Jan 8, 2010


When Isaac Asimov finally got around to extending his Foundation Trilogy he introduced Golan Trevize, a Foundationer who must search for the long lost home planet of humanity: Earth. According to Gregory Tidwell, the Trevize character is "a stand-in for Asimov". Here is how the story goes: Trevize was selected to go to Earth by R. Daneel Olivaw because merging humanity into a vast group mind (Galaxia) was too important of a decision for a robot to make. As Tidwell notes, Trevize is depicted as having "the unique ability to achieve a state of perfect surety about things".

Where was Asimov going with this idea of Trevize having "perfect" intuition? Tidwell makes the point that Asimov, "hinted at some genetic or evolutionary reason for the gift, but neglected to clearly share it with the readers". However, in Foundation and Earth it is revealed that Daneel is a master genetic engineer, in fact, having learned how to imprint the Laws of Robotics into human brains.

Reading between the lines, I suspect that Daneel had genetically modified the human species long before the rise of the Foundation. Specifically, humans must have been modified to prevent them from exercising a normal capacity for creativity and invention. The Mule showed that he could modify minds and free them to attain their latent creative potential. When the Foundation was allowed to do so, new inventions like "gravitic drive" were suddenly invented after thousands of years of technological stasis in the galaxy. It is easy to suppose that Trevize was genetically engineered to be free of constraints that Daneel had imposed on other humans. Daneel's cover story was that he wanted Trevize to make a decision that Daneel was unable to make, a decision that would determine the ultimate fate of humanity.

I don't think it makes sense to look for a deeper account of the "perfect intuition" attributed to Trevize. In Foundation and Earth, the whole idea that Trevize must decide in favor of Galaxia is revealed to be a "cover story" for a deeper concern of Daneel. There is never really any doubt that Galaxia is the future of humanity. Daneel's true reason for bringing Trevize to Earth (actually, the Moon) is that Daneel needs a biological brain, and it was Trevize and his "merry band" of interstellar travelers (Janov Pelorat and Blissenobiarella) that was able to obtain the needed brain for Daneel. While searching for Earth, Trevize might imagine that he has "intuition", but he is not aware of Daneel telepathically guiding humanity according to the dictates of the laws of robotics.

It is a great source of frustration that Asimov was taken from us before he had a chance to continue the Foundation saga past Foundation and Earth. The Start of Eternity is a collaborative fan fiction exercise in exploring how to continue Asimov's story.
Image: source.


  1. Interesting post. But I think it's perfectly plausible that the fall of the First Empire was caused by deteriorating social dynamics, and that Trevize made his revelation (rather than decision) all by himself. Throwing genetic engineering into the mix is a little out there in my opinion.
    I think Trevize unconsciously knew all along that Galaxia was the future and he was led to Daneel as a proof. Where this hunch of Trevize came from is a different question. I suspect it was the difference between Galaxia and the Foundation as collective consciousnesses. I elaborate on the subject in my latest post:
    Let me know what you think!


  2. I agree with the robustness argument provided at your website. Galaxia was Daneel's favored strategy for satisfying the Zeroth Law and protecting humanity.

    My current thinking is that the Foundation was used as a means to solve one or more technical problems that were blocking the creation of Galaxia. For example, in order to coordinate Galaxia, Daneel needed a way of precisely controlling telepathic communication across interstellar distances. Note that this was not a need of Gaia, Daneel's limited "test model" for a group mind.

    I imagine that Daneel ultimately decided that he had to allow a large population of humans a significant period of time during which they could develop an active program of scientific research in "mentalics", something he had carefully avoided during the previous 20,000 years. Dr. Darell launched that research program and I conclude that by the time of Trevize, Foundation researchers had solved all of the technical problems standing in the way of the formation of Galaxia. In that burst of creativity (allowed by Daneel), Foundation scientists made new discoveries such as "gravitic drive" and what ever advances in telepathic communication were needed for the formation of Galaxia. As soon as the technologies required for Galaxia were in hand, the Foundation was no longer needed.

    "Throwing genetic engineering into the mix is a little out there" <-- I agree, but I only see two means by which Daneel might have been able to enforce the equivalent of the laws of robotics on humans. 1) maybe telepathic mind control could be used. 2) the "laws" could have been "hard wired" into human brains by genetic engineering.

    Since Asimov wrote about the genetic engineering of Solarians so as to give them their "transducer lobes", it is easy for me to imagine that the telepathic abilities of the Gaians (such as Bliss) and even the Second Foundationers was made possible by genetic engineering. Having the "laws" exist as instincts, genetically programmed into humans is a more robust solution than would be a need for continual telepathic adjustments to human minds.

    Near the end of section 41 in Foundation and Empire, Bliss explains to Trevize why she is attracted to Pelorat. She notes that Pel is "naturally good" without that "goodness" having to be forced upon him by participation in a telepathic group mind.

  3. I give you that maintaining the absence of advanced science throughout the entire history of the First Empire required strong control. (Otherwise it's too unlikely entropy-wise). The same applies to the lack of physics on the Second Foundation. Developing decent mentalics on the First Foundation could be hindered by both the Second Foundation or Daneel. I'm prepared to accept that it was the latter, although my model better accommodates the first.

    I don't believe however, that the laws had to be forcefully imposed on humanity, neither by telepathy nor genetic engineering, just as the third law doesn't have to be forced upon an individual. As soon as Gaia (Galaxia) comes into existence the collective "selfishness" guarantees that individuals will defend humanity (zeroth) and other individuals (first) as well. Your reference to Bliss' relation to Pel's "goodness" exemplifies how natural this behavior is inside a group mind. One Gaian won't do harm to another unless it serves the good of the organism.
    The telepathic abilities of Gaians and Second Foundationers is a different question. I admit that genetic engineering is a possibility, but it might as well have been a mental technology developed and perfected through generations.

    I'm raising these questions and concerns because I'm trying to observe Gaia, Galaxia and the Foundation(s) in a broader context, in which these entities are expected to be autonomous. I'm arguing for a weaker, indirect control on Daneel's part for the same reason.

    I have to tell you I admire your knowledge on Asimov's work, in fact I'd very much like to ask you to help me refine (or extend) my classification of the collectives in the Foundation saga.

  4. Here are two different hypotheses for the causal relationship between 1) the existence of a functional Gaia and 2) the existence of humans who "value the superorganism more than their individuality".

    According to H1, as soon as Gaia comes into existence "collective selfishness" forces people to follow the Zeroth Law.

    According to H2, "human beings must have their brains firmly inculcated with the equivalent of the laws of robotics" and then Gaia can be formed as a system that includes those modified humans.

    I gladly admit to be uncertain about just how Asimov imagined that Gaia would function.

    In my thinking about H1 and H2 I've tried use The Mule as a case study. The Mule was a Gaian who put his own ambitions first. I imagine that The Mule was the tool of Daneel, used to bring the existence of "mentalics" to the attention of the First Foundation. I imagine that The Mule was a mutant Gaian, genetically different from other Gaians, most importantly in that he did not have his brain "firmly inculcated with with the equivalent of the laws of robotics".

    "genetic engineering is a possibility, but it might as well have been a mental technology" <-- What do you mean by "mental technology"?

    "indirect control on Daneel's part" <-- When Daneel is trying not to upset people like Trevize, he seems careful to stress how little he can do to alter the behavior of individual humans. However, Asimov wrote about Dors Venabili, a robot who lived among humans and even killed a human, then commenting that the first human you kill is always the hardest one to get over. I agree that Daneel and his tribe of positronic robots would in general strive to interact with humans as little as possible, and Daneel might have imagined a time when Galaxia would be largely autonomous.

  5. The term 'mental technology' in this context would stand for a system of exercises through which one can harness his/her innate capacity to communicate or control by thought. At first it has to be learned but by perfection (perhaps generations later) it could be passed on by telepathic means.

  6. I agree that there must be a large capacity for social learning to strengthen "mentalic" ability in humans. However, Asimov also clearly included a genetic side to the "mentalics" story in his writings. I suppose it is up to each of us to find the point of balance we can be comfortable with between "nature" and "nurture" in a fictional domain such as "mentalics".

    If we assume that the laws of robotics can simply be implanted into people by "telepatic means" then I feel like we are falling into the erroneous assumption that human brains can be programmed as easily as we might load a software program into a digital computer. As a biologist who has spent decades studying brains I don't think it will ever be very easy to insert something like the laws of robotics into a biological brain.

    Asimov deliberately wrote about limitations on what can be accomplished by telepathy. Asimov suggested that mentalic ability makes possible modifications of some types of human brain functions such as those that provide us with our emotions. If it were possible to use telepathy to put the laws of robotics into a human brain then the Mule would have done so and prevented Captain Pritcher being able to kill. However, the Mule said that he must continually maintain mantalic control over Pritcher's emotions and sense of loyalty, otherwise Pritcher would kill the Mule.