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One Human Minute af Stanislaw Lem

One Human Minute (original 1983; udgave 1986)

af Stanislaw Lem, Catherine S. Leach (Oversætter)

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
281572,322 (3.78)2
Contains three essays--"One Human Minute," "The Upside-Down Revolution ," and "The World as Cataclysm"--from science fiction master Stanislaw Lem.
Titel:One Human Minute
Forfattere:Stanislaw Lem
Andre forfattere:Catherine S. Leach (Oversætter)
Info:Harvest Books (1986), Edition: 1st, Paperback, 116 pages
Samlinger:Dit bibliotek

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One Human Minute af Stanisław LEM (Author) (1983)


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The final entry in Lem's pseudoepigraphy trilogy, One Human Minute collects the title review and two other writings relating to non-existent books together. While it's still no A Perfect Vacuum, this volume has clearer ideas and a more pleasant writing style than Imaginary Magnitude. It's hard to tell how much difference the translation makes; perhaps Catherine Leach was simply working with stronger material than Marc Heine was given for Imaginary Magnitude, while Michael Kandel somehow always gets the good Lem volumes to rework into English. At the very least, there are no drudgerous pieces like "Golem XIV", or much of Summa Technologiae, so even though these essays might seem a bit dry and could benefit from being placed in a narrative, even second-tier Lem is still good stuff.

- "One Human Minute". Imagine the Guinness Book of Records, but the "records" part is literal - the eponymous chronicle is a statistical abstract of various measures of the sum total of the human condition during a single minute of one day. Interestingly, we are not told exactly when the select minute occurred, so presumably it was a representative day in 1988, when the fictitious volume was published. From births to deaths to sexual encounters, the review explores how encountering data presented like changes the experience, as Stalin's line about how "one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic" is turned on its head. It's like an extended riff on that scene in the movie Amélie when she wonders how many couples in Paris are having an orgasm at that moment, and it's striking how different seeing the full measure of a single life is from seeing a lifespan's worth of minute slices from the equivalent number of different individuals.
- "The Upside-Down Revolution". In the 21st century, advances in military hardware will transform warfare yet again; stockpiles of overwhelming nuclear force have rendered the prospect of great clashes of tanks and planes and warships obsolete, and so the strategic deployment of great swarms of computerized insects, which have far more subtle effects, will be paramount, as will encouraging their evolution to stay one step ahead of the enemy. Lem is really good at working out of the complex game-theoretic logic of war strategy, and this reminded me a lot of his novel Fiasco, so much so that I wish he had turned this book review into a narrative short story. Some ideas work well on the page but don't work in movie form (the philosophical ruminations on the impossibility of truly knowing alien life in Solaris is a great example), but sometimes you see the opposite idea: instead of dryly describing the likely effects of autonomous swarms of nanobots on warfare, why not have Pirx the Pilot try to fight off an attack of one?
- "The World As Cataclysm". Lem argues with our framing of the Fermi Paradox (which he does not explicitly name) for 30 pages, insisting that our understanding of many of the variables involved is so poor that instead of trying to figure out why intelligent life did happen on Earth, it would be more edifying to figure out which disasters caused it to not happen everywhere else we see. Lem is basically arguing that we should import the distinction between risk and uncertainty from finance (the former is quantifiable whereas the latter is not) into models of the probability of intelligent life, so that we don't waste our time searching in parts of the galaxy out in the fringes or too near to the core, or elsewhere afflicted with catastrophe. Lem writes with his typical bubble-bursting remorselessness (again keeping Solaris in mind, I always get the impression that he would really hate optimistic shows like Star Trek that blithely depict humanity palling around with friendly alien life), yet I found myself wishing for the humor of Roger Lowenstein, who memorably summed up the crucial risk vs uncertainty distinction for me in When Genius Failed, his history of the hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management:

The problem with the math is that it adorned with certitude events that were inherently uncertain. "You take Monica Lewinsky, who walks into Clinton's office with a pizza. You have no idea where that's going to go," Conseco's Max Bublitz, who had declined to invest in Long-Term noted. "Yet if you apply math to it, you come up with a thirty-eight percent chance she's going to go down on him. It looks great, but it's all a guess".

Lem is constantly reminding the reader how much of science fiction is just a guess, and it's a valuable service. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
“Every minute, 34.2 million men and women copulate. Only 5.7 percent of all intercourse results in fertilization, but the combined ejaculate, at a volume of forty-five thousand litters a minute, contains 1,990 billion (with deviations in the last decimal place) living spermatozoa. The same number of female eggs could be fertilized sixty times an hour with a minimal ratio of one spermatozoon to one egg, in which impossible case three million children would be conceived per second. But this, too, is only a statistical manipulation.”

In “One Human Minute” by Stanislaw Lem

Lem never fails to disappoint. This is one of those long-forgotten Lem books no one remembers anymore. I read it more than 20 years ago, and it still packs quite a punch. My love with book reviewing started around the time I read this three-essay-volume (“One Human Minute”, “The Upside Down Evolution”, and “The World as Cataclysm”) comprising reviews of non-existent books… As always, when a book is this good my mind goes on a tangent…

Boss: "Will this work?"
Statistician: "Probability of success is 90% so..."
Boss: "Let's do it."
Boss: "It didn't work. You're fired."

Hopefully the statistician will use his period of unemployment to get better at his job. If you're offered a wager where there is a 90% chance that you will win 5 euros and a 10% chance you will be shot dead then you have to be a very poor statistician to think "the probability of success is 90% so I'll take it". The correct response here is "No, there is too much business risk". Translation: the chance that the business might make a bit more money is not worth me getting fired. If it means the business is likely to miss out on an opportunity then it is not the statistician's fault that his employer is managed by trigger-happy clowns.

I suspect that even if the level of statistical information were provided it would be of little benefit to much of the public, since levels of numeracy are frighteningly low even among those who are otherwise highly educated. You only have to read the newspapers after election days to see that quite quickly. Never mind statistical terms like variance, are standard deviation, etc.; the term average and how to apply it barely understood. Even more misunderstood is probability. For example, the gambler's fallacy is widespread - indeed it is a psychological trait that is exploited by casinos, among others. But most people wouldn't know how to interpret a margin of error. It's an enormously technical aspect of statistics that is itself a statistical measurement. It's also a 'guess' based on X rolls of the die. 'If we ran this simulation x times the range of results would be Y, with the most common outcome being Z'. Understanding that requires a level of numerical literacy (rather than just numeracy) that very, very few have. Which isn't a criticism of them.

So margin of error wouldn't be helpful and would often be used to dismiss statistics.

People don't want to know, and wouldn't find it useful, to know, that inflation ranges from X to Y percent. The same way I just want to know 'should I wear my raincoat today?’ not the statistical likelihood it will rain and the way it was worked out. I personally think the bigger problem is that the conclusions reported don't always really follow from the data or the statistics are willfully misrepresented to support a particular point of view. As a result, the conclusions don't fit with people's perceptions and they therefore don't trust the statistics. People routinely fail to distinguish between median and average let alone more complex concepts. However, while this might work out in the long term, how does one engage the problem right now? Take fake news: there is a strong argument to debunk fake news were ever possible but this doesn't solve the more important problem that quite a lot of people want to believe this stuff. Maybe it would be wise to invest in critical thinking from an early age. The problem, though, is that if you report that level of detail, your piece becomes unreadable to a lot of readers. So journalists leave it out, or use tiny footnotes that are only read by people who already had a pretty good idea of the data's limitations.

Most weather forecasts in Portugal are not probabilistic, precisely because there are so many people who are not statistically literate. There is considerable debate in weather forecasting circles as to whether it would be beneficial to explain forecasting techniques in more detail, and to give statistical probabilities as part of the forecast, but at the moment they have erred on the side of tradition and simply forecast 'rain' or 'sunshine' (if the models don't show a clear likelihood for any particular outcome there's always the classic fallback of 'sunny with scattered showers'). Some obviously find this infantilising, but others prefer the clarity of the advice. People get upset either way.

I'm not sure how you resolve that issue. Mandatory statistics awareness courses at school? Add them to the pile, along with nutrition, economics and media awareness. ( )
  antao | May 4, 2018 |
Read this a couple weeks ago but forgot to post it. Lem is insane (as usual). The first "story" is about a book that is similar to an almanac except that it contains statistics on EVERYTHING that happens on the earth every minute. Then there's one on Aliens and the probability which I thought was really cool because I always say, "With so many stars there has to be other life." But he starts doing the math on the conditions under which life arose here and you start to lose hope. The other story is about a future earth where computers take over everything (it's not a nice place) which was also pretty cool. So it was quick, enjoyable and educational all around.

Lem rocks! (or rocked actually because he's not around anymore.) ( )
  ragwaine | Nov 13, 2010 |
There are introductions to most books. I'd rather they were left to the end, frankly; the introduction to "Don Quixote," for instance, is rather interesting and adds a lot to the context in which the novel was written, but I want to know this sort of information when I've already read the book, not before.

I wonder if Lem feels the same way; "One Human Minute" is a short collection of introductions and critical essays about books that were never written. The titular piece is a nonfiction work (in mind only) summing up everything that happens in one minute of life on earth. The introduction Lem writes is wonderfully suggestive, with his trademark wit and erudition evidently on display.

The book is a minor piece, but Lem it seems was into writing minor pieces. Not everything can have the emotional impact of "Fiasco" or "Solaris," and there is a definite place in the world, and in one's library, for whimsical pieces like this. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Jan 8, 2007 |

Stanislaw Lem is well known for his many reviews of non-existent books. One Human Minute follows in this tradition with two reviews and an essay on the development of intelligent life. The writing is quintessential Lem. His interests with statistics, randomness, and artificial intelligence will be familiar terrain for readers who have read The Cyberiad, The Investigation, or The Chain of Chance. Unburdened by the genre trappings of American sf, Lem is able to roam wherever his mind takes him. It makes for some truly forward-looking sf (though Lem might well bridle at the label).
  DaveHardy | Dec 27, 2006 |
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LEM, StanisławForfatterprimær forfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Leach, Catherine S.Oversættermedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet

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Contains three essays--"One Human Minute," "The Upside-Down Revolution ," and "The World as Cataclysm"--from science fiction master Stanislaw Lem.

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