The Thing Itself

Adam Roberts
The Thing Itself Cover

The Thing Itself: Frankfurtian bullshit


I've read the first 30 pages of The Thing Itself, and it seems to be built on bullshit, in the Frankfurtian sense, not even once, but twice. That is all the more infuriating as it tries to give itself a veneer of seriousness by using Immanuel Kant - and whatever you think of him, at least he tried being consistent and honest.

Two cases of bullshit? One: the Fermi paradox is not about being unable to perceive aliens because of Kant: it deals with aliens in the universe that is observable to us, not in the universe an sich. It's obviously possible that there are aliens we cannot perceive because of a Kantian reason, but again, that's not what the Fermi paradox is about - actually Egan's Schild's Ladder touches on alien aliens in a way that's more interesting. Two, and more importantly: it is total bullshit that you could program A.I. to circumvent Kant: also an A.I. would have specific senses and conceptualizing frameworks, and as such no access to the Ding an sich - you'd need at least an infinite amount of different senses and frameworks to get around it, and that's impossible.

I also didn't like the smug narrative voice - but I acknowledge that could have changed as I understand other chapters are written in other registers, etc.

While I'm not claiming all this to be the definitive take on Adam Roberts' book, this is very much a DNF review after 30 pages only, I'm having a hard time envisioning how Roberts wrote himself out of these two theoretical objections, and either way, while I was already annoyed after 15 pages, I wasn't interested anymore after I read Robert's review of Greg Egan's Incandesence.

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