Review: The Golden Man

The Golden Man
The Golden Man by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a review of the title story: THE GOLDEN MAN. It contains spoilers.

This story is a precursive working of themes that will be treated in more detail in Frank Herbert’s DUNE. The mutant as potential dominator, but also the trap of precognition. Cris is presented as in the grip of his “inflexible path”, he knows where we guess, so he has no freedom at all. His vision of the world is synchronic and spatialised, where human intelligence is diachronic, i.e. comprising novelty and uncertainty. He is all protention, and no retention. He is perceived as a god, but that is an effect of his golden appearance, a tool of sexual manipulation.

He is called a “deeve”, a deviant, but in fact he cannot deviate from his precognized “inflexible” path. Without language, without interpretation, he cannot sublimate into culture or morality. His superiority is Darwinian, but he is driven by his instincts. Anita feels something like love and worries for him, he feels no such empathy, he just impregnates and uses her, and dumps her as soon as escape is possible. There is no semantic bridge, not because he has superior semantics, but because he has no language. There is no empathic bridge either. In view of his inflexible future we humans are the deviants, introducing complexity into what would otherwise be a simple life.

The story’s ending with his escape is foreshadowed in the complexity of human social organisation. They were able to catch Cris because of a perfect “clamp” that lest no holes allowing escape. Yet Anita does not answer to Wisdom, and his security clamp down is incomplete: “I have no control over her. If she wants, she can check out.” This is the loophole that Cris exploits.

Yet this victory is like that of a computer winning at chess by exploring mechanically all the consequences of possible moves. Cris’s “intelligence” is synchronic and algorithmic: he knows, where the aptly named Wisdom’s is diachronic and heuristic: he guesses. Of course it is informed guessing, but all it takes is sufficient computational power to see half an hour into the future to triumph over even experienced well-trained expert guessing. Baines is right to remark that such superior computation is not a sign of mental or spiritual superiority: “Superior survival doesn’t mean superior man.” Cris’s precognition is a “neat faculty”, but it is not a “development of mind”.

Notes:

The text of the story can be found here.

Interesting summary and review here.

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