12 March 2015


Character Connection 48

Hosted @ The Introverted Reader

In between purposefully plowing through my TBR Pile and sticking to my 2015 resolution TO CLEAR all that clutter, I run into other stuff that seem like a low enough time investment to distract myself with . . . and get inspired to blog about them. Like the short story which gives us today's featured character--a type that I can't resist.

Ask a Foolish Question
by Robert Sheckley

Of the race that built him, the less said the better. They also Knew, and never said whether they found the knowledge pleasant.

They built Answerer as a service to less-sophisticated races, and departed in a unique manner. Where they went only Answerer knows.

Because Answerer knows everything . . .

Answerer could answer anything, provided it was a legitimate question. And he wanted to! He was eager to!

How else should an Answerer be?

What else should an Answerer do?

So he waited for creatures to come and ask.

You'll know the pathetic range of my SF IQ when I say that Answerer reminds me of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Each is an example of artificial intelligence; neither is supposed to have emotions. And yet both are as easy to anthropomorphise as teddy bears. Answerer, in particular, tugs at at the same heartstrings that Margery Williams's Velveteen Rabbit and the movie Toy Story 3 do, because he seems like the sort whom other creatures give up on, when he no longer seems fun to play with.

In fairness to the other characters, they're not just playing; they seek Answerer out on serious business. But as much as he wants to help them out--to meet them more than halfway, if necessary--he simply can't.

Answerer makes me think of the phrase "deus ex machina"--though in his case, it's more like "machina tamquam Deus." For while he is as omniscient as we expect God to be, he is not also omnipotent: he can't be when he is literally a machina whose creators imposed an awful limitation upon him. He can answer only "legitimate questions" . . . and it seems as if nobody in the universe is capable of asking one. Near the end of the story, the two characters who seem to be from our own planet start musing that Answerer's understanding is as distant from theirs as a scientist's is from a bushman's . . . and then conclude that it's probably as distant as a scientist's understanding is from a worm's. Which is very Isaiah 55--but not in a trajectory that would lead to John 14. And in any case, Answerer isn't a Person in a Trinity. But now I'm just tying myself up in knots because we can't really square the Trinity (Look, Bob! A pun!) with the anthropomorphic (and therefore wrong) idea that God gets lonely. I should probably just delete this paragraph. (Hahaha, we know I won't.)

But the real reason why I feel for Answerer so much is that he's totally an INTP. LOL! Feels alone even when he has company? Check. Has a huge database of knowledge, both deep and trivial, that other people want access to? Check. Seems far less emotional than he actually is? Check. Suspects a defect in his design? Check. It's not easy being INTP, my friends.

Of course, as interesting a classification system as Myers-Briggs is, it is based on assumptions that Answerer himself would find invalid. And rightly so. Even the most useful model of reality is not reality, and to think so is to be trapped by the limitations of its creators. INTPs Anyone who identifies with Answerer needs to remember that this story, or any story, isn't the grand parable of his life. It just has the right sort of imagery for those moody nights when it seems that no one in the universe will ever understand.

Image Source: Science Fiction Magazine

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