When Isaac Asimov Missed Nonduality

The Last Question

I just finished reading Isaac Asimov’s beautiful SF short story “The Last Question.” I begin with my interpretation.

1. AC is the evolution of Consciousness into God. So, God becomes; it’s not the case that God is.

2. God is Supreme Intelligence just because God, as Supreme Intelligence, has answered the last question–namely, how to reverse entropy.

I argue that Asimov is stuck in becoming, in a model that still holds onto the Creator God as the first principle. Nondual metaphysics shows that this begs a basic question.

My Critique of Asimov

I think what Asimov got right is that there is a winding down of Universe X and the creation of a Universe Y. But here is where we begin to part ways since, on a nondual picture, the Supreme Intelligence is neither exhausted in the winding down nor fully expressed in the expansion. This Supreme is identical with the Universe (material cause) without being exhausted by the Universe (in this sense, it is “transcendent” but not transcendent in the terms of traditional Christianity). 

This morning I began reading a book on Kashmir Shaivism that, I felt, put the basic points quite well. 

Thus, in reality, the Universe is only an “expansion” of the Power of Parama Shiva Himself; or–to put it perhaps more correctly–of Parama Shiva in his aspect as Shakti [the power of manifestation–AT], by which aspect he both becomes and pervades the Universe thus produced, while yet He remains the ever transcendent Chaitanya [Universal, Pure Consciousness–AT] without in any way whatsoever being affected by the manifestation of a Universe.

J.C. Chatterji, Kashmir Shaivism, p. 5).

From this point of view, any Universe is regarded, metaphorically speaking, as an “opening out” or “experiencing out” of the Supreme. And this expanding out into a Universe while (a) totally pervading that Universe and yet (b) remaining untouched by manifestation precedes the contraction back into Itself as Itself. Chatterji again:

But it is not once that She thus opens herself out, or that She will gather herself up; nor is the present Universe the first and only one which has come into manifestation. On the contrary, there have been countless Universes before and there will be an equally countless number of them in the endless futurity of time–the Universes, thus produced, following one another and forming a series in which they are linked together by the relation of causal necessity (p. 6).

A metaphysic like the above helps to answer the logical question: what is it that makes possible manifestation in the first place? This is sometimes called the Unmanifest or the Unborn or the Unconditioned or the Groundless Ground. It’s the question that the Zen philosopher Masao Abe often put to the Catholic theologians he met: what is it that makes possible the creator God? 

In short, I think Asimov got a lot right about becoming, but he remained “uninquisitive” with respect to the ultimate question: what is the Whole, impartite, without change, without form, beyond space, beyond time? What is Pure Isness “prior to” all becoming?