Jeremy Bentham was on to something, but Gaia takes it too far: considering individuality vs.superorganisms in “Foundation and Earth” (also spoilers)

13340270_10154279258281340_8117174538786202221_o

DONE! I cannot begin to tell you how amazing it feels to be able to put this series to bed and move on with my life.

I’m happy to have read the series, if for no other reason than I can now say that I did. It feels like an accomplishment, and like it gives me more credibility as an accomplished science-fiction reader. Though, I am admittedly still in my infancy in that genre.

Asimov and I disagree on many fundamental concepts on which his opinions were expressed throughout the series. Most notably, his views on women, sexuality, and gender relations, though there were others as well. This made the series a challenging one for me to read – I had to labour (yes, labour) to put aside my objections and offense so that I could read the books. This was near-impossible for me at the start, but by book 7 I had improved enough to be able to focus on plot. It also helped that books 6 (Foundation’s Edge) and 7 (Foundation and Earth) benefited from some improvements to the treatment of female characters.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW!

Furthermore, I liked this book because I love being right, and it is rare that my predictions are correct (remember my Anna Karenina predictions – they were way off!). After reading Forward the Foundation I predicted that Daneel would be back, and I was right! Go me!

giphy

Recap:

So – ready for the spoilers? Okay – here we go. It turns out that Earth was radioactive this whole time, just like everyone kept saying it was. I assumed this would be as a result of nuclear war on the planet, because I think we can all agree that seems to be an inevitability of our times. However, it’s attributed to a fight between Spacers and Settlers, and their hatred of Earth. So, kind of nuclear war? But not really…to be  honest those details from the book – the WWWWWH of Earth becoming radioactive – are fuzzy.

I’m in a satisfying state of post-book-completion-haze right now. Pray, have mercy!

Fun fact: Trevize hilariously contracts a deadly STI whilst visiting a planet of topless women. HA! Suck it, Trevize. That’ll learn ya.

Trevize & Co. find Earth, and since it is uninhabitable, they figure the moon is the next most likely location of its ‘secret.’ They land on the moon, find Daneel, Trev determines his gut decision in favour of Galaxia was right all along, and Daneel mind-melds with a toddler. THE END.

Slightly more insightful thoughts:

An overarching theme of Foundation and Earth is the question of whether it’s better to be an individual, or one part of a larger inter-connected whole (aka Gaia, aka superorganism). The entire plot, in fact, is driven by Trevize’s desperate search for Earth to find support for his decision in favour of Gaia for the future of humanity.

Ultimately, the novel determines achieving Galaxia, in other words becoming a superorganism, is better for the well-being of humanity. But is this right? Free-will is such a fundamental belief in so many world cultures, it is difficult to envision parting from it. In fact, the necessity of giving up so much of my own free-will and self-determination to a higher power is one of the big reasons why I struggled so much with religion when I was younger.

The concept of utilitarianism seems relevant to this discussion as well – is it really the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people that matters? If it is, is it right to sacrifice personal happiness for the common good – even if that means giving up our individuality?

ARYA

Well, I couldn’t do it. Arya Stark and Trevize both have me beat there. I might be able to do it if I was able to maintain my individuality, while still participating in the ‘greater whole’ – but to completely sacrifice people’s ability to have dominion over themselves, to make their own decisions…I just can’t get behind that plan.

SIDE BAR: In Googling utilitarianism, because I couldn’t remember anything about it, the internet informed me of Spock’s “needs of the many” quote. I learned something new about Star Trek today. So, that’s pretty exciting.

 

Final thoughts: I still think I should have read iRobot instead.

Modern Family gif credit: giphy.com: http://giphy.com/gifs/modern-family-julie-bowen-i-told-you-so-3o85xpZcINGzBPDI0U
Game of Thrones photo credit: http://www.vulture.com/2016/05/arya-lessons-faceless-men-game-of-thrones.html

 

 

Foundation’s Edge (aka remind me again why I didn’t read iRobot?)

Well, that’s done. Only one left to go! Huzzah!

The Foundation-fatigue is palpable.

I have also developed a healthy suspicion that anyone around me could be a robot.

ff_robot5_large-660x713

A picture of a robot with Jimmy Fallon. Ask, and the Internet will provide. Thank you, Internet ❤

That’s what happens when you read six books and they all reference how robots are secretly ruling the galaxy, manipulating humans for our own good. They are the mechanical non-human humanitarian overlords of the Galaxy!

Here is how I imagine a conversation between two robots would go:

“Check it out, Daneel, they think they have free-will, so adorable!”

“I know – I just helped this one prevent a galactic war. They think they did it themselves. So quaint, these humans!”

“If only they knew the truth.”

“Shush, don’t ruin this for them. They’re so cute when they think they’re in control.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Look at this one: ‘oohh I made a decision.'”

“HA! Yeah – sure you did, little guy, sure you did. So clueless!”

“Hey – did you hear the one about the Eternals?”

“Yeah! Hilarious, right?!”

lol.

ANYWHOO.

Foundation’s Edge was okay. I’d rank it as tied with Forward the Foundation. My favourite book in the series is still Foundation, which is the first one.

On the bright side I have become so accustomed to the sexism and stereotyping in Asimov’s Foundation novels that they no longer get a rise out of me. I let them just sliiiiiide right by me. Like a ship Jumping through hyperspace. BOOM SPACE REFERENCE!

I now turn my eyes to Foundation and Earth. Then I will be done, and it will be marvellous.

PEACE OUT!

 

 

I guess I wasn’t done yet… (“It’s okay you can trust me” cont’d)

but-wait-theres-more

Looks like I published my last post too early because I have more to say!

Later, during breakfast, Hari has a happy moment:

…looking at the woman on the other side of the table and feeling that she might make this exile of his seem a little less like exile. He thought of the other woman he had known a few years ago, but blocked it offer with a determined effort…” (p.88)

This effectively sets up a binary view of Dors and “the other woman” in the readers’ minds. Her character is now primarily defined by her contrast to Hari’s previous lover. Everything she does from here on out in the novel will be within the context of being Hari’s romantic interest.

I’m not surprised by this, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

At least Asimov writes Dors as an intelligent and educated character. Even then, however, Dors’ field of study – history – is almost immediately established as inferior and less useful than that of Hari’s – mathematics. Furthermore, its value is then only in what it can offer in servitude to Hari’s psyschohistory.

The subtext here is that although Dors is educated, her field is lofty and superfluous. It has no real societal value or potential for meaningful contribution. That is, until Hari and his psychohistory come along, suddenly giving purpose to Dors’ academic field; in essence, to her work and education. What a knight-in-shining armour, rescuing her from a life of obscurity and inconsequential study and giving her work merit and significance, am I right? Barf.

Then there’s this lovely exchange, when Hari asks to use her department’s library:

“Would I be able to get permission to use the history library?”

Now it was she who hesitated. “I think that can be arranged. If you work on mathematics programming, you’ll probably be viewed as a quasi-member of the faculty and I could ask for you to be given permission. Only -“

“Only?”

“I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you’re a mathematician and you say you know nothing about history. Would you know how to make use of a history library?”

Seldon smiled. “I suppose you use computers very much like those in a mathematics library.”

“We do, but the programming for each speciality has quirks of its own. You don’t know the standard reference book-films, the quick methods of winnowing and skipping. You may be able to find a hyperbolic interval in the dark…”

“You mean hyperbolic integral,” interrupted Seldon softly.

Dors ignored him (p.91)

When Dors thinks Hari might not know something, she has to take special care to protect Hari’s feelings. She first explains she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings, then presents her concern about his lack of specialized knowledge using his own words: ‘I’m not saying you don’t anything about history, you said you don’t know anything about history.’ Even then she doesn’t say outright that he doesn’t know how to work the computers, but instead asks him whether he would be able to. This invites him not only to demonstrate his intelligence (“I know things!”) but also for her to explain why it’s only the nuances he wouldn’t know, and that’s through no fault of his own (“each speciality has quirks of its own”).

Then, when she mistakes “hyperbolic integral” for “hyperbolic interval” Hari interrupts her and corrects her without any pretext or explanation or care for her feelings. Just BAM! You’re wrong and I’m smarter than you.

When Hari was at a disadvantage, Dors took care not to hurt his ego and strategically set up the conversation so that he doesn’t come out feeling stupid. Contrastingly, when Dors makes a mistake with a mathematical term, even though Hari knows mathematics is not her area of specialization, he’s right in there with his correction. “Softly” my ass.

I do like that Dors ignores him and keeps going, though. You go, girl.

SO THEN When Dors offers to help him learn by inviting him to join a course she gives on library use, Hari asks for private lessons with a “suggestive tone.” Giggity giggity goo!

She turns him down, but again does so in a way that protects his feelings and ego:

She did not miss it [his suggestive tone]. “I dare say I could [give you private lessons], but I think you’d be better off with more formal instruction…You will be competing with the other students all through and that will help you learn. Private tutoring will be far less efficient, I assure you” (p.92)

She diffuses the rejection by framing it to be in his interest, rather than as an actual rejection of his advance. This makes the rejection easier for Hari to accept, because it provides him with an ‘out’ which enables him to walk away, pride intact, which is not as embarrassing as an out-right rejection. Dors even appeals to Hari’s competitiveness, offering him an opportunity to take up a challenge, turning this conversation from one where Hari has to accept rejection to one where he is accepting a challenge.

Wow. I see Dors has played Protect-the-Male-Ego before. Well played, Dors, well played indeed.

joan well played

Second Foundation (spoilers)

rmm084s

I really enjoyed Foundation and Foundation and Empire books one and two in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. I found Asimov’s strategy for dealing with a story line which spans across nearly a hundred years to be enjoyable, and the transition characters do a good job of bridging generations. This approach was undoubtedly out of necessity, as the books were originally published as separate short stories.

The series opens with the foretelling of the collapse of the Galactic Empire, which is exactly what it sounds like. Hari Seldon, a psychohistorian genius (psychohistory = using math to predict the future…a.k.a. the future application of actuarial science), predicts that the Empire is about to implode and he puts together a plan to drastically expedite the process of re-establishment. This process will take a thousand years, though, and although humanity has figured out how to predict the future, it has not had the same success with time travel or immortality. As a result, old Hari will be long dead by the time the galaxy settles itself out. That, however, is not a concern for Hari, because his plan is just that good.

Essentially we are presented with an entire galaxy which is reset to zero in evolutionary terms; although they have space ships they’re still barbarians without nuclear power (animals, right?!). Hari’s plan will take them through every step of evolution, culminating in the establishment of a brand spankin’ new and shiny Empire 2.0.

What is really interesting is that, in this plan, rule by trade (i.e. economy/capitalism) is an evolutionary step-up from religious rule. Chalk one up for the separation of church and state!

I’m now kind of stuck on Second Foundation. I don’t know if that’s because I’m reaching Foundation-overload, and I need to take a break from the series and come back to it, or if it’s because I haven’t invested myself in the fate of the Second Foundation at all, so I’m really not caring very much whether the Mule takes it over or not…

My husband is bugging me to eat the dinner he made me and play video games with him, so I’m going to go do that now.

Peace out!