The triumph of humanity & the failure of intelligence

Genesis
Bernard Beckett
Bloomsbury
2009, pp 185, Rs 425

G

enesis is centred about the four hour grilling examination of Anaximander, as she attempts the Herculean, getting into the Academy, the elite circle that rules The New Island Republic — the sole surviving nation in a world that’s nuclear-blasted and plague-ridden. But it isn’t just Anaximander that is being examined. For her chosen field is Adam Forde, a figure who is the turning point of human history.

We see the inevitability that leads to the world’s destruction. Plague rules. Only one nation remains untouched. The island republic that ruthlessly eliminates survivors that approach its coast. Adam Forde is a guard on the republic’s coast. A boat bobs in the sea with a young girl... you stand with him as he raises his gun, and are transfixed, there is one life, sparing her however that condemns all mankind. What does he do? What do you do?

We move next to the debate between Adam Forde and a prototypic robot: Art. In a sense, a debate between creator and created, man and his bastard offspring. Consider Adam’s impassioned defence of man: “I am not a machine. For what can a machine know of the smell of wet grass in the morning, or the sound of a crying baby? I am the feeling of the warm sun against my skin... I am the places I have never seen... the world does not pass through me, it lingers... I am the means by which the universe has come to know itself.”

Genesis is a book of Socratean questions. What makes us human? What difference between a beating heart or circuit board? When does the price of survival become too much? Who will be the devil’s advocate for man? What does our brave new future hold for us? How find a truce between that most dangerous thing, the curious mind and society’s longing for a permanent peace?

As a book of words Genesis is smooth as stainless steel. Lucid writing, brilliant crafted plot, marvellous characters, a wondrous twist in the tail. In fact, Genesis can be thought to approach work of another dark prophet, Orwell.

But Genesis is primarily a book of ideas. And the debate contained is as relevant today as Dostoevsky’s Brother’s Karamazov was a century ago. And it is here that ones applause is more measured. Less enthusiastic. For the debate is not an idle one. But very real.

Interestingly in Genesis, Armageddon is no longer seen as just a possibility but a fact. In much of cold war Euro-America, and 9/11 America global nuclear and biological war is being treated as basic fact. So the question posed in Genesis of what we will do after is not just an exercise in imagination but an exercise in reality.

Bernard, proceeds from the basic idea that if Artificial Intelligence were to possess true intelligence [and it is only time before it does] then the idea of the soul must be seen as vestigial belief of primal man.

The trouble is Bernard carries over as absolute truth, the crude assumption of the separation of the subjective-objective. This ignores the basic argument held in Greek thought, Vedantic India, Goth Germany, Shamanistic Africa, Maorii New Zealand, Aboriginal Australia, Judaic Mysticism, Tao China that consciousness is the ground we walk on, the characteristic of every atom of existence. The possibility that the world is an idea manifest, is taken seriously by true scientists, it is anathema to the technocrat.

Since Bernard doesn’t appreciate the true vastness of the idea, which he raises through Adam’s impassioned words — “I am the means by which the universe has come to know itself” — the Dostoevskian debate between man and robot, in Bernard’s hands becomes one-sided.

In the debate between man and robot, Bernard’s basic assumption that both are mere machines is not just unpalatable, but untenable given his own position on emotion. In Genesis, the protagonists represent the triumph of humanity and the failure of intelligence. Oddly, the dystopian book itself is the reverse, a wondrous exercise in intelligence and a failure of the spirit.
 

Liked the story?

  • 0

    Happy
  • 0

    Amused
  • 0

    Sad
  • 0

    Frustrated
  • 0

    Angry