In Memoriam Isaac Asimov

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Isaac Asimov (left) with Robert A. Heinlein

and L. Sprague de Camp, in Philadelphia Navy Yard (1944)

 

The three of them are writers of science fiction

 

 

Isaac Asimov

(Petrovich, Russia : 1920 – New-York, April 1992

 

Coma

– Part 4 –

 

– One more rumour – said Konev -  This I truly hate to repeat, but it seems so important. Is it true that you have claimed that in your analysis of brain-waves you have occasionally sensed actual thoughts?

 

Morrison shook his head vigorously:

– I have never made such a claim in print. I have said to a colleague, once or twice, that in concentrating on the brain-wave analysis there are occasionally times when I seem to find thoughts invading my mind.  I have no way of telling whether the thoughts are entirely mine, or whether my own brain-waves resonate to those of the subject.

 

– Is such a resonance conceivable?

 

– I suppose so. The waves produce tiny fluctuating electro-magnetic fields.

 

– Ah! It is this, I suppose, that made Academician Shapinov make that remark about a relay station. Brain-waves are always producing fluctuating electromagnetic fields, with or without analysis. You don’t resonate – if resonance is what it is – to the thoughts of someone in your presence, no matter how intensely he may be thinking. The resonance takes place only when you are busily studying the brain-waves with your programmed computer. It, presumably, acts as a relay station magnifying, or intensifying the brain-waves of the subject and projecting them into your mind.

–I have no evidence for that except for an occasional fugitive impression. That’s not enough.

 

– It might be. The human brain is far more complex than any other equivalent piece of matter we know of.

 

– What about dolphins? said Dezhnev, his mouth full.

 

– An exploded view – said Konev, at once. – They’re intelligent, but their brains are devoted too entirely to the minutiae of swimming to allow enough room for abstract thought on the human scale.

 

– I have never studied dolphins – said Morrison, indifferently.

 

– Ignore the dolphins – , said Konev, impatiently. – Just concentrate on the fact that your computer, properly programmed, may act as a relay station, passing thoughts from the mind of the subject you are studying to your own mind. If that is so, Albert, we need you, and no other person in the world.

 

– Morrison said, frowning and pushing his chair away from the table:

 –, Even if I can pick up thoughts by way of my computer – a claim I have never made and which, in fact, I deny – what can that possibly have to do with miniaturization?

 

Boranova rose and looked at her watch:

– It is time –, she said –. Let us go and see Shapirov now.

 

Morrison said:

– What he says will make no difference to me.

 

– You will find –, said Boranova, and there was a sudden hint of steel in her voice –, that he will say nothing – but will be utterly convincing just the same.

 

Morrison had kept his temper well so far. The Soviets were, after all, treating him as a guest, and, if he could overlook the small matter of his being carried off by force, he had little of which to complain.

 

But what were they getting at? One by one, Boranova had introduced him to others – first Dezhnev, then Kaliinin, then Konev – for reasons he had not penetrated. Over and over, Boranova had hinted at his usefulness without actually saying what it might be. Now Konev talked of it and was equally uncommunicative.

 

And now they were to see Shapirov. Clearly this had to be a climax of sorts. From the first mention of him by Boranova at the convention, two days ago, he had seemed to hover over the whole matter like a thickening fog. It was he who had worked out the miniaturization process; he who seemed to detect a connection between Plank’s constant and the speed of light, he who seemed to value Morrison’s neurophysical theories, and he who made the remark about the computer as relay station that had apparently set off Konev’s conviction that Morrison, and only Morrison, could help them.

 

It remained for Morrison, now, to resist any blandishments or arguments that Shapirov could present. If Morrison insisted that he would not help them, what would they do when all the blandishments and arguments had failed?

Crude threat of force – or torture.

Brain-washing?

 

Morrison quailed. He dared not put his refusal on the basis of he would not. He would have to persuade them that he  could not. Surely, that was a reasonable position on which to take his stand. What could neurophysics – and a dubious, unaccepted bit of neurophysical work at that – have to do with miniaturization?

 

But why didn’t they see that for themselves? Why did they all act as though it were conceivable that a person like himself, who had never as much as thought of miniaturization till some forty-eight hours before, could do something for them – them, the only experts in the field – that they could not do for themselves?

 

It was a rather lengthy walk along corridors and, lost in his own uncomfortable thoughts, Morrison did not notice that they were fewer in number than he had thought.

 

He said to Boranova, suddenly:

– Where are the others?

 

She said:

– They have work to do. We do not have forever to do what we must, you know.

 

Morrison shook his head. Chatty, they were not. None of them seemed to scatter information. Always close-lipped. A long standing Soviet habit, perhaps – or something that was ground into them through their work on a secret project in which even the scientists dared not step outside the narrow limits of their immediate work.

 

Were they coming to him as a story-book. American generalist? Nothing he had ever done, surely, would give anyone that impression. As a matter of fact, he was himself a narrow specialist, knowing virtually nothing outside neurophysics. – This was a worsening disease of modern science, he thought.

 

 

To be followed