Clever idea on the part of Professor Nightspore: truncate bumper stickers to philosophical slogans. I think Parmenides turned out especially well.

A few of mine:

  • I brake. (Schopenhauer)
  • If you don’t. (Kierkegaard)
  • Visualize. (Berkeley)
  • Objects in mirror are. (David Lewis)
  • Don’t be. (Eduard von Hartmann, or maybe E.M. Cioran)
  • If you lived. (Nagarjuna)
  • Honk. (Harpo Marx)

To quote Stanislaw Lem in Golem XIV (with typical modesty, speaking in the voice of a transcendent genius supercomputer): “Philosophers are also occupied with keys and locks, except that they make locks to fit the keys, since instead of opening up the world, they postulate one which can be opened with their key. That is why their errors are so instructive.”

And speaking of which, I meant to put up this Lem interview a while back, in which he condemns Spain withdrawing troops from Iraq, dismisses today’s space programs in general, and concedes Tarkovsky’s “great talent” before slamming Soderbergh’s Solaris.

Lem has declared his allegiance with Bertrand Russell philosophically, which I always took to mean that he sided with Russell’s engagement with practical issues while respecting his absolutist rationalism, versus the more pragmatic tradition that took a more detached stance from science. (I have to wonder what Lem thinks of Charles Peirce, the least characteristic and most rigorous of the batch.) Lem condemned Wittgenstein for running in circles and presumably has little patience with most modern metaphysics and certainly continental philosophy.

Yet the philosopher that pops up most often in Lem’s work is not Russell but Schopenhauer, who, while more easily reduced to a bumper sticker than most, doesn’t seem to have obvious characteristics that would endear him to Lem. Lem’s elaboration on Schoepenhauer, particularly in Golem XIV and His Master’s Voice, replicates Schopenhauer’s pessimism while reducing his outrage to a trivializing, defeatist voice. I suspect that it is this voice, grown older, more brittle, and more certain, that we are hearing in the interview. I still find it compelling in its focus and consistency.