Cybernetic Futures: Stanislaw Lem, Summa Technologiae


This essay reviews the English translation of Stanislaw Lem’s book on the philosophy of technology, Summa Technologiae, first published in Polish in 1961. The Summa is a distinctive work of scientific futurology, and the review explores connections between Lem’s thought and the cybernetics of Ross Ashby, Stafford Beer, and Gordon Pask, including Lem’s discussions of the inevitability of life, the distribution of life across the universe, evolution as design, different forms of intelligence, biological computing, virtual realities, synthetic worlds, and the arts. The science fiction for which Lem is best known can be read as an alternative expression of his philosophy. Lem differed from contemporary cyberneticians in his absolute rejection of all things mystical and spiritual.