“The Very Word Podcast is Taboo in Polite Society”
We hit some big, philosophical issues in this episode.
As a mathematician, it seems odd that I’m frequently the one to point out that some things can’t be quantified. We’re reaching the limits of quantifiability with the Three Laws of Robotics, just as we did with Psychohistory. How do you quantify harm? Take the First Law, for example. Even within a single human, there’s psychological harm or physical harm, at least if you’re Giskard. How do you compare the two? It’s not even possible to measure the two things with the same unit. What’s bigger: 17 furlongs or 200 degrees on the Rankine scale? And there’s also social harm, financial harm, legal harm… the list goes on.
It’s even trickier if the question is about the amount of harm between two humans. And what about the Zeroth Law? Quantifying harm between groups of humans? Species of humans? Collections of sapient beings that might be humans? That way, it seems, lies madness. What’s bigger: royal blue or next Tuesday? The only possible path to an answer is the ability to predict the consequences of any action. That brings us back to Psychohistory. It’s a vicious circle.
We get into it as Daneel continues to evolve into a Zeroth Law robot in chapters 15, 16, and 17 of Robots and Empire. Meanwhile, we revisit the caves of steel, experience the pomp and circumstance surrounding Gladia’s visit to Earth, meet a government functionary, and witness an assassination attempt! Plus: a space maneuver worthy of Captain Kirk himself! You’ll enjoy this one!
We also ask: do college professors think? We never quite get to the bottom of that one, either.