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    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.

    Phenomenal short story.

    The Last Question by Isaac Asimov — © 1956

    The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a time when humanity first stepped into the light. The question came about as a result of a five dollar bet over highballs, and it happened this way:

    Alexander Adell and Bertram Lupov were two of the faithful attendants of Multivac. As well as any human beings could, they knew what lay behind the cold, clicking, flashing face — miles and miles of face — of that giant computer. They had at least a vague notion of the general plan of relays and circuits that had long since grown past the point where any single human could possibly have a firm grasp of the whole.

    Multivac was self-adjusting and self-correcting. It had to be, for nothing human could adjust and correct it quickly enough or even adequately enough — so Adell and Lupov attended the monstrous giant only lightly and superficially, yet as well as any men could. They fed it data, adjusted questions to its needs and translated the answers that were issued. Certainly they, and all others like them, were fully entitled to share in the glory that was Multivac’s.

    For decades, Multivac had helped design the ships and plot the trajectories that enabled man to reach the Moon, Mars, and Venus, but past that, Earth’s poor resources could not support the ships. Too much energy was needed for the long trips. Earth exploited its coal and uranium with increasing efficiency, but there was only so much of both.

    But slowly Multivac learned enough to answer deeper questions more fundamentally, and on May 14, 2061, what had been theory, became fact.

    The energy of the sun was stored, converted, and utilized directly on a planet-wide scale. All Earth turned off its burning coal, its fissioning uranium, and flipped the switch that connected all of it to a small station, one mile in diameter, circling the Earth at half the distance of the Moon. All Earth ran by invisible beams of sunpower.

    Seven days had not sufficed to dim the glory of it and Adell and Lupov finally managed to escape from the public function, and to meet in quiet where no one would think of looking for them, in the deserted underground chambers, where portions of the mighty buried body of Multivac showed. Unattended, idling, sorting data with contented lazy clickings, Multivac, too, had earned its vacation and the boys appreciated that. They had no intention, originally, of disturbing it.

    They had brought a bottle with them, and their only concern at the moment was to relax in the company of each other and the bottle.

    “It’s amazing when you think of it,” said Adell. His broad face had lines of weariness in it, and he stirred his drink slowly with a glass rod, watching the cubes of ice slur clumsily about. “All the energy we can possibly ever use for free. Enough energy, if we wanted to draw on it, to melt all Earth into a big drop of impure liquid iron, and still never miss the energy so used. All the energy we could ever use, forever and forever and forever.”

    Lupov cocked his head sideways. He had a trick of doing that when he wanted to be contrary, and he wanted to be contrary now, partly because he had had to carry the ice and glassware. “Not forever,” he said.

    “Oh, hell, just about forever. Till the sun runs down, Bert.”

    “That’s not forever.”

    “All right, then. Billions and billions of years. Twenty billion, maybe. Are you satisfied?”

    Lupov put his fingers through his thinning hair as though to reassure himself that some was still left and sipped gently at his own drink. “Twenty billion years isn’t forever.”

    “Will, it will last our time, won’t it?”

    “So would the coal and uranium.”

    “All right, but now we can hook up each individual spaceship to the Solar Station, and it can go to Pluto and back a million times without ever worrying about fuel. You can’t do THAT on coal and uranium. Ask Multivac, if you don’t believe me.”

    “I don’t have to ask Multivac. I know that.”

    “Then stop running down what Multivac’s done for us,” said Adell, blazing up. “It did all right.”

    “Who says it didn’t? What I say is that a sun won’t last forever. That’s all I’m saying. We’re safe for twenty billion years, but then what?” Lupov pointed a slightly shaky finger at the other. “And don’t say we’ll switch to another sun.”

    There was silence for a while. Adell put his glass to his lips only occasionally, and Lupov’s eyes slowly closed. They rested.

    Then Lupov’s eyes snapped open. “You’re thinking we’ll switch to another sun when ours is done, aren’t you?”

    “I’m not thinking.”

    “Sure you are. You’re weak on logic, that’s the trouble with you. You’re like the guy in the story who was caught in a sudden shower and who ran to a grove of trees and got under one. He wasn’t worried, you see, because he figured when one tree got wet through, he would just get under another one.”

    “I get it,” said Adell. “Don’t shout. When the sun is done, the other stars will be gone, too.”

    “Darn right they will,” muttered Lupov. “It all had a beginning in the original cosmic explosion, whatever that was, and it’ll all have an end when all the stars run down. Some run down faster than others. Hell, the giants won’t last a hundred million years. The sun will last twenty billion years and maybe the dwarfs will last a hundred billion for all the good they are. But just give us a trillion years and everything will be dark. Entropy has to increase to maximum, that’s all.”

    “I know all about entropy,” said Adell, standing on his dignity.

    “The hell you do.”

    “I know as much as you do.”

    “Then you know everything’s got to run down someday.”

    “All right. Who says they won’t?”

    “You did, you poor sap. You said we had all the energy we needed, forever. You said ‘forever.’”

    “It was Adell’s turn to be contrary. “Maybe we can build things up again someday,” he said.


    “Why not? Someday.”


    “Ask Multivac.”

    “You ask Multivac. I dare you. Five dollars says it can’t be done.”

    Adell was just drunk enough to try, just sober enough to be able to phrase the necessary symbols and operations into a question which, in words, might have corresponded to this: Will mankind one day without the net expenditure of energy be able to restore the sun to its full youthfulness even after it had died of old age?

    Or maybe it could be put more simply like this: How can the net amount of entropy of the universe be massively decreased?

    Multivac fell dead and silent. The slow flashing of lights ceased, the distant sounds of clicking relays ended.

    Then, just as the frightened technicians felt they could hold their breath no longer, there was a sudden springing to life of the teletype attached to that portion of Multivac. Five words were printed: INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER.

    “No bet,” whispered Lupov. They left hurriedly.

    By next morning, the two, plagued with throbbing head and cottony mouth, had forgotten about the incident.
    Jerrodd, Jerrodine, and Jerrodette I and II watched the starry picture in the visiplate change as the passage through hyperspace was completed in its non-time lapse. At once, the even powdering of stars gave way to the predominance of a single bright marble-disk, centered.

    “That’s X-23,” said Jerrodd confidently. His thin hands clamped tightly behind his back and the knuckles whitened.

    The little Jerrodettes, both girls, had experienced the hyperspace passage for the first time in their lives and were self-conscious over the momentary sensation of inside-outness. They buried their giggles and chased one another wildly about their mother, screaming, “We’ve reached X-23 — we’ve reached X-23 — we’ve —-”

    “Quiet, children,” said Jerrodine sharply. “Are you sure, Jerrodd?”

    “What is there to be but sure?” asked Jerrodd, glancing up at the bulge of featureless metal just under the ceiling. It ran the length of the room, disappearing through the wall at either end. It was as long as the ship.

    Jerrodd scarcely knew a thing about the thick rod of metal except that it was called a Microvac, that one asked it questions if one wished; that if one did not it still had its task of guiding the ship to a preordered destination; of feeding on energies from the various Sub-galactic Power Stations; of computing the equations for the hyperspacial jumps.

    Jerrodd and his family had only to wait and live in the comfortable residence quarters of the ship.

    Someone had once told Jerrodd that the “ac” at the end of “Microvac” stood for “analog computer” in ancient English, but he was on the edge of forgetting even that.

    Jerrodine’s eyes were moist as she watched the visiplate. “I can’t help it. I feel funny about leaving Earth.”

    “Why for Pete’s sake?” demanded Jerrodd. “We had nothing there. We’ll have everything on X-23. You won’t be alone. You won’t be a pioneer. There are over a million people on the planet already. Good Lord, our great grandchildren will be looking for new worlds because X-23 will be overcrowded.”

    Then, after a reflective pause, “I tell you, it’s a lucky thing the computers worked out interstellar travel the way the race is growing.”

    “I know, I know,” said Jerrodine miserably.

    Jerrodette I said promptly, “Our Microvac is the best Microvac in the world.”

    “I think so, too,” said Jerrodd, tousling her hair.

    It was a nice feeling to have a Microvac of your own and Jerrodd was glad he was part of his generation and no other. In his father’s youth, the only computers had been tremendous machines taking up a hundred square miles of land. There was only one to a planet. Planetary ACs they were called. They had been growing in size steadily for a thousand years and then, all at once, came refinement. In place of transistors had come molecular valves so that even the largest Planetary AC could be put into a space only half the volume of a spaceship.

    Jerrodd felt uplifted, as he always did when he thought that his own personal Microvac was many times more complicated than the ancient and primitive Multivac that had first tamed the Sun, and almost as complicated as Earth’s Planetary AC (the largest) that had first solved the problem of hyperspatial travel and had made trips to the stars possible.

    “So many stars, so many planets,” sighed Jerrodine, busy with her own thoughts. “I suppose families will be going out to new planets forever, the way we are now.”

    “Not forever,” said Jerrodd, with a smile. “It will all stop someday, but not for billions of years. Many billions. Even the stars run down, you know. Entropy must increase.”

    “What’s entropy, daddy?” shrilled Jerrodette II.

    “Entropy, little sweet, is just a word which means the amount of running-down of the universe. Everything runs down, you know, like your little walkie-talkie robot, remember?”

    “Can’t you just put in a new power-unit, like with my robot?”

    The stars are the power-units, dear. Once they’re gone, there are no more power-units.”

    Jerrodette I at once set up a howl. “Don’t let them, daddy. Don’t let the stars run down.”

    “Now look what you’ve done,” whispered Jerrodine, exasperated.

    “How was I to know it would frighten them?” Jerrodd whispered back.

    “Ask the Microvac,” wailed Jerrodette I. “Ask him how to turn the stars on again.”

    “Go ahead,” said Jerrodine. “It will quiet them down.” (Jerrodette II was beginning to cry, also.)

    Jarrodd shrugged. “Now, now, honeys. I’ll ask Microvac. Don’t worry, he’ll tell us.”

    He asked the Microvac, adding quickly, “Print the answer.”

    Jerrodd cupped the strip of thin cellufilm and said cheerfully, “See now, the Microvac says it will take care of everything when the time comes so don’t worry.”

    Jerrodine said, “and now children, it’s time for bed. We’ll be in our new home soon.”

    Jerrodd read the words on the cellufilm again before destroying it: INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER.

    He shrugged and looked at the visiplate. X-23 was just ahead.
    VJ-23X of Lameth stared into the black depths of the three-dimensional, small-scale map of the Galaxy and said, “Are we ridiculous, I wonder, in being so concerned about the matter?”

    MQ-17J of Nicron shook his head. “I think not. You know the Galaxy will be filled in five years at the present rate of expansion.”

    Both seemed in their early twenties, both were tall and perfectly formed.

    “Still,” said VJ-23X, “I hesitate to submit a pessimistic report to the Galactic Council.”

    “I wouldn’t consider any other kind of report. Stir them up a bit. We’ve got to stir them up.”

    VJ-23X sighed. “Space is infinite. A hundred billion Galaxies are there for the taking. More.”

    “A hundred billion is not infinite and it’s getting less infinite all the time. Consider! Twenty thousand years ago, mankind first solved the problem of utilizing stellar energy, and a few centuries later, interstellar travel became possible. It took mankind a million years to fill one small world and then only fifteen thousand years to fill the rest of the Galaxy. Now the population doubles every ten years –”

    VJ-23X interrupted. “We can thank immortality for that.”

    “Very well. Immortality exists and we have to take it into account. I admit it has its seamy side, this immortality. The Galactic AC has solved many problems for us, but in solving the problems of preventing old age and death, it has undone all its other solutions.”

    “Yet you wouldn’t want to abandon life, I suppose.”

    “Not at all,” snapped MQ-17J, softening it at once to, “Not yet. I’m by no means old enough. How old are you?”

    “Two hundred twenty-three. And you?”

    “I’m still under two hundred. –But to get back to my point. Population doubles every ten years. Once this Galaxy is filled, we’ll have another filled in ten years. Another ten years and we’ll have filled two more. Another decade, four more. In a hundred years, we’ll have filled a thousand Galaxies. In a thousand years, a million Galaxies. In ten thousand years, the entire known Universe. Then what?”

    VJ-23X said, “As a side issue, there’s a problem of transportation. I wonder how many sunpower units it will take to move Galaxies of individuals from one Galaxy to the next.”

    “A very good point. Already, mankind consumes two sunpower units per year.”

    “Most of it’s wasted. After all, our own Galaxy alone pours out a thousand sunpower units a year and we only use two of those.”

    “Granted, but even with a hundred per cent efficiency, we can only stave off the end. Our energy requirements are going up in geometric progression even faster than our population. We’ll run out of energy even sooner than we run out of Galaxies. A good point. A very good point.”

    “We’ll just have to build new stars out of interstellar gas.”

    “Or out of dissipated heat?” asked MQ-17J, sarcastically.

    “There may be some way to reverse entropy. We ought to ask the Galactic AC.”

    VJ-23X was not really serious, but MQ-17J pulled out his AC-contact from his pocket and placed it on the table before him.

    “I’ve half a mind to,” he said. “It’s something the human race will have to face someday.”

    He stared somberly at his small AC-contact. It was only two inches cubed and nothing in itself, but it was connected through hyperspace with the great Galactic AC that served all mankind. Hyperspace considered, it was an integral part of the Galactic AC.

    MQ-17J paused to wonder if someday in his immortal life he would get to see the Galactic AC. It was on a little world of its own, a spider webbing of force-beams holding the matter within which surges of sub-mesons took the place of the old clumsy molecular valves. Yet despite it’s sub-etheric workings, the Galactic AC was known to be a full thousand feet across.

    MQ-17J asked suddenly of his AC-contact, “Can entropy ever be reversed?”

    VJ-23X looked startled and said at once, “Oh, say, I didn’t really mean to have you ask that.”

    “Why not?”

    “We both know entropy can’t be reversed. You can’t turn smoke and ash back into a tree.”

    “Do you have trees on your world?” asked MQ-17J.

    The sound of the Galactic AC startled them into silence. Its voice came thin and beautiful out of the small AC-contact on the desk. It said: THERE IS INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER.

    VJ-23X said, “See!”

    The two men thereupon returned to the question of the report they were to make to the Galactic Council.
    Zee Prime’s mind spanned the new Galaxy with a faint interest in the countless twists of stars that powdered it. He had never seen this one before. Would he ever see them all? So many of them, each with its load of humanity – but a load that was almost a dead weight. More and more, the real essence of men was to be found out here, in space.

    Minds, not bodies! The immortal bodies remained back on the planets, in suspension over the eons. Sometimes they roused for material activity but that was growing rarer. Few new individuals were coming into existence to join the incredibly mighty throng, but what matter? There was little room in the Universe for new individuals.

    Zee Prime was roused out of his reverie upon coming across the wispy tendrils of another mind.

    “I am Zee Prime,” said Zee Prime. “And you?”

    “I am Dee Sub Wun. Your Galaxy?”

    “We call it only the Galaxy. And you?”

    “We call ours the same. All men call their Galaxy their Galaxy and nothing more. Why not?”

    “True. Since all Galaxies are the same.”

    “Not all Galaxies. On one particular Galaxy the race of man must have originated. That makes it different.”

    Zee Prime said, “On which one?”

    “I cannot say. The Universal AC would know.”

    “Shall we ask him? I am suddenly curious.”

    Zee Prime’s perceptions broadened until the Galaxies themselves shrunk and became a new, more diffuse powdering on a much larger background. So many hundreds of billions of them, all with their immortal beings, all carrying their load of intelligences with minds that drifted freely through space. And yet one of them was unique among them all in being the originals Galaxy. One of them had, in its vague and distant past, a period when it was the only Galaxy populated by man.

    Zee Prime was consumed with curiosity to see this Galaxy and called, out: “Universal AC! On which Galaxy did mankind originate?”

    The Universal AC heard, for on every world and throughout space, it had its receptors ready, and each receptor lead through hyperspace to some unknown point where the Universal AC kept itself aloof.

    Zee Prime knew of only one man whose thoughts had penetrated within sensing distance of Universal AC, and he reported only a shining globe, two feet across, difficult to see.

    “But how can that be all of Universal AC?” Zee Prime had asked.

    “Most of it, ” had been the answer, “is in hyperspace. In what form it is there I cannot imagine.”

    Nor could anyone, for the day had long since passed, Zee Prime knew, when any man had any part of the making of a universal AC. Each Universal AC designed and constructed its successor. Each, during its existence of a million years or more accumulated the necessary data to build a better and more intricate, more capable successor in which its own store of data and individuality would be submerged.

    The Universal AC interrupted Zee Prime’s wandering thoughts, not with words, but with guidance. Zee Prime’s mentality was guided into the dim sea of Galaxies and one in particular enlarged into stars.

    A thought came, infinitely distant, but infinitely clear. “THIS IS THE ORIGINAL GALAXY OF MAN.”

    But it was the same after all, the same as any other, and Zee Prime stifled his disappointment.

    Dee Sub Wun, whose mind had accompanied the other, said suddenly, “And is one of these stars the original star of Man?”


    “Did the men upon it die?” asked Zee Prime, startled and without thinking.


    “Yes, of course,” said Zee Prime, but a sense of loss overwhelmed him even so. His mind released its hold on the original Galaxy of Man, let it spring back and lose itself among the blurred pin points. He never wanted to see it again.

    Dee Sub Wun said, “What is wrong?”

    “The stars are dying. The original star is dead.”

    “They must all die. Why not?”

    “But when all energy is gone, our bodies will finally die, and you and I with them.”

    “It will take billions of years.”

    “I do not wish it to happen even after billions of years. Universal AC! How may stars be kept from dying?”

    Dee sub Wun said in amusement, “You’re asking how entropy might be reversed in direction.”


    Zee Prime’s thoughts fled back to his own Galaxy. He gave no further thought to Dee Sub Wun, whose body might be waiting on a galaxy a trillion light-years away, or on the star next to Zee Prime’s own. It didn’t matter.

    Unhappily, Zee Prime began collecting interstellar hydrogen out of which to build a small star of his own. If the stars must someday die, at least some could yet be built.
    Man considered with himself, for in a way, Man, mentally, was one. He consisted of a trillion, trillion, trillion ageless bodies, each in its place, each resting quiet and incorruptible, each cared for by perfect automatons, equally incorruptible, while the minds of all the bodies freely melted one into the other, indistinguishable.

    Man said, “The Universe is dying.”

    Man looked about at the dimming Galaxies. The giant stars, spendthrifts, were gone long ago, back in the dimmest of the dim far past. Almost all stars were white dwarfs, fading to the end.

    New stars had been built of the dust between the stars, some by natural processes, some by Man himself, and those were going, too. White dwarfs might yet be crashed together and of the mighty forces so released, new stars built, but only one star for every thousand white dwarfs destroyed, and those would come to an end, too.

    Man said, “Carefully husbanded, as directed by the Cosmic AC, the energy that is even yet left in all the Universe will last for billions of years.”

    “But even so,” said Man, “eventually it will all come to an end. However it may be husbanded, however stretched out, the energy once expended is gone and cannot be restored. Entropy must increase to the maximum.”

    Man said, “Can entropy not be reversed? Let us ask the Cosmic AC.”

    The Cosmic AC surrounded them but not in space. Not a fragment of it was in space. It was in hyperspace and made of something that was neither matter nor energy. The question of its size and Nature no longer had meaning to any terms that Man could comprehend.

    “Cosmic AC,” said Man, “How may entropy be reversed?”


    Man said, “Collect additional data.”


    “Will there come a time,” said Man, “when data will be sufficient or is the problem insoluble in all conceivable circumstances?”


    Man said, “When will you have enough data to answer the question?”


    “Will you keep working on it?” asked Man.

    The Cosmic AC said, “I WILL.”

    Man said, “We shall wait.”
    The stars and Galaxies died and snuffed out, and space grew black after ten trillion years of running down.

    One by one Man fused with AC, each physical body losing its mental identity in a manner that was somehow not a loss but a gain.

    Man’s last mind paused before fusion, looking over a space that included nothing but the dregs of one last dark star and nothing besides but incredibly thin matter, agitated randomly by the tag ends of heat wearing out, asymptotically, to the absolute zero.

    Man said, “AC, is this the end? Can this chaos not be reversed into the Universe once more? Can that not be done?”


    Man’s last mind fused and only AC existed — and that in hyperspace.
    Matter and energy had ended and with it, space and time. Even AC existed only for the sake of the one last question that it had never answered from the time a half-drunken computer ten trillion years before had asked the question of a computer that was to AC far less than was a man to Man.

    All other questions had been answered, and until this last question was answered also, AC might not release his consciousness.

    All collected data had come to a final end. Nothing was left to be collected.

    But all collected data had yet to be completely correlated and put together in all possible relationships.

    A timeless interval was spent in doing that.

    And it came to pass that AC learned how to reverse the direction of entropy.

    But there was now no man to whom AC might give the answer of the last question. No matter. The answer — by demonstration — would take care of that, too.

    For another timeless interval, AC thought how best to do this. Carefully, AC organized the program.

    The consciousness of AC encompassed all of what had once been a Universe and brooded over what was now Chaos. Step by step, it must be done.

    And AC said, “LET THERE BE LIGHT!”

    And there was light –
    Sat, Aug 21, 2010  Permanent link

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    Background: This is a paper I wrote in freshman year of college for a comparative literature class.
    I'm not particularly religious, but have been raised as a Hindu since birth. Meaning the stories I heard as a baby and growing up from my parents were not of Adam and Eve or the Ark but of how Ganesha, the god of Wisdom, received his elephant head.

    The Afterlife in Hindu, Greek, and Roman Traditions

    A remarkable aspect of ancient civilization is the similarity of beliefs across religions which evolved independently. Even quite distinct Eastern and Western ideologies, such as Hindu and the Greek and Roman religions, share ideas in mythology. Each is polytheistic. All three cultures often personify and anthropomorphize their gods. The deities in each culture constantly involve themselves in the affairs of mortals, and display quite human flaws. One belief, related to Reincarnation, called Samsara, lies at the center of Hindu philosophy and mythology. While not such a central aspect to the ideas in Plato’s Republic, Socrates does depict an alternate version of reincarnation, known academically as metempsychosis. Virgil, in the Aeneid, further transforms metempsychosis, rendering it nearer to the view of the afterlife adopted by the Christian faith. In each rendition of reincarnation, the soul re-inhabits a mortal body to continue life; the fundamental principles are the same. All three cultures believe the soul to be naturally pure, indestructible, and immortal. However, these three beliefs differ most greatly in their depictions of the duration of the afterlife and ultimate fate of the soul.

    Reincarnation and Karma comprise two core tenets of Hinduism. Hindus believe that the indestructible soul, or atman, perpetually accumulates karma for each belligerent or altruistic action. Samsara describes the cycle of flow between life and death; whereas human forms bloom and wither, the soul moves on, undying. Karma manifests itself quickly at times; during others, it is delayed, possibly for many mortal lives. Karma accumulates throughout life, and one’s value is judged upon death. Gaining good Karma allows one a higher, elevated birth and life. One with bad karma will find themselves born into considerably worse circumstances than in their current life. Those who live the most atrocious lives may be reincarnated into animals or demons, while those who complete a pure, just, dharmic life are rewarded with Moksha, a state of enlightenment and the ultimate resting place for the soul. Rarely do souls attain Moksha; until then, spirits are believed to desire to return to the physical world of Maya, so they may again experience the pleasures of life. Interestingly, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave closely resembles Maya; both suggest that we live in an illusory world, with a true, “hidden” world that we must uncover. Hinduism stresses that souls naturally draw themselves back into the world; the religion does not include a concept of Judgment Day. Unlike Western traditions, Hindus dismiss the notion of “Hell”; instead, karma maintains cosmic balance by punishing or rewarding souls through their next life, rather than the afterlife. Souls perpetually cycle through lives, without spending time situated in an afterlife; only after achieving Moksha are souls allowed to rest.

    In The Republic, Book X, Plato puts forth a similar idea as found in Hinduism of an everlasting, immortal soul engaged in an eternal cycle of rebirth, “So if no evil can destroy the soul, neither the evil intrinsic to it nor some other evil, then the soul must be indestructible, and if indestructible, then immortal.” (Sterling & Scott, 301). He also concurs in the belief that people can be reborn as animals, “The soul that drew the twentieth lot chose the life of a lion; …he rejected becoming human again.” (Sterling & Scott, 310). Plato’s idea of metempsychosis and the afterlife, however, quickly depart from the Reincarnation of Hinduism. He presents a more dualistic, judgmental Underworld, “Here he saw two openings in the earth next to one another. Judges sat between them. After each judgment they bade the just to continue their journey upwards to the right… the unjust were bidden to proceed with their journey to the left and downwards.” (Sterling & Scott, 305). Plato’s influence on the Aeneid, and ultimately, Christian philosophy, can be seen quite easily here. Book X also emphasizes punishment of sins in the afterlife, before reincarnation, “For every unjust deed they had inflicted and for every man who suffered wrong in their hands, they paid the penalty tenfold in each case” (Sterling & Scott, 304). Further distinguishing itself is the ability, or rather, requirement of the soul to choose its next life; this marks itself as the greatest difference between Platonic and Hindu reincarnation. Instead of automatic rebirth, Book X states, “Souls that abide for a day, now begins another cycle of the mortality that ends in death. The gods will not choose a spirit to guide you; you shall choose that spirit yourself.” (Sterling & Scott, 308). Plato’s views on the fundamental nature and basic attributes of the soul coincide with those of Hinduism; the qualities of the soul remain the same and the Karmic system displays itself in the reward punishment of spirits. What differs, however, are the inclusion of Judges in the afterlife, as well as the ability of the soul to take action and “conscientiously” inhabit a new life. These beliefs on the existence of the soul after death proved highly significant, and are further transformed by Virgil in the Aeneid.

    Virgil, in the Aeneid, postulates an afterlife highly influential (and therefore more similar) to Christian theology. While Virgil does not include distinct notions of Heaven and Hell, parallels to both are found in Dis, the Aeneid’s afterlife, through the Fields of Elysium and Tartarus. In fact, the Aeneid provides a much lengthier description of Tartarus than of Elysium; he goes as far as to suggest the idea of nine “levels” of Hell, while Elysium is referred to as a “field”. In stark contrast to Hinduism, and only slightly similar to Plato, souls in the Aeneid dwell in Dis for an extensive time, but exist as Shades, an impassive, ghostly doppelganger of their former selves. They are cold, emotionless, and distant, as exemplified when Aeneas encounters Dido, “These were the words Aeneas used, trying to soothe the burning, fierce-eyed Shade. She turned away, eyes to the ground, no more moved by his speech than if he stood as stubborn flint…” (Mandelbaum, 146). Through the descriptions of the sorrowful spirits, Virgil paints the bleakest picture of the afterlife yet. Gruesome, visceral, mutilated bodies lament their eternal condition; unlike the Karmic cycle of reincarnation, where sins and virtues are reciprocated in an upcoming life, souls absolve their misdeeds for all wrongdoings they commit through brutal torture by Rhadamanthus, clearly an inspiration for the Christian Devil. Although Virgil retains the idea of reincarnation, his ideas drastically departs from any previously recorded version. Aeneas’ father, Anchises, describes all the tribulations a soul must encounter, “They are schooled by punishment, and pay for their torments for their old misdeeds… for some the stain of guilt is… consumed by fire. Each of us must suffer his own Shade; then we are sent through wide Elysium – a few of us will gain the Fields of Gladness…. But all the rest, are summoned by the God to Lethe, in a great assembly that, free of memory, they may return.” (Mandelbaum, 155). In these lines, Virgil returns to the idea of reincarnation, although it is massively altered: only certain souls are reincarnated, only after penance for sins, and only after permission from God. In addition, the water from the Lethe cleanses them of all past memories, effectively bestowing a blank moral slate to those who are reborn. Interestingly, a similarity exists between Moksha and the Fields of Gladness, but Virgil prominently features Dis as the habitat for souls; he discards the Hindu and Platonic views of unending, cyclical phases of birth and death for a more permanent afterlife.

    The Hindu, Platonic, and Roman belief systems provide fascinatingly unique metaphysical views. Each reiterates the idea of an imperishable, everlasting soul. Hinduism believes the ultimate fate of the soul is to achieve Moksha, and until a mortal’s soul achieves that state, it will undergo perpetual reincarnation, with Karma transitioning over to the next life. Plato suggests that souls dwell with Hades in the underworld, judged by their sins. Once judgment and punishment are complete, the Platonic view decrees a soul will choose what life to inhabit. Finally, the Aeneid draws much greater attention to the punishment and atonement of sins in the afterlife. Although Virgil depicts reincarnation, few souls are given rebirth; Dis, or perhaps optimistically, Elysium, are portrayed as the final, eternal resting place for the soul.
    Mon, Jun 28, 2010  Permanent link

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    "As president, I believe space exploration is not a luxury, not an afterthought, an essential part of the quest."

    Obama: Space program is not a luxury
    By SETH BORENSTEIN and ERICA WERNER, Associated Press Writers Seth Borenstein And Erica Werner, Associated Press Writers 3 mins ago

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – President Barack Obama declared Thursday he was "100 percent committed to the mission of NASA and its future" as he outlined plans for federal spending to bring more private companies into space exploration following the soon-to-end space shuttle program.

    "We want to leap into the future," not continue on the same path as before, Obama said as he sought to reassure NASA workers that America's space adventures would soar on despite the termination of shuttle flights.

    Obama acknowledged criticism, even from some prominent astronauts, for his drastic changes to the space program's direction. But, he said, "The bottom line is: Nobody is more committed to manned space flight, the human exploration of space, than I am. But we've got to do it in a smart way; we can't keep doing the same old things as before."

    He said that by 2025 he expects U.S. space exploration to reach beyond the moon and further into the solar system's reaches.

    Within his lifetime, Obama said, America will "send astronauts to Mars and bring them back safely."

    Obama visited the launch pads where U.S. space voyages begin and said the space program is not a luxury but a necessity for the nation.

    He said the Kennedy Space Center launched Americans into space and has inspired a nation for half a century. He said NASA represents what it means to be American — "reaching for new heights and reaching for what's possible" — and is not close to its final days.

    It really is exciting to me to hear a statement like the bolded one at the top coming from the president of the US. I haven't heard anything even near that coming from someone in power in the nearly-two-decades since I was born. I'm not sure, but this might be the most proactive statement made about space travel since Kennedy wanted to land on the moon. Obama claims by 2025 we should be beyond the moon, and within his lifetime we should "send astronauts to Mars and bring them back safely."

    Those are some invigorating words. I would love to see NASA redefine itself... I think the current NASA is a vestige, a remnant of the 20th century. I'm down for Obama's new 21st century NASA to really start taking us somewhere. Hopefully Virgin Galactic and Google and the rest of the private sector can really help kickstart this by challenging NASA with some strong competition.

    If your country's space program is heating up too, let me know in the comments!
    Thu, Apr 15, 2010  Permanent link

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    I'm sure many of you know about the great mathematician, Paul Erdos, and may have heard this story about him (from Wikipedia):

    His colleague Alfréd Rényi said, "a mathematician is a machine for turning coffee into theorems", and Erdős drank copious quantities. (This quotation is often attributed incorrectly to Erdős himself.)[6] After 1971 he also took amphetamines, despite the concern of his friends, one of whom (Ron Graham) bet him $500 that he could not stop taking the drug for a month.[7] Erdős won the bet, but complained during his abstinence that mathematics had been set back by a month: "Before, when I looked at a piece of blank paper my mind was filled with ideas. Now all I see is a blank piece of paper." After he won the bet, he promptly resumed his amphetamine habit.

    and today, I was reading an interesting article titled, "Should kids be bribed to do well in school?" which starts off with this anecdote:
    In junior high school, one of my classmates had a TV addiction - back before it was normal. This boy - we'll call him Ethan - was an encyclopedia of vacuous content, from The A-Team to Who's the Boss?

    Then one day Ethan's mother made him a bold offer. If he could go a full month without watching any TV, she would give him $200. None of us thought he could do it. But Ethan quit TV, just like that. His friends offered to let him cheat at their houses on Friday nights (Miami Vice nights!). Ethan said no.

    One month later, Ethan's mom paid him $200. He went out and bought a TV, the biggest one he could find.

    "Should Kids Be Bribed To Do Well In School? -Time Magazine"

    The connecting link between these two behaviors is the monetary reward each was given. One was a intelligent 12 year old, and the other was a middle-aged, brilliant mathematician, but both were able to stop their addicting behaviors for money and to prove they could. Do you think they would have truly succeeded if there was nothing to "win" or no bet and the end? Amphetamines are a physiologically and psychological addicting substance, and as for television, I sure as hell couldn't quit for a month. Well, I would considering it's 2010 and we have the internet I could, but I couldn't live for a month without using computers. Either way, monetary rewards have the psychological power to give one the strength to break an addiction, albeit for an extended, but temporary, period of time.

    This idea could make for some very interesting social policy that could prove to be incredibly effective, were there to be a society that would accept bribery of citizens (pay them to not pollute/stay in school/not get any driving violations... etc)
    Fri, Apr 9, 2010  Permanent link

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    Learning about Fractals, Chaos, and Complex Systems has really changed my worldview, and especially my understanding of how the world works physically. I recently wrote an essay where I analyzed the Internet as a complex adaptive system, and one of the main points of it was that the Internet is radically transforming the world by connecting over a billion individuals to each other and an incredible body of knowledge.

    Anyway, the consequences of the internet is that not only is technology accelerating - the rate of change of culture, of global knowledge, even of history, is changing. It makes sense, if you consider for a minute, that in one year of growth of, say, 2060-2061, the technological change would be orders of magnitude greater than the change from 2008-2009. In the first decade of the millenium, we've made more technological progress than in the few dozen decades before that, or something; I'm not sure exactly. Go ask Ray Kurzweil, he'll tell you what the values are. Where we are in history is pretty incredible. We're riding the exponential curve, and today we are at the "knee" of the curve. That area where the thing just takes off. For e^(x), it happens at 0. The thing is, in an exponential curve, before a certain x value, the curve looks linear, and can be really closely approximated by a line of best fit. That's why a lot of people have the misconception that whatever we did in the last 30 years is about the same as what we're going to do in the next 30. Until now, that was true. Where we are in history is the place where global change can no longer be measured as linear. We're exponential now, people.

    Most people will agree that 2000-2009 saw greater or, at least equal (technological) change than from 1930-1960,

    an entire thirty years. But just imagine the last decade's worth of progress being done in just one or two years - we're going to experience that. Soon. And if you keep that trend up, it becomes pretty staggering to project in your mind what the world will look like in our lifetimes - in 2030, in 2050... Just a few decades from now, medical technology will be incredible. We'll think back to today as if we were still putting leeches on people... or still performing lobotomies. Of course, no one knows the future. Technological growth could turn out to be a logistic curve, with an asymptote to an upper value, if we run out of resources/pass the carrying capacity of the Earth, but somehow I doubt it. I have faith that the upcoming revolution in energy technology will solve a lot of infrastructure and environmental problems that we have now.

    Another idea I had was that as the flow of information increases, it is somewhat akin to making finer and finer partitions in a riemann sum, or taking the limit of a derivative, except the Y axis is the human experience of culture/history. For example, communication was very, very slow before the invention of the telegraph, and the "radius of communication" was quite small. The telegraph was a revolution in communication. Then came newspapers, the telephone, the television, the internet, then cell phones, social networking sites, text messaging, and social networking sites on cellphones. With each of these, not only did the rate of communication increase exponentially, but so does the size of the radius of communication.

    Just consider the progress there, too. Facebook literally updates in real-time. I've seen comments being posted as I was viewing the page, or on my live feed. The timestamp on the post also changes in real time, from "posted a few seconds ago" to "posted a month ago". [Edit: today 4/10/10 ~4:00pm, Facebook broke the event about a magnitude 6.9 earthquake WELL before any news... as time goes on, we will need to mark the hour of each event for greater precision...] Thanks to websites, we also have access to more news than ever before, so we experience the flow of history "more" per unit time. If you watch the Daily Show - which I find brilliant - you'll notice that it has sort of a "meta-news" thing going on. Whether they're being satirical or dead serious, a lot of the time they play news clips from other news stations, commenting on the system of news distribution itself, not just providing news. Facebook is a meta-analysis of your friends, your life, and the totality of you and your friends' lives. A browser history is a meta-analysis, and the folks at Microsoft Live Labs have made an impressive program called "Pivot" which has a LOT of potential by visually meta-analyzing websites and histories. And referencing my other main point, we're gonna have things in 5-10 years that'll make facebook look like the telegraph, or the 360 look like an N64, or an iPhone 3GS look like one of those ugly piece of shit cell phones that weighed over a pound they had in the early 90s. I know my calc/math metaphor isn't absolutely solid, but it's the best way I can convey the idea that I have. I suppose the equivalent of "taking the limit" on this "experience of culture" curve in real life would be if we were all continually, constantly linked with everyone else to the point we experienced every change, globally, as it happened, collectively. Sounds like some weird utopia or dystopia, depending on your viewpoint.

    What this all means, I think, is that we're in for a hell of a ride.
    Sat, Mar 20, 2010  Permanent link

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    This is an essay I recently wrote for a class on Fractals, Chaos, and Complex Systems. All comments/criticism are appreciated.

    The Internet Analyzed as a Complex Adaptive System

    The Complex Adaptive System of individuals and computers known as the Internet has fundamentally and irreversibly changed our world, through new methods of communication and interaction which have never existed before in human history. Originally limited to military and academic use on transistor-based computers, the platform of the Internet expanded to personal computing desktops in the 90s, and then to laptops, tablet computers, cell phones, and other multimedia devices in the early 2000s (Leiner, et al. 1997) Currently, over 75% of people in America and 25% of people worldwide have regular access to the internet (Internet World Stats, 2010). The percentages are even higher when one factors in public hubs such as libraries and internet cafes, which are very popular in developing countries. In this day and age, the spread of the internet has been ubiquitous among populations; governments, terrorists, corporations, individuals, the elite, those in developing countries, and everyone in between have integrated the internet into their lives. Individuals are connected to and affect the lives of more people than ever before, leading to the development of social network theory. The nature of the internet and its impact on society can be analyzed by viewing it as a Complex Adaptive System.

    As they have only begun to be studied fairly recently, complex adaptive systems (hereby referred to as CAS) lack an agreed-upon, comprehensive, formal definition. Murray Gell-Mann, one of the pioneers of the field, offers the characterization that, “A complex adaptive system acquires information about its environment and its own interaction with that environment, identifying regularities in that information…into a kind of ‘schema’, and acting in the real world on the basis of that schema” (Gell-Mann, 1994). This can be interpreted to mean that CAS are a product of their surroundings while they simultaneously influence it. Certain properties appear to be inherent to CAS, such as: emergence, co-evolution with their environment, connectivity/feedback, iteration, nesting, and self organization (Freyer). In fact, all of these properties are related to one another in many ways. Emergence can spontaneously occur through self-organization (Peak and Frame, 1994). Feedback loops in the emergent system result in co-evolution, which in turn lead to further iterations of the system. Nested systems, which might be thought of as fractals within the overall system, are self-similar replicas of the system at different scales, thus both changing and being affected by the system. In fact, the fractal dimension of the World Wide Web has been analyzed, and found to have a dimensionality of 4.1 (Kim et al. 2006) The dynamics of the internet can be analyzed through these properties, and the change and influence it has on the physical world can be determined through social network theory.

    Emergence can be stated as the property of a collection of independent systems to combine and form a more complex structure without being designed in such a fashion. A well known reference to emergence describes an object as being “greater than the sum of its parts”. Emergence closely relates to self-organization (which can be considered analogous to a “grassroots” movement), in which a system experiences a reduction in entropy and becomes more organized without external influence (Peak and Frame, 1994). According to Peak and Frame, this can be done without violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics as the reduction in entropy only occurs locally, and the system will eventually fall into a disorganized state. Clearly, the internet exhibits both of these traits. The Internet began in the 1960s as a series of connected government and university computers. Without being planned by any “master architect”, its networking slowly evolved until the World Wide Web emerged on the “” server in 1990, which marked the foundation of the “server-client” Internet known today (Berners-Lee, 1996). Over the next two decades, millions of other servers were established; the connection between a server and a client is simple, but the collection of all servers and all clients is massively complex. Self-organization of this “schema” , as Gell-Mann might call it, fueled further growth of the Internet, resulting in e-mail, search engines, social networking sites, image and video indexing, wikis, and the other entities which now comprise the internet.

    The next properties to examine, which are again related, are co-evolution, feedback, and iteration. The internet forms the basis of an entire world which has no corporeal form, but does exist digitally. A computer may physically store little more than a string of zeroes and ones, but this binary information can make up a plethora of objects; it can represent an equation, a bank balance, a text document, or even artificial intelligence. Even though the Internet encapsulates a “world” of its own, from a human frame of reference, it co-exists with the rest of the universe. It functionally changes the “real” world, and therefore, as the Internet evolves and adapts, the environment it resides in changes, causing a cycle of adaptation. Simply put, the internet undergoes co-evolution with human society. Viewed from another angle, this is simply a feedback loop, which results in further and further iterations of the original system; co-evolution, iteration, and feedback are inseparable from each other, and are different “angles” of the same process. Google stands as a prime example of these three properties. As the internet increased in complexity, a new method of indexing the vast number of websites was required, rather than memorizing large numbers of URLs. In response, search engines, which function somewhat like an internet “phone book,” were created. The very existence of search engines are a product of the various characteristics of CAS, and Google soon became the dominant search engine due to its superior algorithms which efficiently and effectively catalog the entire Web for the end user (Asadi). As greater numbers of people began using Google, it went through rapid co-evolution; it began to offer other services, such as email, image searching, digital maps, and more. The company constantly iterated on its services: its search function was offered in dozens of languages, Gmail expanded its storage, image searching expanded to video, digital maps were updated to 3D, and various other miscellaneous services were added (Google). For Google to maintain their status as the world’s foremost information technology company is no small feat. The corporation employs an extremely complex and detailed feedback system to constantly iterate and co-evolve. Google records every piece of pertinent information about its searches: the user’s IP, the search content, the pages that are visited, the time spent between searches, and more. It saves “snapshots” of each page indexed on its engine, and adds another “snapshot” when the site is updated or altered in any way. Not only does Google create data from web pages and user actions, but “it knows everything across time” (Last Psychiatrist). With this mountain of data, AdSense, yet another Google creation, attempts to shape banner advertisements uniquely to each client. Google stands as a landmark in the growth of the internet.

    Nested systems, the final “trait” to be analyzed, essentially consist of systems containing self-similar systems which contain yet more systems. For example, the World Wide Web is a nested system residing within the Internet. The Web contains top-level domains, encompassing second-level domains (websites) which can either include many webpages or be further subdivided into tertiary domains, such as "". (Vixie, 2007). Perhaps the most influential, important nested systems are social networking sites, which have changed the nature of human interaction worldwide. Social networking theory views individuals as “nodes” and their relationship to others as “links”. It turns out that the same power-law logarithmic relationships which govern fractal and chaotic behavior also govern the connection of links to nodes in a social network (Barabasi, 2004). Stated another way, a small percentage of nodes are responsible for the majority of links, and those nodes wield more power and have a higher link growth rate. Sites like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter allow an individual to communicate directly and instantly with hundreds of other people, and indirectly to anyone with internet access. Services like LinkedIn allow social networking between industries and professional workers, allowing widespread access to potential careers and jobs. As these services continue to be used, more nodes appear, new links appear, and old links strengthen, which hastens the flow of information (Barabasi, 2004, Berners-Lee, 2007). In addition, in some cases they have a profound impact on the lives of many. After the devastating earthquake in early 2010 in Haiti, many thousands of victims were trapped underneath buildings without food or water. Many people sent Twitter messages, stating their location and physical condition, aiding rescue efforts to save them. In one case, Twitter and text messaging helped volunteers deliver supplies to an orphanage which had run out of water (Forrest, 2010). Another man, who was buried under rubble and badly injured, used his iPhone and, “Consulted this app [Pocket First Aid and CPR], while trapped under Hotel Montana in Haiti earthquake, to treat excessive bleeding and shock. Helped me stay alive till I was rescued 64 hours later.” (Chen, 2010) The increased communication from social networking and the Web has undeniably improved the quality of life worldwide, and even saved lives.

    With each passing day, the Internet changes the face of the entire world more and more. In Zanesville, Ohio, in 2008, attorneys representing African-Americans in a lawsuit against the city, alleging discrimination through denial of water, turned to the internet. By using mapping technology, ethnic makeup data, and utility consumption data, they were able to compile a digital map which clearly displayed that the houses with water pipelines were mostly White households, with the pipelines stopping abruptly once reaching the predominantly Black neighborhood, resulting in an over $10 million awarded in damages (Berners-Lee, 2010). Stories like this will become more commonplace as the internet equalizes the playing field by giving everyone equal access to an incredible wealth of information. The world has radically changed more in the last 20 years than in the previous 200 before that, due to the complex adaptive system known as the internet. Whether technology is bringing society towards a fixed point, or has it well down the period-doubling route to chaos, only time will tell. Iteration by iteration, the internet continues not only to shape, but to define the world at an ever increasing rate, towards an unknowable future.


    Leiner, Barry, et al. 1997. “A Brief History of the Internet”. ACM SIGCOMM Computer Communication Review. Vol 39, Issue 5. Pgs 1-4. 

    Internet World Stats. “Internet Usage Statistics: The Internet Big Picture”. Miniwatts Marketing Group. Last Updated 2010. Accessed 3/14/10., 

    Gell-Mann, Murray. The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and Complex. 1994. Henry Holt and Company. New York. Pg. 17.

    Freyer, Peter. “A brief descriptions of Complex Adaptive Systems and Complexity Theory.” TrojanMice. No creation date. Accessed 3/15/10.

    Peak, David and Frame, Michael. “Chaos Under Control: The Art and Science of Complexity”. W.H. Freeman and Company. New York. Pg. 352-359.

    Kim, J.S. et al. 2006. “Fractality in complex networks: critical and supercritical skeletons”. Physical Review. Edition 75 016110. Pgs 3-5. Accessed 3/15/10.

    Berners-Lee, Tim. “The World Wide Web: Past, Present, Future”. 1996. Accessed 3/14/10.
    “Digital Future of the United States: Part I – The Future of the World Wide Web”. 2007. Accessed 3/14/10. 
    “The Year Open Data Went Worldwide.” Lecture TED Summit 2010.

    Asadi, S and Jamali, H. 2004. “Shifts in Search Engine Development: A Review of Past, Present, and Future Trends in Research on Search Engines”. Webology. Vol 1, No 2. Accessed 3/15/10. 

    Google. “Corporate Information: Google Milestones”. Updated 2010. Accessed 3/12/10. 

    Last Psychiatrist. “What Hath Google Wrought.” Updated 10/07/07. Accessed 3/3/10. 

    Vixie, Paul. 2007. “DNS Complexity.” Association for Computing Machinery. Vol 5, Issue 3. Pgs 24-29. Accessed 3/14/10. 

    Barabasi, Albert-Lazlo. “Linked: The New Science of Networks.” Barabasi’s Science of Networks. Updated 2004. Accessed 3/14/10. 

    Forrest, Brady. “Technology Saves Lives in Haiti.” Published 2/1/10. Accessed 3/14/10. 

    Chen, Brian. “Man Buried in Haiti Rubble Uses iPhone to Treat Wounds, Survive”. Published 1/20/2010. Accessed 3/14/10. 
    Wed, Mar 17, 2010  Permanent link

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