Humanity’s self-conception

In most of the Sci-Fi that I’ve read humans are depicted primarily as a wild unknown of unequalled potential.

When Jane and the Bugger Queen discuss humanity, it is pointed out that humans have a crude system by which many ideas are tried in parallel, most of which are poor ideas, but the best ideas have a way to filter to the top. While both Jane and the Bugger Queen rely on deductive logic combined with a vastly greater store of experience and knowledge they are handicapped by a selection bias in favor of what is already known to them, so they don’t find the truly creative solutions to many problems. Humanity, on the other hand, has a system that turns its handicaps of short life spans, lack of a-priori knowledge, and ceaseless competition of individuality, into an advantage. And so it is possessed of an unequalled, and unpredictable, potential.

In Brin’s Uplift Universe, humans are politically positioned in a galaxy of clans which have a long history of bringing new species into the federation through the practice of uplift. When Earth entered the political arena, we had already uplifted two of our own species, and thus bootstrapped a valuable political position; patrons of a clan. But, in our self-righteousness, we grant and treat the uplifted as equals, while the prevailing galactic tradition is to keep the uplifted as a slave-race for many thousands of years, before they are granted independence and allowed to become patrons. Humans (and our clients) are also, as a matter of pride, trained to think independently, and come up with our own creative solutions to problems we encounter. ( Ex: the dolphins novel use of water as a counter-maneuver in a space-battle, scientific researchers rebellious act of uplifting gorillas, design of our space ships, etc… ) These traits cast us as insubordinate with regard to established galactic law, making us a wild unknown in political landscape. Our conceited disdain for the over-reliance of the Library, and our prooven track record of ingenuity, gain us respect for posessing an unequalled potential.

Niven, targets humans as descendants of the Pak, a very old and powerful race. He shows that while humans are uncoordinated and ignorant of manipulations by the subtle Puppeteers, we nevertheless maintain a considerable potential for disruption should we ever obtain a vision of purpose (by learning of genetic and social manipulations perpetrated by the Puppeteers, or by learning of our ancestry). We proved capable of defeating the Kzinti (a ruthless and courageous opponent) in war, of extending our own life-span to several hundred years, and, in the case of Louis Wu of ingenuity in out-thinking a Pak Protector. As a result of Puppeteer interference in local politics, we are breeding luck, an unreliable, though very useful survival mechanism. So again, we become a wild unknown with unequalled potential.

Science Fiction writers have a interesting viewpoint of humanity, and its possible place in the world. This viewpoint seems heavily biased towards democracy, and it’s ideals of individual freedoms. For without those freedoms, and the associated encumbrances of self-assertion in a hostile environment, we would not conceive of novel solutions to age-old problems, we would not feel compelled to revisit existing solutions for a spark of new insight and new understanding. That is we grow and develop as a result of the turmoil that those very freedoms give us. Man’s future is, as always, unpredictable, but He is unique among races for possessing such a flexible system. This is our conception of ourself.