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Apr 9, 2015

Seldon, Vega and Nicotine

Hari Seldon
Isaac Asimov began his Foundation Saga with the Encyclopedia Galactica entry for Hari Seldon. In the first paragraph, it is mentioned that Hari's father was a tobacco grower. Seldon, a mathematician, arranged to found the First Foundation on Terminus, a planet located at the intergalactic fringe of the galaxy, strategically far from the Capitol world Trantor which was in the Galactic Core, at the heart of the ancient and decaying Galatic Empire.

A bit later in the story, we learn that Mayor Hardin of Terminus enjoys smoking cigars from the Vega sector of the galaxy. Really? Smoking tobacco? Readers of Foundation might feel disappointment that Asimov depicts a far future in which humans have spread to 25,000,000 planets of the galaxy, yet so little has changed. And I mean that little has changed from mid-20th century Earth. The people of the Galactic Empire don't even have computers or cell phones and they still use typewriters. Ah, but might there be a reason for the technological stagnation of Humanity during their tens of thousands of years-long expansion through the galaxy? And might there be an important role for tobacco in shaping Asimov's Foundation?

The location of Earth was carefully hidden by Daneel,
but the Vega Sector was famous across the galaxy
for its fine tobacco products.
Vega is the 5th brightest star in our sky, located only 25 light-years from Earth. The Foundation Saga is set in our galaxy, in the far future, long after Earth was rendered radioactive and its position among the stars forgotten by Humanity.

In the future. Vega will move closer to our Solar System and for a time it will be the brightest star visible from Earth. Vega is something of a favorite among science fiction writers. In addition to its rather subtle role in Asimov's Foundation, Vega is also featured prominently in science fiction stories that were written by Jack Vance and Carl Sagan.

Foundation cover by
Don Ivan Punchatz
Hardin, as the Mayor of the fledgling settlement on Terminus, was the first person of the Foundation to understand that the Encyclopedia Galactica project, while useful for maintaining a cultural commitment to advanced technology, was not going to be able to function effectively as the administrative organ for the growing Foundation. The bookish Encyclopedists had no interest in playing politics with the breakaway kingdoms of the galactic periphery. Mayor Hardin had to step up and act decisively so as to allow the Foundation to remain an independent political entity. The Foundation had a Manifest Destiny, to shorten the coming Glactic Dark Age to "only" 1,000 years of division, conflict and strife before the galaxy would again be united.

New technology of the Foundation:
the personal force shield
With the Galactic Empire slowly decaying and losing its grip on the fringe territories, Asimov depicted a general galaxy-wide decline in interstellar trade and technological sophistication. Just when Seldon's Foundation project began, the galaxy was sinking into an unprecedented Dark Age. The petty warlords of the galactic periphery who threaten the new Foundation had declared their independence from the Empire and were becoming militaristic bullies, intent on using their few remaining imperial warships to conquer their neighbors.

In this environment of decay, growing barbarism and warfare, the Foundation's Encyclopedists and their hoarded collection of ancient scientific knowledge becomes, under the crafty and pragmatic guidance of Hardin, the basis for a new priesthood of science that can protect the Foundation from the neighboring warlords.

Daneel
Amazingly, while the rest of the galaxy sinks into barbarism, some new technological advances are made on the planet Terminus. One of the technological breakthroughs made by the Foundation during its early years was the personal force shield. Previously, force shields were possible only for large objects like space ships, but Mayor Hardin pioneers the use of the personal force shield, using it to survive an attack by one of the self-proclaimed kings of the galactic periphery. Leveraging the technological prowess of the Foundation, Hardin positions "Scientific Priests" on nearby worlds and uses their priestly loyalty to the Foundation to prevent the neighboring kingdoms from striking the militarily weak Foundation.

After 20,000 years of scientific and technological stagnation, just when the galaxy enters into its Dark Age, what allows the tiny Foundation to start making technological advances?

1986
The Foundations of Eternity
44 years after Asimov began the Foundation Saga and 21 years after the original Foundation Trilogy was awarded the Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series", Asimov published Foundation and Earth. In Foundation and Earth, Asimov revealed that the Foundation was just a "side project" for Humanity, engineered into existence by the telepathic positronic robot Daneel. In order to protect Humanity against aliens from another galaxy, Daneel had spent 20,000 years secretly designing and engineering Galaxia, a group mind that would span the entire galaxy.

Asimov wrote the end of Foundation and Earth so as to leave readers anxiously wanting more, with the specter of an immanent arrival of aliens hanging over the galaxy and threatening the safety of Humanity. Asimov was unable to write a sequel to Foundation and Earth, so that task is left to us. The Foundations of Eternity is my fan fiction sequel to both Foundation and Earth and Asimov's time travel novel, The End of Eternity. In The Foundations of Eternity, readers are introduced to aliens from a distant galaxy, the aliens that Asimov only teased us with at the end of Foundation and Earth. However, there was more to add to Asimov's Foundation Saga than could fit in a single novel, so The Foundations of Eternity became just one book in the Exode Trilogy.

Time for Nicotinic Receptors
The Exode Trilogy begins as a time travel story, using the rules for time travel that Asimov wrote into The End of Eternity

One of the amusing features of The End of Eternity is that one of the main characters, Senior Computer Twissell, is a chain smoker. It is Twissell's task to complete a great Time Loop that is the very foundation of Eternity, the time travel device of Earth. That Time Loop assures the continuation of the Malansohn Reality. Does Twissell need his nicotine in order to make new scientific discoveries that are needed to complete the Time Loop? Under the leadership of Twissell, a new invention is made: a new type of time travel device that can send people past the Down-when Terminus, the point in time when Eternity was first created.

The great Time Loop of the Malansohn Reality is destroyed by a secret agent from the far future, Noÿs Lambent. She makes use of Twissell's new time travel device to go to the 20th century and alter the course of human history so as to end the Malansohn Time Loop and prevent humans from ever creating Eternity.

The reality chain leading to our world: the Buld Reality.
In The End of Eternity, Asimov hinted that Noÿs might have had telepathic powers or access to special technologies from 7,000,000 years in our future. And what about aliens? Asimov imagined that there were other intelligent species evolving on other planets in our galaxy, but we humans were the first species in this galaxy to develop a technological civilization. By putting an end to Eternity, Noÿs allowed Humanity to concentrate instead on the development of space travel, which in the new Reality that followed the Malansohn Reality, allowed humans to quickly spread through space and control the galaxy.

Nicotinic acetylcholine
receptors receive
excitatory signals
In the Exode Trilogy, there are a series of Reality Changes and a chain of new Realities leading to the universe as we know it.  The Reality that existed just before our Reality is known as the Ekcolir Reality. There is no United States of America in the Ekcolir Reality. Instead, there is the nation of Beverwijck en Nicotiana, so named because of its economic dependence on the beaver fur trade with Europe and the growing of tobacco.

Jean Nicot was the original promoter of tobacco use in France, after whom the tobacco plant was named, along with nicotine, the plant's main psychoactive chemical constituent.

In the Ekcolir Reality, nicotine was just the starting point for Earth's early psychonauts. A potent "nicotine helper" drug was discovered by William Cullen and William Hunter in Glascow. By using nicotine and the helper chemical, it was possible for Earthlings to use the Bimanoid Interface and access the vast information resources of the Sedronic Domain.

source
Ultimately, the Earthlings of the Ekcolir Reality had a too rapid pace of technological advancement and Earth ended up suffering through a runaway greenhouse event that led to the melting of the Antarctic ice cap and devastating sea level rise. Something had to be done, and so the Buld Reality, the universe as we know it, was brought into existence as the Final Reality.

The third book in the Exode Trilogy (called Exode) tells the story of Earth's history after the Huaoshy put an end to time travel.

source
Only a few Earthlings of the Buld Reality gain access to "nicotine helper" drug that allows humans to access the Sedronic Domain. This limited access to the Sedronic Domain results in a somewhat slower pace of technological advancement and a chance for Humanity to avoid catastrophes like melting the ice caps.

The Mule
I like to imagine that a few select people in the Foundation Reality were given a nicotinic brain boost. Folks like Hari Seldon and Salvor Hardin were pushed towards new science and technologies by Daneel and his tribe of positronic robots. Thus, we should not be surprised that Hari's father grew tobacco and Hardin had cigars imported from the Vega Sector. I imagine that Daneel needed a few technological breakthroughs in order to complete Galaxia, and the Foundation was his way of allowing just enough technological progress to meet his needs.

In his Foundation Saga, Asimov introduced the idea that The Mule could use his telepathic powers to control the creativity of humans. The Mule is able to conquer the Foundation by "boosting the creativity" of a scientist. I like to imagine that while under the guiding influence of either the pek or Daneel, the pace of technological advance could be controlled.

Nicotinic Anney
The pek, in following the Rules of Intervention worked to prevent species like we humans form developing technological civilizations and over-running their planets of origin. Daneel was part of a larger plan to control human nature and prevent humans from using genetic engineering and robotics to take control of their own biology. Following his programming, Daneel had to protect and preserve Humanity.

So, I imagine that through most of human history, human creativity is regulated and suppressed. On special occasions (as with Noÿs and The Mule), telepathic mind control can "stimulate creativity" in a human. Alternatively, certain drugs like nicotine can be used to boost human brain power and allow access to the Bimanoid Interface.

Related Reading: The Asimov Reality.

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