Jan 10, 2010

Rumblings of Revolution

The Prime Radiant.
When R. Daneel Olivaw decided to bring the science of Psychohistory to the attention of humans, there were suddenly people walking around on the planets of the Galactic Empire who had telepathic ability. The first of these people with "mantalic" ability who came to the attention of Hari Seldon was Wanda Seldon, the daughter of Hari's adopted son.

As soon as Seldon realizes that Wanda has the ability to read minds, he decides that he must study "the complete genome" for both Wanda and her parents. Seldon realizes that Wanda's father, Raych, also has "mentalic" ability, specifically, the ability to control how people feel about him. Asimov hints that there are stories dating back many thousands of years about other humans who had "mentalic" abilities.

"Prime Radiant" by farstar09
If "mentalic powers" are latent in the human genome, then why is that ability never studied until Hari Seldon comes along? I suspect that Daneel, himself a robot with telepathic abilities, began studying and experimenting with human mentalics about 20,000 years before the Foundation Era. Daneel later tells Trevize that he has long been secretly developing human mentalics in the context of Gaia, a world that Daneel has slowly shaped into a telepathically-linked group mind.

Part of the special "mentalic" ability of the Gaians is that they have a limited ability to "transduce power" from energy sources, channel it through their brains and then focus it for specific "mentalic" tasks. Asimov described the Solarians, humans who used genetic engineering to make themselves into hermaphrodites and they gave themselves the needed genes for enlarged "transducer lobes". Thus, Asimov quite clearly linked "mentalics" to genetic engineering and genetically programmed brain structure.

Asimov also made it clear that a person with innate mentalic ability could, in the right environment and with practice, greatly enhance and develop their telepathic abilities. The innate and learned components of "mentalics" seem similar to our capacity to use human language. The parts of the human brain that we use for language did not suddenly appear during human evolution. It is tempting to imagine that the roots of human "mentalic powers" might also be deep in our evolutionary past. That idea is explored in The Start of Eternity where the origin of telepathic ability in positronic robots like Daneel is traced back to the human brain.

Related Reading: Foundations of Eternity

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