The Last Answer

Jun 10th, 2010 by adminadam in fiction, prose

The Last Answer by Isaac Asimov — © 1980

Murray Templeton was forty-five years old, in the prime of life, and with all parts of his body in perfect working order except for certain key portions of his coronary arteries, but that was enough.

The pain had come suddenly, had mounted to an unbearable peak, and had then ebbed steadily.  He could feel his breath slowing and a kind of gathering peace washing over him.

There is no pleasure like the absence of pain – immediately after pain.  Murray felt an almost giddy lightness as though he were lifting in the air and hovering.

He opened his eyes and noted with distant amusement that the others in the room were still agitated.  He had been in the laboratory when the pain had struck, quite without warning, and when he had staggered, he had heard surprised outcries from the others before everything vanished into overwhelming agony.

Now, with the pain gone, the others were still hovering, still anxious, still gathered about his fallen body –– Which, he suddenly realised, he was looking down on.

He was down there, sprawled, face contorted.  He was up here, at peace and watching.

He thought: Miracle of miracles!  The life-after-life nuts were right.

And although that was a humiliating way for an atheistic physicist to die, he felt only the mildest surprise, and no alteration of the peace in which he was immersed.

He thought: There should be some angel – or something – coming for me.

The Earthly scene was fading.  Darkness was invading his consciousness and off in a distance, as a last glimmer of sight, there was a figure of light, vaguely human in form, and radiating warmth.

Murray thought: What a joke on me.  I’m going to Heaven.

Even as he thought that, the light faded, but the warmth remained.  There was no lessening of the peace even though in all the Universe only he remained – and the Voice.

The Voice said, “I have done this so often and yet I still have the capacity to be pleased at success.”

It was in Murray’s mind to say something, but he was not conscious of possessing a mouth, tongue, or vocal chords.  Nevertheless, tried to make a sound.  He tried, mouthlessly, to hum words or breathe them or just push them out by a contraction of – something.

And they came out.  He heard his own voice, quite recognisable, and his own words, infinitely clear.

Murray said, “Is this Heaven?”

The Voice said, “This is no place as you understand place.”

Murray was embarrassed, but the next question had to be asked.  “Pardon me if I sound like a jackass.  Are you God?”

Without changing intonation or in any way marring the perfection of the sound, the Voice managed to sound amused.  “It is strange that I am always asked that in, of course, an infinite number of ways.  There is no answer I can give that you would comprehend.  I am – which is all that I can say significantly and you may cover that with any word or concept you please.”

Murray said, “And what am I?  A soul?  Or am I only personified existence too?”  He tried not to sound sarcastic, but it seemed to him that he had failed.  He thought then, fleetingly, of adding a ‘Your Grace’ or ‘Holy One’ or something to counteract the sarcasm, and could not bring himself to do so even though for the first time in his existence he speculated on the possibility of being punished for his insolence – or sin? – with Hell, and what that might be like.

The Voice did not sound offended.  “You are easy to explain – even to you.  You may call yourself a soul if that pleases you, but what you are is a nexus of electromagnetic forces, so arranged that all the interconnections and interrelationships are exactly imitative of those of your brain in your Universe-existence – down to the smallest detail.  Therefore you have your capacity for thought, your memories, your personality.  It still seems to you that you are you.”

Murray found himself incredulous.  “You mean the essence of my brain was permanent?”

“Not at all.  There is nothing about you that is permanent except what I choose to make so.  I formed the nexus.  I constructed it while you had physical existence and adjusted it to the moment when the existence failed.”

The Voice seemed distinctly pleased with itself, and went on after a moment’s pause.  “An intricate but entirely precise construction.  I could, of course, do it for every human being on your world but I am pleased that I do not.  There is pleasure in the selection.”

“You choose very few then?”

“Very few.”

“And what happens to the rest?”

“Oblivion! – Oh, of course, you imagine a Hell.”

Murray would have flushed if he had the capacity to do so.  He said, “I do not.  It is spoken of.  Still, I would scarcely have thought I was virtuous enough to have attracted your attention as one of the Elect.”

“Virtuous? – Ah, I see what you mean.  It is troublesome to have to force my thinking small enough to permeate yours.  No, I have chosen you for your capacity for thought, as I choose others, in quadrillions, from all the intelligent species of the Universe.”

Murray found himself suddenly curious, the habit of a lifetime.  He said, “Do you choose them all yourself or are there others like you?”

For a fleeting moment, Murray thought there was an impatient reaction to that, but when the Voice came, it was unmoved.  “Whether or not there are others is irrelevant to you.  This Universe is mine, and mine alone.  It is my invention, my construction, intended for my purpose alone.”

“And yet with quadrillions of nexi you have formed, you spend time with me?  Am I that important?”

The Voice said, “You are not important at all.  I am also with others in a way which, to your perception, would seem simultaneous.”

“And yet you are one?”

Again amusement.  The Voice said, “You seek to trap me into an inconsistency.  If you were an amoeba who could consider individuality only in connection with single cells and if you were to ask a sperm whale, made up of thirty quadrillion cells, whether it was one or many, how could the sperm whale answer in a way that would be comprehensible to the amoeba?”

Murray said dryly, “I’ll think about it.  It may become comprehensible.”

“Exactly.  That is your function.  You will think.”

“To what end?  You already know everything, I suppose.”

The Voice said, “Even if I knew everything, I could not know that I know everything.”

Murray said, “That sounds like a bit of Eastern philosophy – something that sounds profound precisely because it has no meaning.”

The Voice said, “You have promise.  You answer my paradox with a paradox – except that mine is not a paradox.  Consider.  I have existed eternally, but what does that mean?  It means I cannot remember having come into existence.  If I could, I would not have existed eternally.  If I cannot remember having come into existence, then there is at least one thing – the nature of my coming into existence – that I do not know.

“Then, too, although what I know is infinite, it is also true that what there is to know is infinite, and how can I be sure that both infinities are equal?  The infinity of potential knowledge may be infinitely greater than the infinity of my actual knowledge.  Here is a simple example: If I knew every one of the even integers, I would know an infinite number of items, and yet I would still not know a single odd integer.”

Murray said, “But the odd integers can be derived.  If you divide every even integer in the entire infinite series by two, you will get another infinite series which will contain within it the infinite series of odd integers.”

The Voice said, “You have the idea.  I am pleased.  It will be your task to find other such ways, far more difficult ones, from the known to the not-yet-known.  You have your memories.  You will remember all the data you have ever collected or learned, or that you have or will deduce from that data.  If necessary, you will be allowed to learn what additional data you will consider relevant to the problems you set yourself.”

“Could you not do all that for yourself?”

The Voice said, “I can, but it is more interesting this way.  I constructed the Universe in order to have more facts to deal with.  I inserted the uncertainty principle, entropy, and other randomisation factors to make the whole not instantly obvious.  It has worked well for it has amused me throughout its entire existence.

“I then allowed complexities that produced first life and then intelligence, and use it as a source for a research team, not because I need the aid, but because it would introduce a new random factor.  I found I could not predict the next interesting piece of knowledge gained, where it would come from, by what means derived.”

Murray said, “Does that ever happen?”

“Certainly.  A century doesn’t pass in which some interesting item doesn’t appear somewhere.”

“Something that you could have thought of yourself, but had not done so yet?”

“Yes.”

Murray said, “Do you actually think there’s a chance of my obliging you in this manner?”

“In the next century?  Virtually none.  In the long run, though, your success is certain, since you will be engaged eternally.”

Murray said, “I will be thinking through eternity?  Forever?”

“Yes.”

“To what end?”

“I have told you.  To find new knowledge.”

“But beyond that.  For what purpose am I to find new knowledge?”

“It was what you did in your Universe-bound life.  What was its purpose then?”

Murray said, “To gain new knowledge that only I could gain.  To receive the praise of my fellows.  To feel the satisfaction of accomplishment knowing that I had only a short time allotted me for the purpose. – Now I would gain only what you could gain yourself if you wished to take a small bit of trouble.  You cannot praise me; you can only be amused.  And there is no credit or satisfaction in accomplishment when I have all eternity to do it in.”

The Voice said, “And you do not find thought and discovery worthwhile in itself?  You do not find it requiring no further purpose?”

“For a finite time, yes.  Not for all eternity.”

“I see your point.  Nevertheless, you have no choice.”

“You say I am to think.  You cannot make me do so.”

The Voice said, “I do not wish to constrain you directly.  I will not need to.  Since you can do nothing but think, you will think.  You do not know how not to think.”

“Then I will give myself a goal.  I will invent a purpose.”

The Voice said tolerantly, “That you can certainly do.”

“I have already found a purpose.”

“May I know what it is?”

“You know already.  I know we are not speaking in the ordinary fashion.  You adjust my nexus is such a way that I believe I hear you and I believe I speak, but you transfer thoughts to me and from me directly.  And when my nexus changes with my thoughts you are at once aware of them and do not need my voluntary transmission.”

The Voice said, “You are surprisingly correct.  I am pleased. – But it also pleases me to have you tell me your thoughts voluntarily.”

“Then I will tell you.  The purpose of my thinking will be to discover a way to disrupt this nexus of me that you have created.  I do not want to think for no purpose but to amuse you.  I do not want to think forever to amuse you.  I do not want to exist forever to amuse you.  All my thinking will be directed toward ending the nexus.  That would amuse me.”

The Voice said, “I have no objection to that.  Even concentrated thought on ending your own existence may, in spite of you, come up with something new and interesting.  And, of course, if you succeed in this suicide attempt you will have accomplished nothing, for I would instantly reconstruct you and in such a way as to make your method of suicide impossible.  And if you found another and still more subtle fashion of disrupting yourself, I would reconstruct you with that possibility eliminated, and so on.  It could be an interesting game, but you will nevertheless exist eternally.  It is my will.”

Murray felt a quaver but the words came out with a perfect calm.  “Am I in Hell then, after all?  You have implied there is none, but if this were Hell you would lie to us as part of the game of Hell.”

The Voice said, “In that case, of what use is it to assure you that you are not in Hell?  Nevertheless, I assure you.  There is here neither Heaven nor Hell.  There is only myself.”

Murray said, “Consider, then, that my thoughts may be useless to you.  If I come up with nothing useful, will it not be worth your while to – disassemble me and take no further trouble with me?”

“As a reward?  You want Nirvana as the prize of failure and you intend to assure me failure?  There is no bargain there.  You will not fail.  With all eternity before you, you cannot avoid having at least one interesting thought, however you try against it.”

“Then I will create another purpose for myself.  I will not try to destroy myself.  I will set as my goal the humiliation of you.  I will think of something you have not only never thought of but never could think of.  I will think of the last answer, beyond which there is no knowledge further.”

The Voice said, “You do not understand the nature of the infinite.  There may be things I have not yet troubled to know.  There cannot be anything I cannot know.”

Murray said thoughtfully, “You cannot know your beginning.  You have said so.  Therefore you cannot know your end.  Very well, then.  That will be my purpose and that will be the last answer.  I will not destroy myself.  I will destroy you – if you do not destroy me first.”

The Voice said, “Ah!  You come to that in rather less than average time.  I would have thought it would have taken you longer.  There is not one of those I have with me in this existence of perfect and eternal thought that does not have the ambition of destroying me.  It cannot be done.”

Murray said, “I have all eternity to think of a way of destroying you.”

The Voice said, equably, “Then try to think of it.”  And it was gone.

But Murray had his purpose now and was content.

For what could any Entity, conscious of eternal existence, want – but an end?

For what else had the Voice been searching for countless billions of years?  And for what other reason had intelligence been created and certain specimens salvaged and put to work, but to aid in that great search?  And Murray intended that it would be he, and he alone, who would succeed.

Carefully, and with the thrill of purpose, Murray began to think.

He had plenty of time.

120 Comments

  • Another gem I’ve read many times! Amazing. I’ll read it many more times before I die…

  • Again, another priceless tale that only Asimov could construct. To all those who have read, and enjoyed, this amusing story, I highly recommend The Last Question, also by Asimov. Another interesting story about entropy and the struggle of Man to find an answer.

    • Yes, oh, yes. Happen to have a spare copy right here: http://thrivenotes.com/the-last-question

    • Out of curiosity what did you think you were reading?

      • The Last Answer, perhaps? (As opposed to The Last Question).

      • Amazingly interesting read. It makes me wonder how much philosophical research was done before this was written. Being someone who believes in God (Being Yahweh) (Because all men should believe in SOMETHING) I found this quite close to what I have come to understand (however little that is) about Him that is. The statement “I Am” is quite a biblical one. Now, understand, I do not, in any way, read this from a religious point of view, I can’t stand religion, But the thought of there being no heaven, or hell even, sounds too… depressing. As a human being I am naturally inclined towards the desire to be saved from something and/or by someone. I do not believe that He that is has us exist for only his amusement, nor do I want to.

        But, to each his own. This was still a remarkable read.

        • “Because all men should believe in SOMETHING”

          Yes, but why a diving being for which you have no evidence or good reason to believe in? I believe in the good of man, family, love, democracy, freedom of speech, etc.

          • J. Anthony Carter

            “Yes, but why a diving being…” I sure hope you meant “Divine Being” because I read nothing about anyone doing any diving in the story above. On the qwerty keyboard, “e” and “g” are too far apart for it to have been a simple slip. Also, nowhere in the story do I see the author, or the character in the story for that matter, asking you what YOU believe in. Sure would have made a total mess of the wonderful and thoughtful story the author wrote now wouldn’t it?

          • The good of man… like maybe Hitler, or the pimp down the street who beats his women when they don’t make enough? The good of man will fail, God alone is good. That’s why we need to be saved from ourselves, not God.

            As for evidence, maybe you should read some Quantum mechanics, most of the experts today believe in a Divine Being.

        • You are “naturally inclined” to desire a saviour lifted from the pages of deism? Natural inclinations do not need to be obliged. People naturally desire to steal, rape and injure.

          Cleaning away the superstitions of heaven and hell is the opposite of depressing. It opens the door to placing greater value on the very mortal human life, and on contributing to mortal society that it may thrive after one’s own death rather than contributing to some ethereal bank account of at best flimsy morality.

          • You may not be reading this from a religious standpoint, but this story addresses the incongruities of religious text. Not directly but with pseudo-theory. Religion is the attempted explanation of the unknown and this story addresses the unknown while putting absolutely no emphasis on the individual. This is what offends you, and many other atheists; atheists want to believe they and all others are important, but they are not. Most human beings are insignificant, this fleeting thought is addressed in the text and it is what you hate.
            Humanity will be short lived, a memory in a divine beings consciousness freedoms and working towards future generations are short term goals that are of the “utmost importance.” But they are not, freedoms will be forgotten and if the atheists are correct we will rot in the ground with no memories of our accomplishments and an endless blackness, if they are not correct the possibilities are endless.

        • J. Anthony Carter

          I believe it was Isaac Asimov himself who said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. I say that as a preface to my comments because in no way was the antagonist in this story ever claiming to be “God”. He did claim the ability to create the protagonist and his entire Universe and consciousness. This does leave room for “God” to have been the creator of the antagonist (although this is never overtly addressed).

          All men DO believe in “SOMETHING”, even if it’s a belief in nothing. You believe all men should believe in something. I’m sure there are men out there who believe no one has to believe in anything.

          As a being of much higher order (a rough label I am using merely for expediency’s sake), labeling yourself “I AM” (from it’s point of view) is much preferable compared to explaining and making yourself, in your entirety, understandable to a lower level life form. Consider it a label of expediency as well instead of trying to read “The Bible” into it.

          I am, and I do, are the shortest complete sentences that can be written in the English language. (Just an aside, Lol!)

          I doubt Mr. Asimov bothered with philosophical research. Not counting the classes, and church (regardless of denomination), he had to attend growing up. Anyone with imagination has, at one time or the other, dealt with these concepts. As a mental exercise, if nothing else. Here, we find an author writing out one version of his grappling with the infinite.

          You say “I do not, in any way, read this from a religious point of view, I can’t stand religion,” Yet in your comment you bring up four points that show that’s exactly how you’re reading this. You never bring up the point that this being never claims godhood or even that it itself might have been created by what we consider God as an out for yourself from having your understanding of the story be religion based.

          Please excuse me for tearing your comment apart. It wasn’t done in anger but in logic. The way you wrote, what you wrote, explains the controversy in voting. You write one thing but say another.

          • It was Arthur C. Clarke who said that. It one of his “laws”.

          • You say all men have to believe in something, well you´re wrong. I don´t believe, I know.

            That is the fundamental difference, those that deny the act of observation to preserve faith are believers, those that give into observation and value the feedback are those that end up as Atheists.

            Atheists don´t believe there is no god, they know there is no god.

          • @Ellert, How can you KNOW anything for certain? For example, do you know why/how gravity works? Didn’t think so. But you trust that you will not go shooting up into the air if you step outside. I would say that true knowledge is impossible. Whatever the idea/issue/point/theory/”law”/etc, there is always some element of faith/belief that what you know is correct.

            Also, can you disprove the existence of God? No. You can no more disprove the existence of God than I can prove it.

            “I would rather live as if there is a God and die to find out there isn’t, than live as if there isn’t, and die to find out there is.” – Albert Camus

          • True Knowledge is not impossible. 2+2=4. There is no evidence for God’s existence. Admittedly there is no evidence for the non-existence of God either, but then again, there is also clearly no evidence for Zeus or any other previously-fashionable god. The burden of proof is, I believe, on the believers in this scientific world.

          • J. Anthony Carter, I enjoyed your comments on the story. However, I can’t say that I agree with your assertion that “all men DO believe in SOMETHING, even if it’s a belief in nothing.” What I mean to say is that “nothing” isn’t a funny kind of “something.” Language often fools us into believing that we can speak of “nothing.” But aren’t we treating “nothing” as if it is “something” when we speak of it. To speak of is to speak of “something,” but “nothing” isn’t. “Nothing” is the absolute negation of “being.” When someone asks you what you believe in, they are demanding an answer which signifies “something.” If I tell you I want to talk to you about “nothing” would we be able to talk about it? No, because the pronoun “it” signifies “something,” but “nothing” isn’t anything. So, how can you say that men can believe in “nothing” if the rules of language allow one to replace the direct object “nothing” with the pronoun “it,” which signifies something?

          • Contradictionfive

            @ Ellert

            I’m an atheist and I don’t KNOW there is no god, but in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary must deny his existence, at least in the way I live my life. Debating the actual existence of God is retarded. I’m pretty sure, logically speaking, we (atheists) have sort of already won that debate. Theists, again and again, need to fall back on logical fallacies to even respond to atheist critique. In the modern world it is still encouraged and acceptable to be a Christian, but go around talking about Jesus and the miracles he performed and the coming of the Rapture then you would be branded a nut-job, or at least marginalized as a “fundamentalists” which is a dirty word to most folks now.

            I deny the existence of God in the Judeo-Christian sense, but I can’t speak against deism or other facets of spirituality because frankly we don’t know enough. About anything. We are learning more and more and have decided that we don’t need the Church to figure things out on our own. Quantum physics is getting us closer and closer to truths about our reality.

            A “true” atheists knows nothings, but is always learning.

          • I am extremely late to the party. What struck me to the point of wanting to comment was:

            @CONTRADICTIONFIVE

            You state:

            “Debating the actual existence of God is retarded. ”

            … and yet you debate.

            Furthermore, you state:

            “I’m pretty sure, logically speaking, we (atheists) have sort of already won that debate. Theists, again and again, need to fall back on logical fallacies to even respond to atheist critique. ”

            Actually, no. Until an atheist can prove that 0+0=1 then there is no logical explanation of the universe’s existence. It have to have been created. I could not have always existed. If the universe always existed, then infinite regression would cause us never to exist to debate if there is a god or gods. We would never get to the point in time to debate, as an infinite amount of time would have had to pass before we existed.

            Until atheists can prove that nothing created something from nothing, then they are just as guilty as using faith as a reason to say that there is NO god, as a religious person in saying that their god exists.

            Indeed, while the religious state that their beliefs are guided by faith, you claim that they are engaged in logical fallacies. What is more illogical than believing something that cannot be proven, and yet, claim that logic is the determinant?

            I humbly submit that, at best, one who is logic-driven would be an agnostic, that is, they would state that they do NOT KNOW if there is a god or gods, or if there ever were. The “atheist critique” is no more engaging than a Muslim debating a Jew on the nature of their god. This is because like the Muslim and the Jew, their atheistic belief is grounded faith, in their case being that there is no god. Logically, one cannot prove that something does not exist.

            I am not here to debate if there is a god or not. I am simply pointing out that an atheist can never win such an argument by claiming that they are grounded in logic.

        • Your argument of natural inclination towards salvation is deeply flawed. I live as someone who believes in a higher force, an external influence, yet I have never been so sure of anything as I am that death and its consequences does not include conversation, cellular structure, sex, or introspection.
          Although I will grant you that striving to understand the state of being dead and the nuances that accompany that state, I am resigned to and comforted by the notion that there is no way our pathetic consciousness could ever pretend comprehend what that truly entails.
          This story is the closest thing I’ve come across, apart from some details of Eastern religions (although Eastern religion cannot be defined and labeled as it has been, Hinduism for example is simply a collection of individual traditions and ritual lumped together by our culture)that touches on some of the humility I depend on to keep me asking questions. And yet, I don’t hold my breath and wait for that ‘last answer’…

      • WTF. This is one of the dumbest things I have ever read. What a waste of imagination.

        • The fact that you use the word ‘dumbest’ tells all of us so much. Care to explain why it’s a waste?

          • The fact that he used the word “dumbest” speaks only of his relevance, really, and nothing of his intelligence.

            Nobody says “dumb” anymore.

        • I love a troublemaker! More power to your elbow mate!

      • grasping for straws! when you will stand before God, it wont be to chit chat about nonsense about thinking things over, it will be for judgment for all eternity and the consequences each of us brought on ourselves. trust me, there is a hell far beyond anything you can dream up or deny.

        • did you ever consider that one’s experience of the concepts of “heaven” or “hell” may very well depend on one’s belief or disbelief of the concept(s)?

        • Tell me, why should I trust who that there is a hell? Why do you suppose that you have this powerful insight, or that your church has this powerful insight into the unknowable? Why can you not have the humility to realize that there are claims that, even if you believe them, are without evidence, and treating others with contempt or scorn because of them is of the highest folly known to humankind.

          Asimov was writing fiction. He wasn’t grasping at straws. He was inventing them. Some of the most beautiful straws I ever saw, as well.

        • I’ve been just reading posts. I know I’m a little late to the party, but I am appalled at the veracity of your statement. Does the Bible say to scold people for thinking things through? Does it say anything about there being a “hell”? In the KJV, our definition for ‘hell’ is derived from tartaros, which is where “the angels that sinned” were being RESERVED FOR JUDGMENT. Our definition also comes from the Hebrew word ‘sheol’, which is just the place, or rather state, of the dead. Anyone that dies goes to sheol. Christ went to sheol. To recap, ‘tartaros’ is where the bad angels go to await judgment. ‘Sheol’ is where everyone goes when they die. And besides, to claim that God would allow people to be sent to the popular ‘hell’ described by Dante Alighieri in ‘The Divine Comedy’ is just ludicrous.

      • Ah, the only purpose of thought is to destroy the unknown. Well done.

      • Approximately a single century later, Murray finally came up with an answer. He called out to The Voice, who appeared at once.
        The Voice said, “So you have finally come to a conclusion?”
        “I have,” Murray said.
        The Voice, ever so calm, paused …for a moment, as if considering its next words.
        “And what have you concluded?” asked The Voice.
        Murray paused, gathered his thoughts, and smiled inwardly with the greatest capacity.
        “Forty two.”

      • Indeed, this was a good read, but I guess I was expecting a “last answer”. Wasn’t expecting a cliff hanger from a story titled “The Last Answer”…..huh

        • Look up one comment for the answer –^

        • J. Anthony Carter

          Isn’t getting what you DIDN’T expect the whole purpose behind reading stories of this caliber?? Hmmmm? :-D

        • The point is that there are no last answers because every question answered leads to even more questions. I doubt that any philosopher has been a happy man/woman.

      • Interesting story, however I have a problem with both characters, the recently deceased scientist, and the mysterious unidentified entity.
        First the dead scientist is still thinking, even though his body and therefore brain are no longer functioning. So by what mechanism do his thought processes continue? If he is just a nexus of electromagnetic energy frozen at the time of his demise, how can he think of new ideas. He would need access to stimulation, and new experiences to formulate them. Otherwise he will just be rehashing old memories, cycling around uselessly. To such an ego bound intelligence the prospect of eternity would be horrifying, and would be truly hellish.
        The mysterious voice character is even more problematic. He claims to be infinite, but also displays a very human weakness, the need to exploit others for his own amusement. Such a being is a contradiction, and can only be a human creation limited by the finite human mind.
        The human mind as wonderful as it is, cannot comprehend the concepts of eternity and infinity, that is why these characters are logically inconsistent and contradictory.
        Mr Asimov does not have the answers to these questions, nor do I or anybody else, including all of the worlds religions.
        Perhaps we shall all find out one day, when our appointment with time arrives.

        • I’m afraid I find it equally contradictory when on one hand you say we cannot grasp the infinite and then on the other say that an infinite being would not act a certain way. Surely you cannot reasonably claim both.

        • Harold, you are not intelligent.

          This short piece is a work of fiction. It appears that the scope of your imagination is so stunted that you feel the need to take issue with characters in a STORY that do not entirely correspond to reality.

          Isaac Asimov has produced a rich metaphorical work that touches on some prominent philosophical notions. You have produced a comment that is invalid.

        • “If he is just a nexus of electromagnetic energy frozen at the time of his demise, how can he think of new ideas”

          – He is not a singular nexus of electromagnetic energy, nor is he frozen at the time of his demise. He is a projection of a part of the nexus of energy that is everything, by my reading. Thusly, he can access ‘infinite’ amounts of “stimulation and new experiences” at any moment.

          “a very human weakness, the need to exploit others for his own amusement”

          – I take this character differently. He does not “need to exploit” anyone, but rather desires to create and explore those creations. When we create babies and revel in their discovery, even though we expect it and know where it will likely lead, we are not exploiting anything, are we? I find a similar relationship here.

          “Mr Asimov does not have the answers to these questions, nor do I or anybody else, including all of the worlds religions”

          – No, of course not. If anyone did have the answers, there would be no point in writing stories. But since we don’t have all the answers, it is oh so much fun to play with ideas, no? Why else read or write or speak with anyone, if not merely to enjoy and explore?

      • [ADMIN EDIT] The following comment was posted by the original author below in the comments section: Waste your lives chasing your tails you nimwits. This is truely “mental masturbation”. Nope’s response follows…

        “Mental masturbation” is as healthy and normal as regular masturbation, and everyone participates in it. It exercises the mind and is the foundation of all art – whether or not the creation is any good, is based solely upon the complexity of the exercise and therefore the participants’ immersion.

        If science be your cause, and truth your aim, surely you cannot divorce basic ontology and metaphysics from your meandering. Abstract reasoning is the mother of invention, as it is necessary for creation. This process is strengthened by exercises Asimov and many other philosophers partake in and share with their audience.

        Shame on you, so many logical fallacies pollute your simple statement. Is nothing sacred to the troll?

      • I’m an atheist, so theologically I obviously don’t think that that is how it is, but with that out of the way, I think it’s a very good piece of fiction, which I am certain that it was originally intended to be. Simply a bit of entertaining “What if?” philosophy.

      • Didn’t realize when I was reading it that is was Asimov. But didn’t surprise me. Mediocre like most of his work. Disappointed, those who call themselves scientist are such shitty writers with very small ideas.

        • How is this “shitty” writing as well as a small idea? You make large claims that you do not back up with evidence. This is merely one man’s story, a view into his though process. This story was not created for you but for himself, to explore ideas and philosophies.

        • Because quality of writing is subject to opinion, I suppose you have the right to believe this is mediocre if you wish, however I believe that a very large majority of people will be quite against you in this belief. If most of Asimov’s work was mediocre, I don’t believe he would have gotten a whole lot published to begin with.

  • Consciousness I

    Flesticle. It is sufficient. Flesticle. Only a goal as universally significant can be as important as Flesticle.

  • Isaac Asimov – The Great.
    Deep and interesting read…

  • what a terribly delectible peice of food for thought, perhaps I will mull it over

  • Nonsense. He failed to meet the real mighty creator merciful and loving without flaws and needs. interesting man of science, but only human.no the only and real god never gets bored. he is too busy loving.

    • Pfftt never gets bored? How could I get bored watching you ants kill and rape each other all the time for all time.
      Your silly if you think I even care let alone love all 6 billion of you lazy bastards.

      -God

      • Dear God, I like your comment. You’re awesome. And also – can you tell me the lottery numbers?

      • Dear God.

        Your grammar checker is in error. The construct You intended to use, “You are silly” in Your last sentence is marred by Your lack of proper grammar usage.

        You improperly used “Your” instead of the correct “You’re”

        GodFail.

        • Your implying I care about retarded human linguistic constructs. My ways are higher then you’re puny hummin logic

          The biggest troll who never lived,
          God

          • Dear dad,

            Please stop getting wasted and antagonizing the humans. Our public approval rating is the lowest it’s been in nearly 2,000 years, the world is falling apart, and you’ve missed the Apocalypse THREE TIMES because you passed out nose-deep in a hooker’s ass-crack.

            Sincerely,
            Jesus

            PS: Can you freeze my drink, quick? It’s getting warm.

          • Oh Jesus Christ, here we go again. Why did I even make you in the first place? Oh yeah to kill you for the sins I made. Sure wish I left you dead. Man, I already got enough trouble with this invisible ghost guy looking over my shoulder, I don’t need to deal with your crap. Alright, look I told you this once, and I’m not going to tell you again. I tried to make up for the whole printing press thing by “inspiring” some shit Moe told me one day, but when the internet came out we were fucked and you know that. Plus, what’s the point of being all powerful if you can’t do whatever you want? Also, if you’re me why don’t you chill your own damn drink!

            Just glad humans help pay my alimony checks,
            God

            P.S. don’t tell your mother, but I won the lawsuit against the condom company. Extra thin for my pleasure?!?! Shoulda just gone bareback.

    • God’s love could not be total though, for love requires an object, and the total love of an object requires a finite object. To say you love something is to separate that something from its surroundings. Loving eternity infinitely is the same thing as not caring about any specific thing. So god would still be a monster.

      Secondly, if god and humans souls are eternal (lasting for ever) then they are not finite and so god could never claim to love any soul or himself totally.

      • Assuming god is finite. (and that you could understand a being that created a universe)

        Pretty arrogant.

    • Take a look online about all the innocent children who are starving, have cancer, are abused and other terrible things and tell me again with honesty that there is a loving creator. I have heard all the bullcrap reasons so if you have a believable excuse let me know

      • To quote the philosopher and social scientist Dr. Richard E. Yinger; he explains it better than I ever could:
        “Evil does not necessarily disprove a good God. Quite on the contrary, evil may be a necessary element of a good God. Without evil, we could not know good. This is the Duality Theorem. We can only know light because there is dark, pain because there is pleasure. Opposites define each other.
        Another factor is the teleological aspect of pain. Perhaps our life on Earth is sort of like a spiritual ‘boot camp’ or gymnasium, in which we are getting opportunities to evolve to higher levels of spiritual development.
        We may need the pain, grief, hardship and evil that comes to us in the same way that an athlete needs the pain of a hard workout to prepare to play at higher levels of performance.
        Perhaps it is all in how we define the situation. If I define every situation as an opportunity for growth, I can be grateful for it. The key factor is our response. If we can respond with patience, kindness, forgiveness, love and understanding to ALL things, perhaps we can evolve to a higher level.
        Perhaps that is why we are here.”
        -Richard E. Yinger

        • Resilience is important. Picking yourself up when you fall is important. If you don’t, if you don’t press on, you don’t deserve to move forward at all. But this kind of thinking is flawed insofar as it leads to the justification of, or worse, the dismissal of the terrible and terribly unjust and undeserved suffering in this world: Holocaust victims case-in-point; Who are we to claim that this assisted in their afterlife-evolution, the tuning of their souls, or the tweaking of their spiritual aptitude?

          I also have a great appreciation for grace, patience, kindness, etc., but to what end? Why for when not deserved? Why treat everyone the same, for one, but more vitally, more importantly, why treat devils as if they were really just angels corrupted by some flawed self-concept or intention? Not every devil is salvageable, nor was every devil on this Earth once an angel or messenger from God.

          Finally, to contend the main point about God, I will say that suffering is no proof of any external agent of any kind – suffering is no proof of God, nor is it proof of no God. Can’t suffering just be meaningless? This makes suffering even more of a shame, this makes it so that we want to see even less suffering, avoid it even more, if it has no cosmic significance – if it is merely a result of misplaced, misguided human practices.

          To say that greater suffering leads to greater levels of advancement or evolution sounds a little bit like saying that we can attain Knowledge through Ignorance, Peace through War, or Virginity through Sex.

  • Forever curious

    Thought provoking. It’s very…scary in a way. Fearing death, I always think about what comes after. I can’t help it. If this was what came after, and assuming I’m one of the very lucky to be included to think in the after life as a way of amusing a powerful entity, I wouldn’t know if I’d choose this path for the sake of ending my existence. Revenge or spite maybe but…

    Sometimes I wonder if it’s better to live forever or if I’ll get sick of that life and wish to die or if my fear of death would allow me to enjoy that life.

  • Wow, I haven’t read this since I was a small child, reading Robot Dreams for the very first time. I actually skipped to it after reading The Last Question, thinking they were connected somehow. It’s still as brilliant and clever today as it was all those years ago.

  • Vague in part and nebulous in scope, thought provoking. We have
    ability to speculate, debate. The mystery will never be fully resolved or completely understand. But do not listen to me, for I am human.

  • Had similar thought a while ago and thought that even if I were to theoretically destroy existence/god it would just remake itself as it did the first time.

    Also in my opinion this god character was merely giving the scientist a reason to continue going, it wasn’t about new ideas it was about momentum. The scientist wanted to die before so he did, then god gave him a reason to live.

  • I don’t know about the rest of you, but I personally don’t have any memory of not existing. What’s to separate me from the god character of this story?

    • To say you “don’t have any memory of not existing.” is illogical. If there is a point for which you do not have memories before, it is logical that you did not exist before this point. While we may have existed before this point (as babies) it does not mean that we did because we could not remember a beginning point.

    • The Entity had no knowledge of his creation; you presumably have parents who one day told you where babies come from which is what sets you apart. Yeah no fried brains here :(

  • WHAT A LOAD OF F****NG SH*T!!

  • several midgets

    but this is a place without dimensions, as dimensions are for the living (bodies and whatnot) so time doesnt exist, and there for, everlasting is an irrelevent word, and begining and end are not paradoxes to solve.

    • Now that I think about it, that makes sense. Time is a relative term that means nothing if there is no universe to abide by so-called “laws of time”.

  • 1st Time Asimov reader

    Everybody is entitled to there own beliefs & opinions of which this will/has provoked.

    For my first exposure to Asimov I found this highly entertaining & gave it some thought myself, which is what I’m sure Asimov was trying to achieve.

    I came away at the end though with possibly a different take that has not been expressed in these comments.

    My final opinion was that “The Entity/Being/God” was actually looking for his own end & thus manipulating his creations into helping him achieve this end.

    Put basically we are the entities PC’s, each individual being its own software evolving to a stage he can make use of to aid in the search of the meaning of life/existence & once known he would be able to know his own end.

    Off to read the last question now.

  • joshua talbot

    To be or not to be, that is the question

  • We are reading “The Last Answer” not “The Last Question”

  • WOW! you people are something else. The way you talk. It is impressive to see so much smug come from such a small comment. You smuggy smuggers. Thinking you are smart, enlightened(WGAFAAOC)or wise because you read silly little sci-fi stories such as these.

    • I don’t recall anyone claiming to be smart or enlightened. Perhaps by speaking in statements rather than questions, we are implying that we believe ourselves to be enlightened?

    • I’d like to be smug and believe myself as smart, but I am not. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, I’d rather show true ignorance, than feign intelligence and be punished for it later. To show ignorance is to show that one is willing to learn. Not showing ignorance, in my opinion, is the true meaning of being “smug”, as it conveys that you believe you’ve learned all you can or want. That makes you seem like an anti-socialite, because who wants to talk to people if not to learn? Besides, why are you even commenting on here if you don’t want to read “silly little sci-fi stories such as these”?

  • Unless the decimal portion of pi at some point repeats, omniscience is impossible.

    • What if pi has a non-repeating but predictable pattern? for example 0.101001000100001000001… never repeats but its very simple and easily understood

  • It really gives you something to think about ?if not then I guess your dead

  • Very great story! Ive never heard of Asimov, but i will be sure to read more of his work

  • I Stumbled upon The Last Question a while back and found it intriguing, however I think I enjoyed this more for some reason. Perhaps because Murray’s way of thinking reminds me of my own, I’m not certain.

    I’ve thought on the topic of everlasting existence a lot. I personally believe in God, and in an everlasting existence in whatever form, you’d never stop learning about God because He is infinite. You’d have to learn about everything he knew before you existed, and then catch up on what his thoughts have been since you existed and onward.

  • I would like to make a suggestion to Mr. Templeton, because I find this scenario as annoying and intollerable as anything, and because I believe it is in a small but significant way reflective of reality.

    Our minds are filled with dialogue – internal, multi-faceted, multiple-personalities, obsessive. To give this same characteristic to a superior being is perhaps outrageous, but also a good opportunity for making a point about the habits of our minds.

    My suggestion to defeat existence would be to terminate thought. This would be comparable to losing self-awareness, which is perhaps preferable to death.

    It is a practicable solution. The “quietening” of ones mind is an exercise in some Eastern philosophy (ironically ridiculed in this story). And it also seems to work as a solution to separating one’s self from the intentions of this superior being that is utilizing Mr. Tempelton’s nexus.

    Portraying a superior being with this habit of internal dialogue and (it seems) tormented existence is absurd, but a useful devise for making a story. I would along these lines draw the difference between a superior being and the Supreme Being.

  • fascinating story! what stands out to me is when he ask if there are anymore like the voice and the reply is something like ‘dont you worry about that! moving on…’ so being inclined to not to savor thinking about oblivion as murray seemed to be goaded into, the hope that there are other voice/deity’s out there perhaps snapping up like neuro patterns for other own purposes such as …oh i dont know…. gathering the most awesome infinite collection of stories ever!

    oh and murray if your out there have u tried creating a brain with the capacity to hold the voice & then waiting for the brain to expire hopefully taking the voice with it?

  • This was a very interesting story, it got my attention.
    the story of a creator of all things, but like religion it is just a story. I have found fear to be a powerful motivator, it causes the mind to create what does not exist to calm it’s self from the fear. Man fears his own demise so he creates a God that will give him another life, or a more simple example is: say a guy wants to dance with a beautiful girl but before asking her to dance he creates in his own mind the outcome of his actions, he may create a scenario that she will say no and embarrass him so he then does not ask her to dance based on a unproven scenario in his own mind.

  • Waste your lives chasing your tails you nimwits. This is truely “mental masturbation”

    • And yet, what else is there to do? I don’t know about you, but I find that a world without intangibles would be unbearable. This planet is a beautiful, amazing place, but the persistent, seemingly-inescapable human consumer culture is endlessly disappointing to me. I am searching for proof that we are more than a sophisticated parasite plague.

  • Oh. fine in a single word.

  • To all of you who said that this eternal being created all existence purely for his own amusement:

    Did the eternal being not say that he created all being in the universe only to have more facts to deal with?

    Is it not obvious that he has kept the minds of these deceased humans “alive” beyond physical existence, in order to aid him in finding the answer to the last question (the last question being how to undo the creator) ?

    He said “Even if I knew everything, I could not know that I know everything.” Meaning that when he nows everything he will not be aware of this fact, and as such needs an outside source to confirm/deny this. It is apparent throughout the story that the eternal being is a separate entity from the protagonist, even though he has created it.

    In other words, just as the deceased scientist cannot bear the thought of eternal existence and the inability to stop thinking eternally, the eternal being who created him cannot bear this either. The eternal being says: “There is not one of those I have with me in this existence of perfect and eternal thought that does not have the ambition of destroying me.” and “I then allowed complexities that produced first life and then intelligence, and use it as a source for a research team, not because I need the aid, but because it would introduce a new random factor.”

    So, while knowing that he is eternal, but not knowing how he was created or how/if he will be destroyed, he is probably doing everything for the sole purpose of having the hope of some time being able to undo himself to end his existence, while keeping himself amused during the wait. These “random factors” are his only possibility of discovering the last question which would truly make him divine. For if God can do anything, he must surely be able to undo himself as well. This is why he is reluctant to call himself a God.

  • surely you aren’t implying that you have never scoffed at someone before? Either way there is in fact proof of certain dogmas, Jesus of Nazareth was in fact a real person hung on a cross for no crimes, (it is in Roman Empire records)however i infer that you are saying that unless one witnesses something first person it is nearly impossible to prove it (you are correct in this)however it is a part of everyday life to claim something without proof, whether with words or actions is irrelevant, all is based upon probability collected from a prior experience (you expect any chair you sit on will hold you but there is not evidence that is true until you stand back up)and whether or not he performed miracles etc. is a matter of belief

  • You have some wonderful reading ahead of you. Try “Nightfall,” one of his most famous short stories. And his autobiography, “In Memory Yet Green” is an excellent read and gives a great window into his mind.

  • The Name “I Am” is beautiful in its simplicity and extremely awe provoking in its power. We often use the term “I am” when describing ourselves but we always attach it to some finite attribute or character trait i.e., I am..a plumber, teacher…or I am angry, surprised. We as humans can never describe ourselves in terms of a single phrase; “I am”. However, the Eternal One, whom I identify as God says so without qualification. God’s eternal nature is the answer to any question of what, when, where, why, and who that lies beyond our comprehension. I applaud and admire Asimov’s genius.

  • I believe this could be tied back to ‘The Last Question’, where the answer to reversing entropy would somehow cause this ‘creator’ to cease existing. However, that would mean that Galactic AC is the creator, and the story explicitly stated that AC had the answer to the last question.

    Never mind, I guess. I was trying to find a way to connect the two stories.

  • The debates and question being asked by the bloggers on this thread are great. This is what a story like this is supposed to do… incite thought and comment. In a sense this is why we are here, to ask the questions that need to be asked…even if there is no answer or the answer is inconceivable to the human mind. It this kind of thought provoking that will enable us all to eventually transcend this physical plain and reach the infinite…however you think that occurs.

  • Now there was another short story I had been looking for, by Asimov I think, or maybe someone else. It was about a man who had died and came face to face with God, or whatever it was. And God explained to him how the universe was a sort of cosmic egg for the mans soul, who had lived many lives before. He was placing the mans soul into a young girls body, maybe chinese or vietnamese, in some century prior to the one the man lived in. That is all i remember from it. I’d appreciate any help finding this story.

  • that blew me away completely

  • i enjoyed this story so much, and cured my bordem. the simple thought of “life after death” has got me pondering the concept of eternal life after death. the idea of it to me, is plausable. i am one who believes in god, but i am not a perfect christian. the only thought in my head to “scientifically” explane the “dead” experience, where you see a light, meet god, so on and so fourth, is that when you die, it is like a temporary dream. where your brain has subconsciensely realized you are dead, and plays almost like a movie, within your unconscious self, that you are witnessing. (a dream). and if this is true, the thought of a dream ending is darkness, at least it is to me. i cant even grasp the concept anymore, i just killed my brain. what i just said most likely had no meaning and made no sense at the same time. also, pardon my spelling, but i have nothing else to say. there is simpily nothing else to say about this story.

  • After reading I wonder if the goal was to find a way to end the voice, or if the goal was to give purpose to Murray in the afterlife?

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