Isaac Asimov and Human Destiny

Ever notice how many futuristic authors toy, now and then, with the concept of a global overmind? Arthur Clarke and Isaac Asimov both did… and my reply to them, a more subtle and diversity-based version, appeared in EARTH.

Now, have a look at The Living Earth Simulator, or the LES project, which aims to simulate everything taking place on planet Earth, both environmental factors and human influences — integrating real-time data feeds  to model global environment, pollution, population,  as well as financial and political shifts and the spread of infectious diseases.

And who dealt with the scale of human destiny better than the great Isaac Asimov, in his Foundation series?  Elsewhere I’ve said about him: “Asimov served wondrous meals-of-the-mind to a civilization that was starved for clear thinking about the future. To this day, his visions spice our ongoing dinner-table conversation about human destiny.”

My own novel FOUNDATION’S TRIUMPH tied up nearly all of Isaac’s loose ends – with enthusiastic approval of Isaac’s heirs. (Read a sample.) In the afterword, I describe how Isaac would always see the flaw in his most-recent Foundation “solution” and inch along, decade-by-decade to new solutions.

What were his stages?

First, writing for John W. Campbell’s ASTOUNDING in the 1940s, he came up with the lovely conceit that, in large enough numbers to swamp the effects of individuals, human societies can be modeled as if individuals were like gas molecules!  Appealing to Asimov the biochemist… and inspiring many readers to go into fields like economics.  For example Paul Krugman.  (In all honesty, the dream goes farther back, though Karl Marx was no Hari Seldon!)

Then Isaac got a lot of mail.  People had an inkling of something like what would become Chaos Theory – that random fluctuations or exceptions would perturb events until all projections become useless. Isaac’s solution in his galactic universe? Perturbations must be corrected by an elite council or knowing meddlers, the Second Foundation.  Meddlers who soon gain access to psychic powers that they can breed into their gene lines, enabling them to meddle better and keep the Plan on track. Phew! Promlem solved.

Only then: he that realized his Second Foundation will become an inherited human aristocracy! Agh! Loyal to the Enlightenment, he knew how awful oligarchies were, in the past (and today.) So, the next decade, Isaac replaced or subsumed the human meddlers with a deeper layer of controlers who would be like… court eunuchs. Robots who cannot breed and hence could not become a human lordly class. (Aside. His empire was always more Chinese than Roman.) Sounds good?

Only, next decade, Isaac realizes…OMG! I’ve reversed power! The “servants” are now few, all-knowing, all-powerful and the human masters are as numerous and cheap as sand. Agh. So he finds a way for the masters to become mighty again.

His solution? An overmind made up of trillions of human brains, called Gaia-Galaxia! Okay then! Only then he realizes….

See? I had to continue his ongoing cycle of re-evaluation until… well… read FOUNDATION’S TRIUMPH and see how it actually all comes together is a fascinating pattern that winds up turning in… a… circle!

Which brings us to… Adam Smith…
I wrote a lot about this fellow, who liberals should rediscover and embrace, in order to free him from the right wingers and libertarians who always, always always misquote and betray him.  Well, OpenSalon dumped my work, so let me just offer a few quotations and a link to Blogging Adam Smith. Or actually read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, a book that any politically-minded person should read, top to bottom.

No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” That could be a slogan for liberalism.

Observe the accommodation of the most common artificer or day-labourer in a civilized and thriving country, and you will perceive that the number of people whose industry a part, though a small part, has been employed in procuring him this accommodation, exceeds all computation.”
The whole tenor of this passage would, or should, outrage an Ayn Rand. Smith certainly didn’t take the view that the important agents of capitalism were CEOs or even inventors.

The monopolists, by keeping the market constantly understocked… sell their commodities much above the natural price… The price of monopoly is upon every occasion the highest which can be got. The natural price, or the price of free competition, on the contrary, is the lowest which can be taken….”
Maybe it’s the libertarians who need to read Smith; I’ve heard them denying that monopolies exist, or that they raise prices.

“We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters [cartels]; though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour….” Another passage skipped over by the libertarians.

==More about the Economy: Past, Present and Future


1 Comment

Filed under future, science, science fiction

One response to “Isaac Asimov and Human Destiny

  1. Smith also argued that the buyer and the seller needed to have perfect knowledge to arrive at a fair price for goods or services. I’m always dismayed and amused at those who blather about small business and then enact policies that favor multinational corporations. They do this in the name of Adam Smith without having studied him carefully.

    I have noted this kind of behavior in fundamentalists of any type. The preach a few simplified doctrines and don’t read the sacred texts that they claim to believe in.

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