"The Last Question" by Asimov

Discussion in 'Isaac Asimov' started by Boreas, Jan 13, 2018.

  1. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    What do you think of this story and particularly the ending?

    Can entropy be reversed? It's a simple question that is asked of the computer Multivac on numerous occasions during mankind's increasingly transhumanist transformations against the passage of time. And Multivac contemplates the problem for a near eternity as it grows ever more sophisticated and collects ever more data. Until, finally, it has an inkling of the answer. The story veers into metaphysical ground in search for an answer to the nature of the universe.

    Asimov considered this story his own particular favourite, and said that he wrote it down in one sitting, every word coming easily and fluidly. And I believe it's almost universally considered to be one of the best science fiction short stories of all time.

    First published in Science Fiction Quarterly magazine (Nov. 1956), it has since been reprinted in far too many collections and anthologies, the most recent being the Ann & Jeff VanderMeer edited The Big Book of Science Fiction: The Ultimate Collection (2016).

    "The Last Question" is available on the internet in three different formats, so either take your pick, or go through all three:

    In the original prose:

    As a digital comic adaptation:

    And in audio format narrated by Leonard Nimoy:

    I've come across other iterations of this story. One is "Sole Solution" by Eric Frank Russell, and also written in 1956. It's a very short story (just two pages long, if I remember correctly) and I read it in the 1973 copy of The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus (originally published 1971). It was the very first story in the collection.

    A more recent iteration, and which I probably like most of all, is Alastair Reynolds' "Understanding Space and Time" (2005), which I read in his strong collection Zima Blue and Other Stories (2006). Reynolds' story (a novelette) charts a journey undertaken to comprehend the physical nature of reality. Because of this story's length and single, continuous perspective, it's able to delve more deeply into the personality and motivations of the protagonist, and it intuitively tries to get at the heart of the Grand Unified Theory through metaphor. The story starts small but later exudes the same expansive sense of time, space and the cosmos that is a feature of Reynolds' many novels, and it does so with particular musical grace.
  2. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Well, in classical science, entropy does not make sense without a directionality of time because it is a non-reversible mechanism. In fact, entropy defines the arrow of time.
    Therefore, from that point of view, I guess one could argue entropy is non-reversible.
    On the other hand, the key issue to me is the idea itself of time as a conditioning of the mind. It is an animal sense that animates the events(the still frames) of the spatial world. In fact, time can be defined as the inner summation of spatial states (I'm just quoting Kant's and Einstein's ideas and those belonging to biocentrism theories.)
    Therefore, if we reject the notion that time is an actual state of existence, we also deny entropy... "INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER"

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