Simplex, Complex, and Multiplex
From the Wisdom of Samuel R. Delany

"I have a multiplex consciousness, which means I see things from different points of view. . . ."

[p. 6]

"You're not noplex," the Lump said. "Your view of things is quite complex by now—though there is a good deal of understandable nostalgia for your old simplex perceptions. Sometimes you try to support them just for the sake of argument . . . .

"Intelligence and plexity have nothing to do with each other."

. . . . . . . . .

"Lump, I don't think you do understand. So listen. Here you are, in touch with all the libraries and museums of this arm of the galaxy. You've got lots of friends, people like San Severina and the other people who're always stopping by to see you. You write books, make music, paint pictures. Do you think you could be happy in a little one-product culture where there was nothing to do on Saturday night except get drunk, with just one teletheater, and no library, where maybe four people had been to the university, and you never saw them anyway because they were making too much money , and everybody knew everybody else's business?"


". . . . You couldn't be happy there, I could. It's as simple as that, and I don't really think you fully comprehend that."

"I do," Lump said. "I hope you can be happy in someplace like that. Because that's what most of the universe is composed of. You're slated to spend a great deal of time in places like that, and if you couldn't appreciate them, it would be rather sad."

[pp. 48-50]

"The multiplex universe doesn't appeal to me. I don't like it. I want to get away from it. If I'm complex now, it's too bad, it's a mistake, and if I ever get back to Rhys, I'll try as hard as I can to be simplex. I really will."

"What's got into you?"

"I just don't like the people. I think it's that simple. You ever heard of the Geodetic Survey Station?"

"Certainly have. You run into them?"


"That is unfortunate. Well, there are certain sad things in the multiplex universe that must be dealt with. And one of the things is simplexity."

"Simplexity?" Jo asked. What do you mean?"

"And you better be thankful that you have acquired as much multiplexity of vision as you have, or you never would have gotten away from them alive. I've heard tell of other simplex creatures encountering them. They don't come back."

"They're simplex?"

"Good god, yes. Couldn't you tell?"

"But they're compiling all that information. And the place they live—it's beautiful. They couldn't be stupid and have built that."

"First of all, most of the Geodetic Survey Station was built by Lll. Second of all, as I have said many times before, intelligence and plexity do not necessarily go together."

"But how was I supposed to know?"

"I suppose it won't hurt to outline the symptoms. Did they ask you a single question?"


"That's the first sign, though not conclusive. Did they judge you correctly, as you could tell from their statements about you?"

"No. They thought I was looking for a job."

"Which implies that they should have asked questions. A multiplex consciousness always asks questions when it has to."

"I remember," Jo said ... "when Charona was trying to explain it to me, she asked me what was the most important thing there was. If I asked them that, I know what they would have said: their blasted dictionary, or encyclopedia, or whatever it is."

"Very good. Anyone who can give a non-relative answer to that question is simplex."

"I said jhup," Jo recalled wistfully.

"They're in the process of cataloging all the knowledge in the Universe."

"That's more important than Jhup, I suppose, " Jo said.

"From a complex point of view, perhaps. But from a multiplex view, they're about the same. First of all, it's a rather difficult task. When last I heard, they were already up to the B's, and I'm sure they don't have a thing on Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaavdqx."

"What's . . . well, what you just said?"

"It's the name for a rather involved set of deterministic moral evaluations taken through a relativistic view of the dynamic moment. I was studying it some years aback."

"I wasn't familiar with the term."

"I just made it up. But what it stands for is quite real, and well worth an article. I don't think they could even comprehend it. But from now on, I shall refer to it as Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaavdqx, and there are two of us who know the word now, so it's valid."

"I guess I get the point."

"Besides, cataloging all knowledge, even all available knowledge, while admirable, is . . . well, the only word is simplex."


"One can learn all one needs to know; or one can learn what one wants to know. But to need to learn all one wants to know, which is what the Geodetic Survey Station is doing, even falls apart semantically. . . ."

[pp. 59-61]

"The thing you were saying about multiplexity and understanding points of view. He completely took over my point of view, and you were right; it was uncanny."

"It takes a multiplex consciousness to perceive the multiplexity of another consciousness, you know."

"I can see why," Jo said. "He was using all his experiences to understand mine. It made me feel funny."

"You know he wrote those poems before he even knew you existed."

"That's right. But that just makes it stranger."

"I'm afraid," Lump said, "you've set up your syllogism backwards. You were using your experiences to understand him."

"I was?"

"You've had a lot of experiences recently. Order them multiplexually and they will be much clearer." And when they are clear enough, enough confusion will remain so that you ask the proper questions."

Jo was silent for a moment, ordering. Then he said, "What was the name of the Lll your mind is based on?"

"Muels Aronlyde," the Lump said.

[pp. 73-74]

"You've got to make allowances. When people become as militant as he is, the most multiplex minds get downright linear. But his heart's in the right place. Actually, he said a great deal to you if you can view it multiplexually."

[p. 78]

"Lump, I don't think I could take any exposure to slave driven, exploited, long-suffering Lll right now. That's where you want to take me, isn't it?"

"Lll suffering is something that happens to you; not to Lll," the Lump said. "It is impossible to understand the suffering of the Lll from the point of view of the Lll itself unless you are one. Understanding is one of the things the Empire protects them from. Even the Lll can't agree on what's so awful about their situation. But there is enough concurrence so you must take our word. There are certain walls that multiplexity cannot scale. Occasionally it can blow them up, but it is very difficult, and leaves scars in the earth. And admitting their impermeability is the first step in their destruction. . ."

[pp. 79-80]

"Then I want you to take a complex statement with you that is further in need of multiplex evaluation: The only important elements in any society are the artistic and the criminal, because they alone, by questioning the society's values, can force it to change."

[p. 84]

SOURCE: Delany, Samuel R. Empire Star. New York: Ace Books, Inc., 1966.

"Bonny Delany" by Ralph Dumain

Ash of Stars: One half of a dialogue on Samuel R. Delany
by R. Dumain

American Philosophy Study Guide

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