Asimov’s “Last Question”

A reflection by Tao Gaede

Isaac Asimov wrote a story called The Last Question. This story follows the conversations of human beings from five epochs of humanity’s development in the universe beginning in the mid-twenty first century, and ending with the universe as the last star goes out. The question: Can we reverse entropy and prevent the inevitability of total disorder? The story is about humanity persistently asking this question.

The Last Question is one of the most beautiful stories written, because it tells us something inherent about life as a human being. Everything that is beautiful involves creation, and everything honourable involves preservation. Both creation and preservation together are the opposite of entropy, so the most noble human pursuits are anti-entropic. I think through beauty and honour, we can find a universally accepted notion of human progress, both individual, and societal.

Asimov shows us his wondrous vision for the future achievable through human progress: pan-galactic immortal civilization. But it isn’t Asimov’s vision of the future that makes his story beautiful. It is his presentation of humanity’s persistent curiosity about how progress can be made permanent. That is, can it always be the case that future people be better off than current people?

No character who asked the question got an answer, yet humanity progressed all the same amidst this uncertainty. Even when the last star went out, humanity wondered and tried.

Learn more about The Last Question on wikipedia