Sunday, June 29, 2008

Asimov's last question and Dasavatharam

Pic courtesy:

I am writing this post after having watched Dasavatharam for the third time this afternoon. Dasavatharam's central theme or the chaos theory is very similar to Asimov's short story "THE LAST QUESTION". The short story deals with the second law of thermodynamics which states that the entropy of the universe is always increasing reaching a maximum value. The question that Asimov tries to address in this short story is "Can entropy of the universe be reversed?" The short story starts with a drunk scientist asking a tough question to an advanced computer.

"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.

This resonates well with the central theme of the movie Dasavatharam which deals with the chaos theory. According to the chaos theory the fate of certain dynamic systems can be determined solely by their initial state irrespective of whatever transitions occur in between. What in the world is the connection between chaos and entropy? Entropy is nothing but the state of disorderliness of a system. The disorderliness of the universe surrounding us is constantly increasing and this disorderliness can manifest in ordered forms or patterns that we can recognize. The best example of such chaotic systems are biological systems. A living cell is the perfect example of a chaotic system.

A cell lives through the culmination of various chaotic events that eventually take an ordered recognizable pattern. The same holds true for the theory of evolution. Evolution is again the culmination of random events that somehow occurred at the right place at the right time and manifested in the form of a creature that was best suited for that environment. Achieving such order from a chaotic universe seems to be very easy but in reality the probability of such events occurring is very slim or in layman terms a "miracle". This is exactly what saved Avatar Singh when the bullet hit his throat. This chaotic event could have certainly killed him but he survived through a "miraculous event". The underlying message in this movie is about how we perceive these very miracles or events of low probability. A rational person or in Tamil "pakutharivalan" will try and understand it as a mathematical phenomenon whereas a religious person can be reductionist and call it a miracle. Both ways we cannot exclude miracles from occurring. The end of the movie is also punctuated by a series of catastrophic or chaotic events which can be classified as miracles, that bring about order to underline this point. This finally brings me to the point I was trying to make about Asimov's great short story "THE LAST QUESTION". How does his story end? What is Asimov's answer to the last question? Why does it remind me of Dasavatharam's theme?

"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?" AC said, "THERE IS AS YET INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A MEANINGFUL ANSWER."

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 there was light----

Thus the last question also ends in a "miracle". The miracle of creation!!


Ganesh said...

Robbie excellent post.
Its better than 'Dasavatharam' the movie. Your post put me in into deep thought and I was reminded of a sloka in veda ..

"Poornam adhah Poornam idham
Poornaath Poornam udhachyathe
Poornasya Poornam Aadhaaya
Poornam eva avashishyathe."

So what is the meaning of this great vaakaya..

(i.e. Brahman remains unaffected, retains His/Its fullness and completeness.)

What is Brahman? (Not Brahmin which means a particular caste)
Brahman is the unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality which is the Divine Ground of all matter, energy, time, space, being, and everything beyond in this Universe

Robbie said...

Infact, it cannot be better than the movie because it was the movie that made me think this way. I think it is the way the movie affects different people. For some others the movie might not mean anything for me it was more than what I saw on screen. This deep thought will be evident if you saw the movie with its inner meanings intact.Infact this movie deals with high philosophy and science. I was amazed at the enormous thinking that has gone behind shaping the theme of the movie and the clever way in which such difficult and abstract concepts are told. It is a must watch movie Ganesh, you are missing a great moment in tamil cinema if you missed this movie.

sen said...

how r you?.long time no c.just talked to ganesh today and he told me that you have been blogging non-stop about dasavatharam :). came to check out your blog.

After seeing the post, the first thing that came to my mind was the tajmahal essay.You know the one in which a boy mugs up the essay about cow, but finds that he has to write about tajmahal in the exam, he writes all about the cow and in the end says that, this great cow was tied before the great tajmahal. Machan, read you post, 95% it is about the short story and there is a small link to dasavatharam :D.

Another thing that i realized was no matter what, we are all not going to change our opinion. It does not matter what is written in the blog, one has to speak what is in his mind and somehow connect it to the post.Look at ganesh... "(BRAHMAN) IS WHOLE" :D. Looks like this is his standard answer template for any post that he does not understand (Iam laughing like hell here :D).

Ok so me also coming to the game.I have to talk my anti dasavatharam things for your post on Asimov(sorry dasavatharam, actually iam not sure :D).

That avatar singh shooting is one of the worst scenes, a total bullshit, a scene that would put any vijayakanth movie to shame and you are writing about asimov for that.
"Achieving such order from a chaotic universe seems to be very easy but in reality the probability of such events occurring is very slim or in layman terms a "miracle". This is exactly what saved Avatar Singh when the bullet hit his throat."

On that case don't you think it is a miracle when rajini catches the knife thrown at him, or when vijayakanth does a matrix style stunt to dodge the bullet or james mcvoy hits angelina's car, summersaults his car and shoots the guy from sun roof window.Cmon da, this is another pure masala stuff in kamal movie.Just because kamal does it, don't equate to asimov and evolution.

Anyways give me a call when u get time.Ph no is with ganesh.

Robbie said...

Hey bro,
How are you? will call you soon. First, to address your doubts about this post. This write up is about how Asimovs short story the last question deals with entropy and the second law of thermodynamics and in general about the connection between the crux of dasavatharams theme and asimovs short story. With regards to Avatar singhs shot in the throat I would not even compare it with a vijayakanth or a rajni movie, the simple reason being that the rajnikanth or vijayakanths movies have never spoken or taken chaos theory to be their premise (they do not catch one knife or one bullet, they dodge as well as stop the bullet with their bare hands). I am not trying to call miracles the improbable or the impossible, miracles only have a low probability. What is the chance for Vijayakanth to catch the bullet with his teeth? Close to zero for a bullet travelling with such velocity cannot possible be caught with ones teeth without blowing your head off. Lets come to Avatars shooting. He was shot in the throat and he survived. Is that possible? Yes it is even though the probability is slim it is possible. Can the bullet hit cancerous tissue in the throat? Possible certainly possible. So such a miraculous event as occured with avatar singh is surely possible. I am not talking about impossible or improbable events. Yes! I agree that Dasavatharam is not art cinema but just masala cinema or main stream cinema. Kudos to kamal haasan for including such complexities of thought in such a simple presentation!!!!

Hope that satisfies you!

Archana said...

Hey, Innum post padikalai - will read it soon! Just wanted to congratulate you on your wedding :-D! Congratulations!!

You never completed the story dude - eppo baaki kadhai ezhuda pora?

whoami said...


interesting point about miracle.
you have tried to bring out a connection between the asimov's last question and the movie due to the fact that they both address the question of God. Asimov's work (when I read it in your excerpt) is much more brilliant - it doesn't leave the "last question" unanswered, but answers the question in trying to answer the question (constructive answer; example: to answer "when will you drink coffee?" by drinking coffee).

you say:
According to the chaos theory the fate of certain dynamic systems can be determined solely by their initial state irrespective of whatever transitions occur in between

but wikipedia says:
In mathematics, chaos theory describes the behavior of certain dynamical systems – that is, systems whose state evolves with time – that may exhibit dynamics that are highly sensitive to initial conditions (popularly referred to as the butterfly effect). As a result of this sensitivity, which manifests itself as an exponential growth of perturbations in the initial conditions, the behavior of chaotic systems appears to be random.

i have to think more.. but in the first sight, they seem to differ...

going to
see you soon.

オテモヤン said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Volker from Germany said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Aditi said...

I am Aditi from Bangalore.I am doing my Masters in Communication and as a part of the program I am doing my thesis on Isaac Asimov's contribution to Modern Mythology.

I see your interest in the great man and would be honored to get an opinion or two on the subject.
This is my email ID.
Do drop in a mail if you have the time and inclination to discuss asimov