. A bananalog is an analog banana plug. Contraputers are loners, individualists, unable to work with others; the friction these types used to produce on the grid team led to high revoltage, electrical discharges, even fires. Some get completely out of hand — the dynamoks, the locomoters, the cyberserkers.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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