Thoughts on Iain M. Banks Culture novels



good evening my fellow scientists it is Monday September 30 2018 and I want to talk about Iain M banks the culture I'm a little obsessed with the culture novels they paint this amazing picture that is both beautiful and unsympathetic toward a utopia what is the culture the post-scarcity science fiction sort of like the logical extension of Star Trek although I think that's maybe unfair to the culture there's post-scarcity advanced artificial intelligence and technology indistinguishable from magic what I think makes it unique compared to other sort of space operas is it really takes seriously this idea of a post-scarcity utopia both from the good and the bad the culture is sort of all this limit as liberalism goes to infinity there is no punishment for anything if you do something wrong they put a drone on you to keep you from doing it again and that's it there's built-in drug glands you can have any drugs you want any time you want there's a fully mutable appearance that people want to change there's biological sex they just change it it's fine no undesired aging no undesired pregnancies these only happen one consciously desired there's no social sexual constraints no scarcity no ownership no money so I think in some sense it's liberal ideas taken to their logical extension Iain M banks is skeptical clearly about whether this is a good thing it's lovely for the people who love it but for people who don't love it it can be pretty frustrating it's not utopia for everyone some people and some whole societies don't want to give up on the idea of ownership on ambition on punishing the wicked one former slave escapes her old Society comes to the culture and they won't help her get revenge and she sees the culture as very unjust and decadent that all being said it's clearly a desirable place to live for most people reddit thread talked about what civilization you'd want to live in in science fiction I said you can't answer the culture it's a cheat answer because you're wishing for more wishes because in the culture you could simulate any their scenario in a very pleasant way you want to go to school at Hogwarts you can simulate that do you want to fight Darth Vader you can simulate that and all that raises this question whether we're in a culture Roy simulation at this very moment pretending to be 20th century humans at the dawn of artificial intelligence and that sort of metaphysical question does get addressed in the series which i think is an achievement at a philosophical level in matter one character suggests that the only way we can know that this is the real universe is by how much suffering there is no just civilization would go all the effort of building a universe simulator and then put terrible things like cruelty and injustice in since there's cruelty and injustice at least we know we're in the real universe and as soon as he makes that argument he completely blows it away in another book by saying look at in surface detail he says what if a society wants to punish it's wicked wouldn't they invent a simulation of a sort of stereotypical hell in order to put the consciousnesses of their wicked into it what if we're in that universe what are if we're in some better universe as hell so there's no there's no proof either way that this is real at all anyway if you like these ideas I think that the the culture books are amazing I would start if I were going to start over with the player of games because it's a fairly linear plot that takes place both a lot in the culture it's often a lot on the margins of the culture there's plenty of both adventure in the non culture and the sort of hedonistic indulgences that exist in the culture so what's the point of all this in terms of science well I think there's two things one I do think that it's worth considering visions of the future and utopian visions especially in order to find motivations for science but secondly I just think if anything is going to relieve the stress of over and over failing to accomplish one's goals in the lab getting out in nature and thinking about all science fiction something to read is definitely a step in the right direction

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Iain M. Banks Culture novels

  1. There is ownership in the Culture, you can own your own sentimental things, your own creations. it’s just that everything is easily available.

  2. The Player of Games is awesome. Consider Phlebas too, a space pirate adventure set during a war, with spies, gods, and monsters.

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