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Oct 8, 2016

Mental Math

in the Ekcolir Reality
Back in the late 1940s, Isaac Asimov imagined a fictional science of "neurochemical electromathematics" and told readers that there was an important role for "electromathematics" in the "psychohistory" that Daneel used to launch the Foundation Era of galactic history. Of course, it was only much later that Asimov thought to include the positronic robot Daneel in the story. I'm glad he did, because this stew of mathematics and telepathic robots that Asimov cooked up is mighty yummy for a science fiction fan like me. That cooking process lasted 50 years, from the collaborative invention of Psychohistory by Asimov and John Campbell in 1941 until Asimov finished his work on Forward the Foundation.

The Power of Mathematics
equations projected by the Prime Radiant
Another very geeky element that Asimov originally included in his Foundation saga was electroencephalography. Later, in 1977, Asimov published a short story called "Think!" which described the amazing power of the "laser-encephalogram". Asimov imagined that with the aid of a computer running the required filtering algorithm, laser electroencephalography could ignore all the mundane background noise in a human brain and make possible a type of high-tech mind reading of someone's conscious thoughts.

Lanarck visits a virtual reality world.
In the papers of Jack Vance at Boston University,  there are "business letters" dating from as early as 1938 and "fifty-five rejection slips". In 1941 Jack Vance sent a story called "Lanarck and the World-Thinker" to John Campbell at Astounding. Campbell rejected the story, and I have no idea if that version was exactly the same story that was finally published in 1945 and again in 1955 as a "The World-Thinker".

the alien World-Thinker, Laoome
In some ways, "The World-Thinker", as published in Fantastic Stories in 1955, seems like it was crafted to please Campbell. That version of the story included atomic power, space travel across the galaxy and a telepathic alien creature (that was easily killed by our hero, the raygun-wielding protagonist, "Lanarck").


In a way, what we can call the way of Jack Vance, the story of Lanarck's adventure reads more like fantasy than science fiction and it is not really surprising that Campbell had to reject it. Vance did not like being restricted by genre conventions.

However, I suspect that by casually mentioning equations in Lanarck's adventure story, Vance was using the correct bait for any author seeking to attract the attention of Campbell and get published in Astounding. Physics was one of the subjects studied in college by Vance, so why not try to interest Campbell in a story?
Escape from Laoome's virtual reality world of Markavvel

in the Ekcolir Reality original cover art by
 Earle Bergey and Milford Hunter
How did Vance account for the telepathic powers of Laoome and his amazing ability to "think into existence" entire new worlds, including populations of people who are ready to worship Laoome as their god? In a startling burst of imagination, Vance tried to have us accept the idea that "thinking a world into existence" could be accomplished by Laoome with the help of a special set of equations! Why equations?

While in school, John Campbell met people such as Norbert Wiener (known for his equation describing Brownian motion) and he earned a B.S. degree in physics. Here is how Campbell thought of the power of equations: "I  am leaving with you today the completed calculations and equations of the time field, the system used by the Thessian invaders in propelling their ships at a speed greater than that of light." The great science myth of the Golden Age of Science Fiction was "equation today, super technology tomorrow". Einstein's E=MC2 was quickly linked to science fiction's need for a super power source and then, soon enough, there were atomic bombs.
1955 in Fantastic Story

in the Hierion Domain
Equations
Vance included mysterious equations in "The World-Thinker". For the 1955 publication of "The World-Thinker" in Fantastic Story magazine, in the midst of the Cold War, the story was teased on the contents page with reference to the "atom equations", equations which described the dangerous secret of how to turn nuclear power plants into bombs. Our hero, Lieutenant Lanarck, must recover these "atom equations" before they fall into the wrong hands.

While in pursuit of the "atom equations", Lanarck meets the mysterious alien creature, Laoome, who can use a set of miraculous "hypostatic equations" to instantiate entire new worlds of his own design.

The Skaña Intervention
I like to imagine that in our previous Reality, the Ekcolir Reality, the pace of scientific discovery and technological advances was slightly accelerated. In the Ekcolir Reality, the analogue of Jack Vance published a novel called The Hypostatic Equations. In that story, Lanarck obtains the "hypostatic equations" from an Interventionist agent named Laoome and those equations eventually provide Earthlings with a means to access the Hierion Domain. In that alternate Reality, the worlds created by Laoome were virtual worlds located within the Hierion Domain.

Related Reading: the Hierion Mass Equation

Next: investigating the Alternate Asimovs
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