40 - Science Fiction
The Spanish writer Miguel de Unamuno tells the story of a man lost in the desert who has a vision of a place that, like the desert, seems full and empty, finite and infinite, silent and oppressive, a world populated by machines. In the comments we talk about artificial intelligence, and we explore Unamuno's opposition to the idealization of science.
September 29, 2017
"Wariness surrounding powerful technological advances is not novel. Various science fiction stories, from The Matrix to I, Robot, have exploited viewers' anxiety around AI. Many such plots center around a concept called "the Singularity," the moment in which AIs become more intelligent than their human creators. The scenarios differ, but they often end with the total eradication of the human race, or with machine overlords subjugating people.
Several world-renowned sciences and tech experts have been vocal about their fears of AI. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking famously worries that advanced AI will take over the world and end the human race. If robots become smarter than humans, his logic goes, the machines would be able to create unimaginable weapons and manipulate human leaders with ease. "It would take off on its own, and redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate," he told the BBC in 2014. "Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete, and would be superseded."
Excerpt from the article “Artificial Intelligence Is Our Future. But Will It Save Or Destroy Humanity? Here's a rundown of what the world's greatest minds think,” written by Patrick Caughill, published in the digital magazine Futurism on 9.29.17. Url: https://futurism.com/artificial-intelligence-is-our-future-but-will-it-save-or-destroy-humanity
Welcome, dear listeners of Tres Cuentos, the bilingual podcast dedicated to Latin America's literary, historical, and traditional narratives. I am Carolina Quiroga-Stultz, and today we continue with Latino Science Fiction.
The introduction to this episode is an excerpt from the article “Artificial Intelligence Is Our Future. But Will It Save Or Destroy Humanity? Here's a rundown of what the world's greatest minds think,” written by Patrick Caughill, published in the digital magazine Futurism in September of 2017.
I first became acquainted with the Spanish writer Miguel de Unamuno when I read Cosmos Latinos, An Anthology of Science Fiction from Latin American and Spain, edited by Andrea L. Bell & Yolanda Molina-Gavilán, and published by Wesleyan University Press.
Honestly, I had heard about Unamuno before, but his books and I had not crossed paths. So, when I read “Mechanopolis,” today's featured story, I felt I had to find out more. I checked some of his short stories and ended up reading a 300-page thesis on his work.
I became obsessed with understating why and how the author had conceived a world without humans. This strange obsession for Unamuno has rarely happened to me, but after learning more about his life, the numerous letters he wrote, his obsession was now mine. I call it the "Unamuno's effect."
On this occasion, we had the permission of the Wesleyan University Press to reproduce their translation of Unamuno's story “Mechanopolis,” by Patricia Hart. Also, we counted with extra help from Mrs. Alexa Jeffress' translation class. Her student, Parinita Kumar, translated the second of Unamuno's stories that we will present today, “The Travels of Turismundo.”
Finally, it is my pleasure to present Cooper Braun, who did a magnific rendition of today's cuento. But I will tell you more about our collaborators in the comments.
A man lost in the desert has a vision of a place that like a desert, seems both full and empty, finite and endless, silent yet oppressive - a world populated solely by machines.
By Miguel de Unamuno
Translated by Patricia Hart
Narrated by Cooper Braun-Enos
While Reading Samuel Butler's Erewhon, the part where he tells us about an Erewhonian man who wrote The Book of Machines, and in so doing managed to get most of the contraptions banished from his land, there sprang to mind the memory of a traveler's tale told to me by an explorer friend who had been to Mechanopolis, the city of machines. He still shook at the memory of it when he told me the story, and it had such an effect on him that he later retired for years to a remote spot containing the fewest possible number of machines.
I shall try to reproduce my friend's tale here, in his very words, if possible:
There came a moment when I was lost in the middle of the desert, my companions had either retreated, seeking to save themselves (as if they knew in which direction salvation lay!), or had perished from thirst and fatigue. I was alone, and practically dying of thirst myself. I began sucking at the nearly black blood that was oozing from fingers raw from clawing about in the arid soil, with the mad hope of bringing to light any trace of water.
Just when I was about to lie down on the ground and close my eyes to the implacable blue sky to die as quickly as possible, or even cause my own death by holding my breath or burying myself in that terrible place, I lifted my fainting eyes and thought I saw something green off in the distance. "It must be a mirage," I thought; nevertheless, I dragged myself toward it.
Hours of agony passed, but when I arrived, I found myself, indeed, in an oasis. A fountain restored my strength, and, after drinking, I ate some of the tasty and succulent fruits the trees freely offered. Then I fell asleep.
I do not know how long I slept, or if it was hours, days, months, or years. What I do know is that I awoke a different man, an entirely different man. The recent and horrendous sufferings had been wiped from my memory, or nearly.
"Poor devils," I said to myself, remembering my explorer companions who had died in our enterprise. I arose, again ate of the fruit, and drank of the water, and then disposed myself to examine the oasis. And - wouldn't you know it- a few steps later I came upon an entirely deserted railways station. There was not soul to be seen anywhere. A train, also deserted, was puffing smoke without engineer or stoker. It occurred to me out of curiosity to climb into one of the cars. I sat down and, without knowing why, closed the door, and the train started moving. A mad terror rose in me, and I even felt the urge to throw myself out the window. But repeating, "Let us see where it leads," I contained myself.
The velocity of the train was so great that I could not even make out the short of landscape through which I sped. I felt such a terrible vertigo that I was compelled to close the windows. When the train stood still at last, I found myself in a magnificent station, one far superior to any that we know around here. I got off the train and went outside.
I will not even try to describe the city. We cannot even dream of all of the magnificent, sumptuous things, the comfort, the cleanliness that were accumulated there. And speaking of hygiene, I could not make out what all of the cleaning apparatus was for, since there was one living soul around, neither man nor beast. Not one dog crossed the street, nor one swallow the sky.
On a grand building I saw a sign that said Hotel, written just like that, as we write ourselves, and I went inside. It was completely deserted. I arrived at the dining room. The most solid of repasts was to be had inside. There was a list on each table, and every delicacy named had a number beside it. There was also a vast control panel with numbered buttons. All one had to do was touch a button, and the desired dish sprang forth from the depths of the table.
After having eaten, I went out into the street. Streetcars and automobiles passed by, all empty. One had only to draw near, make a signal to them, and they would stop. I took an automobile and let myself be driven around. I went to a magnificent geological park, in which all of the different types of terrain were displayed, all with explanations on little signs.
The information was in Spanish but spelled phonetically. I left the park. A streetcar was passing by bearing the sign "To the Museum of Painting," and I took it.
There housed were the most famous paintings in the world, in their true originals. I became convinced that all the works we have here, in our museums, are nothing more than skillfully executed reproductions. At the foot of each canvas was a very learned explanation of its historical and aesthetic value, written with the most exquisite sobriety. In a half-hour's visit I learned more about painting than in twelve years of study I had in these parts.
On a sign at the entrance, I read that in Mechanopolis they considered the Museum of Painting to be part of the Museum of Paleontology, whose purpose was to study the products of the human race that had populated those lands before machines supplanted them. Part of the paleontological culture of the Mechanopolites –the who? - was a Hall of Music and all of the other libraries with which the city was full.
What do you wager that I shall shock you even more with my next revelations? I visited the grand concert hall, where the instruments played themselves. I stopped by the great theater. There played a cinematic film accompanied by a phonograph, but so well combined that the illusion of reality was complete. What froze my soul was that I was the only spectator. Where were the Mechanopolites?
When I awoke the next morning in my hotel room, I found the Mechanopolis Echo on my nightstand, with all of the news of the world received through the wireless telegraph station. And there, at the end, was the following news brief: "Yesterday afternoon- and we do not know how it came about- a man entered at our city, a man of the sort there used to be out there. We predict unhappy days for him."
My days, in effect, began to be torturous to me. I began to populate my solitude with phantasms. The most terrible thing about solitude is that it fills up by and by.
I began to believe that all of those factories, all those artifacts, were ruled by invisible souls, intangible and silent. I started to think the great city was peopled by men like myself, but that they came and went without my seeing or coming across them. I believed myself to be the victim of some terrible illness, madness.
The invisible world with which I populated the human solitude in Mechanopolis became a nightmare of martyrdom. I began to shout, to rebuke the machines, to supplicate to them. I went so far as to fall on my knees before an automobile, imploring compassion from it. I was on the brink of throwing myself into a cauldron of boiling steel at a magnificent iron foundry.
One morning, on awakening terrified, I grabbed the newspaper to see what was happening in the world of men, and I found there this news item: «As we predicted, the poor man who- and we do not know how- turned up in this incomparable city of Mechanopolis is going insane. His spirit, filled with ancestral worries and superstitions regarding the invisible world, cannot adapt itself to the spectacle of progress. We feel deeply sorry for him. »
I could not bear to see myself pitied at last by those mysterious, invisible beings, angels, or demons –which are the same –that I believed inhabited Mechanopolis. But all of a sudden, a terrible idea struck me: What if those machines had souls, mechanical souls, and it were the machines themselves that felt sorry for me? This idea made me tremble. I thought myself before the race that must dominate a dehumanized Earth. I left like a madman and threw myself before the first electric streetcar that passed.
When I awoke from the blow, I was once more in the oasis from which I had started out. I began walking. I arrived at the tent of some Bedouins, and meeting one of them, I embraced him crying. How well we understood each other even without understanding each other! He and his companions gave me food, we celebrated together, and at night I went out with them and, lying on the ground, looking up at the starry sky, united we prayed. There was not one machine anywhere around us.
And since then, I have conceived a veritable hatred toward what we call progress, and even toward culture, and I am looking for a corner where I shall find a peer, a man like myself, who cries and laughs as I cry and laugh, and where there is not a single machine and the days flow from the sweet, crystalline tameness of a stream lost in a forest primeval.
Very well, let us come back to reality and leave behind that desolate machine-made place. We can only hope that the dreadful vision of that traveler remains only as a bad dream and never materializes into humanity's future.
But, before I tell you more about Don Miguel de Unamuno, and why I read a thesis on his work, allow me to present today's contributors.
Let's begin with the man that gave voice to the story. I met Cooper Braun at one of the National Storytelling Conferences held in Kansas City. The moment I heard him tell stories and explain how stories reveal so much about our most true self, I knew I wanted to collaborate with him one day.
Cooper Braun was raised by granola eating coyotes in Boulder, Colorado. He started his performance career as an actor (what do you do with a BA in Theater?), and in 2013 rekindled his childhood love for live storytelling. In October 2017, he performed at the Exchange Place at the National Storytelling Festival. He was awarded the 2018 J.J. Reneaux Emerging Artist Award by the National Storytelling Network.
Cooper's stories remind adults that fairy tales are not just for children. Since last year he, along with musician and storyteller Rachel Ann Harding, launched the Stories With Spirit project. Take a minute and check them out on Facebook as @storieswithspirit, and follow them, because they are committed to bringing traditional live storytelling into the new millennium.
On the other hand, we have one of Mrs. Alexa Jeffress' students at the University of Virginia, Parinita Kumar. She translated the story with which we will finalize today's program, “The Travels of Turismundo.”
Parinita Kumar is a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Virginia from Chesapeake, Virginia. Double majoring in cognitive science and Spanish, her dream is to pursue a career in the medical field, where she hopes to utilize her Spanish skills!
In other news, I wanted to share that last year, Tres Cuentos was selected to be part of an intensive training program offered by The Google Podcast Creator Program. I am thrilled and grateful for such a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow the show.
We are to start in May and finish by the end of July 2021. This means that we will be away for the summer, but I might be asking the listeners for feedback.
So, please sign up for our mailing list on our website www.trescuentos.com, and stay in touch; your feedback is very much appreciated. And of course, share your favorite episodes!
Very well, it is time to go into the sci-fi business. After releasing the first episode of this season on Latino Sci-fi, I read some of the comments people left on Facebook. I laughed. Some seemed to have taken the story “Finis,” to heart. I even got a quote from the bible.
It is intriguing the effect that a simple story has on people, even if it is set centuries ahead of us. Truth be told, a good portion of humanity is obsessed with death. I recall a friend who wanted to be live forever and a relative lamenting that we were once immortal, but due to some sinister woman I shall not name, we lost that privilege.
To that I say, spare me from immortality; I am happy knowing that I will step down from the stage of this world and rest in peace one day.
Truly, only stories are immortal. Then, one may ask, who will pass on the tales spun by humanity? Humans or machines? Does it matter? Maybe or maybe not but ponder this: it is likely future humans will see our history as something to learn from, whereas machines may see it as bad code or a curious old nuisance. Either way it is best to live the present to the fullest.
And since we have dived into the subject of humanity's future, let's explore the article “Artificial Intelligence Is Our Future. But Will It Save Or Destroy Humanity? Here's a rundown of what the world's greatest minds think,” written by Patrick Caughill, and published in the digital magazine Futurism.
Caughill says that some experts "believe that humans will be much better off in the hands of advanced AI systems, while others think it will lead to our downfall."
The listener may ask, how? Well, here are some clues.
Theoretical physicists Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk already manifested that the problem is not the development of AI, but that government regulations should be in place to avoid some country to have delusions of greatness. Caughill recounts that "Russian President Vladimir Putin recently stoked this fear at a meeting with Russian students when he said, “The one who becomes the leader in this sphere will be the ruler of the world.” This comment further emboldened Musk's position — he tweeted that the race for AI superiority will be the "most likely cause of WW3."
Then, could we place Unamuno's story Mechanopolis as an aftermath of that potential world war? That is, could a world ruled by or operated solely by machines lead to humanity's auto-extinction. Perhaps. Or maybe the prelude to Unamuno's story will unfold in the opposite direction of the apocalypse.
This other scenario is one where AI technology slowly develops a sort of will or consciousness.
Patrick Caughill quotes the prediction made by Seth Shostak, the senior astronomer at SETI Institute (search for extraterrestrial intelligence), "The first generation [of AI] is just going to do what you tell them; however, by the third generation, they will have their own agenda."
But do not take out your bats and start smashing the technology around you out of fear of potentially be bested by it. There is no need. Shostak, rules out humans becoming AI's slaves. Instead, he predicts "humans will simply become immaterial to these hyper-intelligent machines. Shostak thinks that these machines will exist on an intellectual plane so far above humans that, at worst, we will be nothing more than a tolerable nuisance." This is the future we saw in “Mechanopolis.”
But do not fret, here comes better news -although some would disagree (and at times I count myself among them) where AI enhances our brain and bodies.
Ponder this: nowadays prosthetics have advanced quite a lot, and they continue to prove that losing a limb is not an impediment to continue with your life. Perhaps in our future, we will have integrated with machines to breed a new species that can no longer be called humans.
And talking about human-machine integration, let me quote a couple of paragraphs from “Artificial Intelligence and Reality of Human-Machine Integration,” published in the digital magazine Scienceooze on February 14, 2021.
The article begins with a bit of an ominous warning. "With the development of Human-Machine Integration, optomechanical integration, bioengineering, biochemical robots, and the comprehensive progress of system science, autonomous computers will have sufficient behavioral performance. This will allow them to break away from the complete control of humans and enjoy autonomous intelligent thinking."
The article continues with a grim omen, one that would have terrified Don Miguel de Unamuno. "Scientists even put forward a prediction that before the end of the 21st century, humans will no longer be the most intelligent species on earth." Spoiler alert, our next episode will touch on that.
And it is due to this concern that several voices in the tech and science fields have raised their concern and suggested a third way out of such dilemma – if you cannot beat your enemies, join them." So, we go back to the human-machine integration and, therefore, the development of superintelligence.
The article concludes: "Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, the human-machine-cooperative biochemical man can fly like Iron Man, manipulating weapons like a mecha warrior, rewriting the trajectory of life, traveling through time and space, and even exist without material characteristics."
Perhaps in some 50 years, we will be seeing men flying with artificial wings like Prescott, the character of our last episode in Santiago Dabove's story, “Finis.” Or we might see preserved celebrities' heads functioning without bodies, like in the show Futurama created by Matt Groening and David X. Cohen. Oh! What an inconvenient way to become immortal!
And there is so much more I could say about this intriguing yet uneasy subject of machine-human integration, but I would rather switch gears, and talk about today's author and his criticism of those who idealized science.
When I began my research on Latino Sci-Fi literature, I wondered what drives a person to write Sci-fi. Is it an exercise of imagination? Is it a fascination with the unwritten future, or is it a dissatisfaction with the present reality that can only be expressed through a futuristic narrative?
Well, since I could not find much about Santiago Dabove's thinking, the author featured in our last episode, I thought, if I read a 300-page thesis on Unamuno, I might get a grasp of his feelings when he wrote Mechanopolis. Of course, I got more than that.
The thesis written by Clara Fernández Díaz-Rincón is titled “Critica al Cientificismo de Miguel de Unamuno,” (An analysis of Miguel Unamuno’s Scientificism).
I will not attempt to summarize Unamuno's life story, so pardon me if I omit some details. I will mention only those aspects that, in my opinion, help explain more why he wrote “Mechanopolis.” Should the listener consider that there are other compelling details and arguments, do not hesitate to email us; I would love to learn more.
Don Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo was born in Bilbao, on September 29, 1864, and died in Salamanca, on December 31, 1936. He was a Spanish writer and philosopher belonging to the Generation of 98. He cultivated a great variety of literary genres such as novel, essay, theater, and poetry in his work.
In 1870 when he was only six years old, Don Miguel de Unamuno lost his father. Thus, he grew up under the feminine influence of his mother, Salomé, and his maternal grandmother Benita. Don Miguel was raised by a strict religious catholic mother that was determined to make of her son become, as he put it, "a devotee to the highest degree, with a devotion often called mysticism."
During his teenage years, he became an avid reader of history, law, philosophy, social and political science, and science in general. When he turned 16, Miguel left his family to pursue a degree in Spain's capital, Madrid. For a provincial young man, this move to a bigger city was intimidating. Unamuno experienced a superficial metropolis, where no one listens to each other, and conversations are futile. You might see some of this sentiment reflected in the story with which we are closing today’s program, “The Travels of Turismundo.”
Clara Fernández Díaz-Rincón tells us that the solitude that Unamuno experienced during his first year in Madrid led him to hold slightly onto his religious belief that his faith was almost mystic. But, as time goes by and Unamuno interacts more and more with others and his surroundings, his religious convictions begin to fade.
Gradually he began to abandon his faith and embrace intellectual values. As he put it, "My religious conversion slowly evolved […] having practiced with much fervor Catholicism, I slowly walked away from it. […] And one carnival day (I remember), I stopped attending mass. Then, I launched into a vertiginous race towards philosophy. I learned German from Hegel, the great Hegel, one of the thinkers who has left a deep footprint in me. Today, I believe that the basis of my thinking is Hegelian. Later I fell in love with Spencer but always interpreting him through Hegel's lenses. Yet, I always circled back to my readings and concerns on the religious issue, which has always interest me."
In 1883, Miguel finished his studies and graduated with a degree in Philosophy and Literature and returned to Bilbao. The young man returned intending to find a job and marry the woman he loved, Concha. Yet, he is not the same man that left.
His mother and his fiancé were still strong catholic devotees, and Miguel's religious indifference takes them by surprise, affecting his relationship with his mother. To that, we must add that his hometown, Bilbao, had expanded demographically. It went from a small town of 32,000 people in 1877 to 70,000 in 1893. The city had embraced the progress of industrialization, and it was now an important mining center. This visible changes in his beloved town, shocked Unamuno.
Eventually, he moved to Salamanca, and started a family with his beloved Concha. In total, they had nine children. His family was his solace and joy, but, when his six-year-old son Raimundo, died in 1902, Unamuno was devastated.
Clara Fernández Díaz-Rincón tells us that, in Raimundo’s last hours, Unamuno went to the San Esteban convent and prayed, searching for his lost faith. In a way, he felt God was punishing him. From then on, Miguel de Unamuno became obsessed with finding the simple faith of the old days, hoping to break God's silence. This led him to reject the banner of intellectualism.
However, he was not alone in being torn by conflicting ideas; Spain was too. The XIX century was a convulsive era in Spain's history. Throughout the century, Spain began losing its grip over most of its colonies around the globe. Then, in 1898, Spain lost the Spanish-American War, which ended the Spanish colonial rule in the Americas and resulted in the US acquisition of territories in the western Pacific and Latin America.
Internally, the country was in a constant social and political internal confrontation that all other matters, such as philosophy, science, and culture, were disregarded. Consequently, Spain regressed while the rest of Europe was rapidly heading towards the progress forged by the era of industrialization.
Spain’s lack of direction was a determinant factor contributing to what a generation of intellectuals called "la generación del 98." It advocated for finding solutions within the Hispanic territory and returning to the old customs rather than trying to compete with Europe.
So, let’s pause Unamuno and Spain’s story and briefly talk about the industrial revolution of the XIX century, because I feel the fear of its effects is palpable in the story “Mechanopolis.”
We know that the industrial revolution brought important inventions at the expense of creating social and political chaos. On a global scale, it forced transitions for which most societies were not ready. The shift from traditional to modern industrial societies gave rise to a new social class, the urban proletariat.
At this point, I will quote historian Yuval Noah Harari in his lecture Sapiens: A brief History of Humankind, which you can find on Youtube. I will copy the link in the transcript of this episode.
He says, "Most of the political history of the XIX and XX century’s problems revolved around the new problems of industrial society, which could not be solved and could not be answered using the traditional ideologies, religions, and stories of humankind. Of course, one of the first reactions to such technological and social upheaval is to try to go back to the old stories and to find some security there. […] When there is a big change that destroys old institutions and old ways of life and creates completely new religions, the first thing people do is to try to hold on to something stable. […] This happened in the XIX century during the industrial revolution. One of the first reactions against the industrial revolution was a rise in religious fundamentalism all over the world."
So, going back to the stories that pertain to today’s episode, we can now see that the world in which Unamuno lived felt as if it had been in a train wreck.
At this time, Spain was divided between the traditionalists, often backed by the church, and the innovators, who wanted the country to catch up with Europe’s progress. The effects of this conflict were visible in academia, where Unamuno was heavily invested as a professor, and eventually as Rector of the University of Salamanca.
Unamuno was tired of the routine and bureaucracy of Spain’s education system. He saw less interest in learning than in just repeating formulas like creeds. Teachers were more interested in gaining prestige than teaching. In his words, "It is useless that they stuff us with news and formulas, and laws and data to be memorized, but nothing that inspires the spirit. We buy foreign machines – science is a machine – and we learn to use them, but if a machine breaks, we do not know how to fix it or how to build a new machine."
Later, Unamuno defined the university as a "factory of graduates in law, medicine, pharmacy, science and literature, a sort of public office that, after submitting the individual through some tests, grants a title that allows the bearer to control a profession and ability to perform certain jobs."
In sum, Unamuno asks if the university should produce professional technicians or foster a higher culture. I wonder if the machines in “Mechanopolis” reflect a utilitarian society, where there is no room for critical thinking, and where its workers are like automats, almost soulless and tied to the principles of efficiency.
Clara Fernández Díaz-Rincón tells us that Unamuno was a kin observant and criticized that " in all levels -education, political, cultural - [Society] had prioritized and exalted "the technique," identifying it with progress. In this way, a sort of technicism evolves instead of a desire for knowledge. […] Thus "the technique," is overvalued and it ends up dehumanizing us."
In other words, workers are valued only by their efficiency, technique, and capacity to produce excellent results and not as human beings with ideas, feelings, and needs.
I encourage you to watch the silent movie by Charles Chaplin, Modern Times, a satire of the production line system in Detroit, where workers are ultimately eaten by machinery.
It is hard to pinpoint what specific event led Unamuno to turn his back on intellectual ideas. I believe it was a combination of losing his son, writer's sensitivity, his criticism of Spain's backward education system, and the effects of the industrial revolution in Spain and the world.
While Unamuno criticized intellectuals, he was not opposed to science. "The innocent science has been blamed for the current situation as if she had been a prisoner to intellectualism. The latter failed – not science. We wanted science to make us gods one way or the other, yet it was science that showed us our nakedness in front of God, and that same science is the one that condemns us to work and die."
In other words, science should be valued for the discoveries it reveals to us, but not lead us to deposit all our hopes in it. It cannot spare us from death or even console us in our saddest hour.
As we see, Unamuno was not against science or progress, but he was appalled by the general lack of understanding of science. This was made worse because most of the new inventions were came from elsewhere. Instead of empowering people to create, to imagine, and to innovate, people were becoming mere consumers with feelings of inferiority.
This reminds me of my father, who often complains of the same problem in Colombia and in Latin America in general. As a professor of innovation, he is constantly shocked by how students have lost their curiosity and want only to copy what is foreign. They always believe that whatever is made in the US is always best and does not need to be questioned just assimilated.
To wrap up the program, I want to share Unamuno existential reflection regarding science, he wrote, "Yes, yes, I see it, a great social activity, a powerful civilization, lots of science, lots of art, lots of factories, and then, when we have filled the world with industrial marvels, with huge factories, roads, museums, libraries, we will fall exhausted at the feet of all this, and it will remain, but for whom? Was man made for science, or was science made for man?" I guess I found the answer to “ Mechanopolis.”
And with this reflection of what will remain after humanity is gone, we wrap up the program. I will leave you with another of Unamuno's short stories that, in a way, feels like a sort of continuation of “Mechanopolis.”
As mentioned before, the following story was translated by Parinita Kumar, one of Mrs. Alexas Jeffress' students at the University of Virginia.
The Travels of Turismundo
By Miguel de Unamuno
Translated by Parinita Kumar
Reviewed and read by Don Hymel
The city of Espeja (The city of Mirrors)
When poor Turismundo already believed himself to be in an endless wasteland, dying of hunger, thirst, and exhaustion at the foot of a granite rock, he stumbled upon a stump and saw in the distance, melted on the horizon, the towers of a city.
The sun sprouted above the towers like an immense bursting peony flower, and the city glimmered. Turismundo picked up what was left of his life and went toward the city that, according to him, was approaching. The sun in the sky made the city look bigger. Then when he was already at the city's entrance, the air seemed to thicken and rise like a fence.
It was, in effect, a transparent and invisible wall. He continued walking along the wall, bordering the city, until he entered through what seemed like a door.
The spacious sunny streets were deserted, although empty vehicles passed through occasionally. The houses, all one story, had a human physiognomy as well. With their windows, doors, and balconies, all open wide, they seemed to observe the pilgrim and at times smile at him. Turismundo had forgotten his hunger, his thirst, and his exhaustion.
From the street he could see inside the houses, open to all light and all air. In almost all of them, beside shimmering furniture, next to beds that invited rest, there were large paintings with portraits of the owners perhaps, or of their ancestors. But there was not a trace of a single living person. The sound of toccatas played on a harmonium came floating from the houses. Through a window on the first floor, he managed to see the harmonium playing with no one touching it.
Behind the garden walls of each house, were three cypresses upon which flocks of sparrows chirped and squawked. Everything seemed to radiate a peaceful and luminous calm.
Turismundo stumbled upon a long street with a series of arches. He peered into one of the open houses and discovered a large library. The books were all at his fingertips. But he continued on the street ahead, through the arcades until he stumbled upon a very spacious square, filled with statues and crosses and obelisks.
It was a large cemetery – without a doubt the cemetery of the deserted city. There he heard the ringing of a bell from heaven, and then the forgotten hunger, thirst, and exhaustion awoke with devouring force.
He entered the first alley, then the first house, which was open, and came to a dining room. In the middle of the room was a table with an abundance of food and drink to choose from. He ate and drank, not much, but only until he was satisfied. Then he found a bed and fell asleep fully clothed.
When he woke up the next day, Turismundo felt different. An inexpressible feeling of peace flowed through his core. He went to the dining room, had a breakfast with hot, aromatic coffee—and went out to discover the city better. From time to time, he would pass some empty vehicle and a bareback horse. As he passed a house with a library, he entered, looked for the closest book at hand. And even though the catalog was there, and it would have been very easy for him to find look though the catalog, he began to read the book he had grabbed.
When he returned to the city streets a strange and mysterious feeling invaded him. It was as if a very thick, but invisible, silent, and intangible human crowd surrounded him. He felt himself among a swarm of neighbors and as if thousands of invisible glances were glued to him. And he even felt, in his gut but not in his ears, the echo of silent laughter. He quickened his pace, and the crowd did not cease. And it was not that they were not following him, it was that the streets and cantons and squares and circles were all filled with those people, whom he neither saw, nor heard, nor touched. Although at times he felt something like mysterious voices and the tightening of the horde.
Hoping to find himself alone, he raised his voice to scold the invisible, silent, and implacable mob, but his blood stopped, frozen with terror in his veins, because he did not hear himself. It seemed that the horizon flooded with men, human but not humanized, who drowned out his voice and drowned him with it.
He felt hunger and thirst and exhausted from being lonely. He yearned to find himself alone, entirely alone, seeing gazes and hearing voices of men and women, touching neighbors. And he understood that loneliness, the true loneliness, that which puts one face to face with God and away from oneself, is that which is reached in the midst of the noise and tumult of the people.
He wanted to leave the city but could not. He was confined by that invisible wall, that band of air made like steel. And in despair he returned through that invisible, silent, and intangible crowd, to the central cemetery, to the large square. Filled with angst, among the tombs and statues, on whose marble the sun sang, he saw that the beautiful gravestone opened a little like the shell of an oyster. As he approached, it closed. Turismundo stopped, then looked for a bar and waited by the grave. And when the gravestone began to split open again, he put the bar through the crack and forcefully pried as if using a lever.
(Q) "No, not forcefully!" Said a voice coming from the grave.
In no time a bony, sallow dwarf came out in the open.
(T) "And who are you?" Turismundo asked him.
(Q) "Me? I am Quindofa, and you, Turismundo, are my master from now onward."
(T) "What were you doing there?"
(Q) "Me? What was I doing here? Well, I used to sleep here."
(T) "Well, since you called me your master, will you show me how to get out of the city?"
(Q) "From this city of Espeja, this city of mirrors? Yes, I'll show you how to get out of it. We will leave, and together we will explore the world."
(T) "And what about that invisible, silent, and implacable crowd that fills this city and does not leave me alone for a single moment?"
(Q) "Haven't you ever seen yourself in a room whose four walls and the ceiling and floor were six mirrors? The mass of people that would surround you there! Well, this and nothing else is what happens to you here! Here everything is a mirror."
(T) "And when I wanted to talk to those invisible people, I didn't hear myself."
(Q) "It's natural! He who speaks alone and for himself alone cannot be heard."
(Q) "Well now, when I speak to you, I can hear myself."
(Q) "Yes, because I, Quindofa, your servant, serve as your echo. If your words did not have an effect on me and mine did not affect you, you would not hear yourself. But now we go. Give me your hand."
Turismundo gave his hand to Quindofa, the bony and eternal dwarf, and felt that all that invisible, silent, and intangible crowd that filled the city had gathered back into their dwellings. Turismundo and Quindofa walked through the deserted streets until they reached the same invisible door through which the traveler had entered. And soon they found themselves in the wasteland.
(T) "And now?" asked Turismundo.
(Q) "Now?" Quindofa answered, "Don't you see over there, far, far away, what appears to be a cloud? Well, that is Queda Mountain, the Mountain that remains. We are going to climb it and you'll thank me for the visit. It's one of the most wonderful things that can be seen in this world of ours—yours and mine—. And that eagle! And those bees!"
And that is all for today. We will be back in two weeks to conclude this round of Latino Sci-fi stories. We will travel to Mexico and enjoy the wittiness of Amado Nervo, who tells us a post-apocalyptic story where nature has decided to grant the gift of evolution to animals.
Until the next cuento, adios, adios.
Unamuno stories in Spanish: http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/obra-visor/cuentos-785998/html/85405adb-40f9-46b7-ac86-fd384da51cdf_7.html#I_82_
Artificial Intelligence Is Our Future. But Will It Save Or Destroy Humanity? Here's a rundown of what the world's greatest minds think, written by Patrick Caughill, published in the digital magazine Futurism on 9.29.17. Url: https://futurism.com/artificial-intelligence-is-our-future-but-will-it-save-or-destroy-humanity
Artificial Intelligence and Reality of Human-Machine Integration, published in the digital magazine Scienceooze on February 14, 2021. URL: https://scienceooze.com/human-machine-integration/#:~:text=%20Three%20steps%20of%20human-machine%20integration%20%201,thoughts%20is%20quite%20similar%20to%20the...%20More%20
Yuval Noah Harari’s lecture on Sapiens: A brief History of Humankind https://youtu.be/eOO5xrEiC0M
Cosmos Latinos, An Anthology of Science Fiction from Latin American and Spain, edited by Andrea L. Bell & Yolanda Molina-Gavilán, and published by Wesleyan University Press, 2003.
Airline – Geographer
The Bronx is Burning - Doug Maxwell_Media Right Productions
Cypher - Wayne Jones
Blue Danube (by Strauss) – Strauss
Impertinence - Joel Cummins
The Evening of Departure by Twin Musicom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Heavy Interlude by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Crisis - Scoring Action by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Prelude No. 15 by Chris Zabriskie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
An Upsetting Theme - The Descent by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Impending Boom by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
The Children's Room by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Tempting Fate by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/