Isaac Asimov

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Isaac Asimov was a very outstanding and prolific writer in science fiction, writing over 300 books. His ideas and concepts expressed in his writings are way ahead of his time. For example, his concept of computerization; which, afterwards actually did take affect. Several factors influenced his greatness as an author, and his book Foundation, including: His time period, religion, and history.

Isaac Asimov was born in 1920 in the USSR to a Jewish family. When he was three years old his family moved to America. He was always known to be very intelligent and had a passion for science. He graduated high school at fifteen and went on to Columbia University where he studied chemistry. After getting his a B.S. and an M.A. he was drafted into the military for a year. In 1948 he earned a PhD. Later he became an assistant professor at Boston University. Asimov was married twice and had two children in the first marriage.

Although his family was Jewish, Asimov decided to be an atheist. He supported his belief by saying that he believes only that which reason tells him. He also said, "I don't have the evidence that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect that he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time." Foundation is a book about empire building in the universe of the future. (Current Biography p.30) Asimov concerned himself greatly with futuristic matters, especially with technological innovations. He was also greatly concerned with the evolution of man, not just the physical evolution, but also the intellectual, social, and cultural. Putting these two aspects together, he often wrote about how technology changes the evolution of humans. In his writings he wanted to stress humans as much as possible rather than technology. For example, he would emphasize more on how certain technological changes affected or had an impact on humans and how humans reacted, rather than the technological change itself. Asimov based his science fiction on the sociological changes of mankind ( ). He wrote about how this process is unstoppable which is the whole basis behind the science of psychohistory. Also, in Foundation he stresses ideas more than battles.

There were two very important steps that Asimov saw for the immediate future, 1) computerization of society, and 2) the extension of our capabilities through space research and exploration (A Prophet For Our Time). He wrote about how the computer was not only necessary for the future, but the only future that would work (A Prophet For Our Time). Also, how technological advances and over-population could present a danger in the future, and how these advances could prevent these dangers. He also wrote about how humans and robotics could aid humans and how computers would work within robots. Back in the middle of this century these ideas would have been laughed at; however, they are actually being played out today. We can especially see this in the computerization of our society. Humans have become ever so dependant on computers.

Also, we are making many advances in space exploration, trying to find possible life sources on different planets so that we may extend the human race past the Earth. Time and time again one can see these concepts in Foundation.

A huge influence on Asimov was religion. It is hard to see how religion could be a factor in his writings knowing that he was an atheist. He even admits that he tries to avoid religion in his writings; however, he says it is virtually impossible: "I tend to ignore religion in my own stories altogether, except when I absolutely have to have it. ...and, whenever I bring in a religious motif, that religion is bound to seem vaguely Christian because that is the only religion I know anything about, even though it is not mine. An unsympathetic reader might think that I am "burlesquing" Christianity, but I am not. Then too, it is impossible to write science fiction and really ignore religion." (Gold by Isaac Asimov p. 185-188) It is obvious that he was knowledgeable in Christianity. In Foundation Asimov presents a parallel between Jesus Christ and Seldon, a character in the book: "...all this talk of the Prophet Hari Seldon and how he appointed the Foundation to carry on his commandments that there might some day be a return of the Earthly paradise: and how anyone who disobeys his commandments will be destroyed for eternity. They believe it." (93) Here, Seldon represents Jesus Christ. The commandments are similar to those given to Moses, Earthly paradise is heaven, and destroyed for eternity can be seen as hell (online).

The rest of the commentary about religion in Foundation is how it is used in the newly built empire. These quotes from Foundation provide interesting grounds for discussion.

The religion-- which the Foundation has fostered and encouraged, mind you-- is built on strictly authoritarian lines. The priesthood has sole control of the instruments of science we have given Anacreon, but they've learned to handle these tools only empirically. They believe in this religion entirely and in the ...oh...spiritual value of the power they handle...The Foundation has fostered this delusion assiduously (p. 96) I started that way at first because the barbarians looked upon our science as a sort of magical sorcery, and it was easiest to get them to accept it on that basis. The priesthood built itself and if we help it along we are only following the line of least resistance (p. 77).

To the people of Anacreon he was high priest, representative of that foundation which, to those 'barbarians' was the acme of mystery and the physical center of this religion they had created-- with Hardin's help-- in the last three decades (p. 80).

Considering how Asimov was an atheist one can see why he would use the word "barbarians" to describe those who believe, and "delusional" to describe religion in general. This is most likely because Asimov thought that people who believed in Christianity did so only because they were uneducated and ignorant. He basically says that religion is a crutch for people's stupidity and weak minds. Asimov is quoted, "To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today." Another factor would be history; how knowledge of history is so vital to the human race. Asimov is greatly concerned with the intellectual and cultural evolution of man. He always shows that what will happen in the future is just history repeating itself. This is the concept of psychohistory. He constantly refers to the past to present many topics and to back up many arguments. For example, Seldon He makes references to the Roman Empire; about its rises and collapse. Asimov frequently recalls the humanist movement and the Enlightenment. Isaac Asimov would definitely fall into the category of humanists and rationalists. He said that we should feel free to think for ourselves, using reason as our guide. This was a popular ideal of the Enlightenment. In Foundation, Asimov presents a very strange concept, psychohistory. This is a science of mathematics that involves predicting mass human behavior and future history, along with the history of human's reactions to economic and social stimuli. (20 century) Lastly, the period in which he lived had an impact on his writings. When he talks about government in his books he refers to how the present system of government evolved and how it is prospering.

incomplete Fletcher, Marilyn P., ed. Readers Guide to Twentieth Century Science Fiction. Chicago and London: American Library Association, 1989. pp. 26-34 Candee, Marjorie Dent, ed. Current Biography. New York, NY: H.W. Wilson Company, 1953. pp. 33-34 Candee, Marjorie Dent, ed. Current Biography. New York, NY: H.W. Wilson Company, 1968 p.30