Entropy. Merriam-Webster defines it as: a measure of the unavailable energy in a closed thermodynamic system that is also usually considered to be a measure of the system’s disorder. However, when it comes to Isaac Asimov’s “The Last Question”, I find that the third definition: CHAOS, DISORGANIZATION, RANDOMNESS, fits a lot better in that case.
The story is something I’ve honestly never heard of before, in a world somewhere in a distant galaxy, thermodynamic power was adapted all across the universe for everyone to use instead of normal power systems such as coal or nuclear fission. In this world, we see a collection of different points in time all syncing up to tackle the same problem: The worry of when and how the energy they are using will burn out.
The characters all fear the same thing, and in the end they all start posing the question of “Is Entropy real and can it be reversed?”. The question is posed because of how the thoughts of everything coming to an abrupt end whenever the stars decide to die, even though that isn’t going to happen for several hundreds of thousands of years, are too much for them to handle.
The Last Question felt more like an existential horror story than your average Sci-Fi story, and I honestly couldn’t tell where it was going to go half the time. Everyone in the story eventually comes to the realization that the stars are going to die and that it’s only a matter of time before their system fails. This is inevitable. But the other factor that is inevitable is someone will eventually ask how to reverse it.
What interested me the most was the fact that the first time the Last Question is asked was done as a joke “You ask Multivac. I dare you. Five dollars says it can’t be done.”. The joke not only starts the debate that’ll continue throughout the story, but it leaves us wondering more.
What I liked about the story was that fact that despite technology’s advancements throughout the ages, the answer took decades to discover. It starts with the Multivac and gradually expands to the Microvac, The Galaxy AC, and the Universe AC. However, despite the machine constantly advancing, it’ll only ever be as smart and as capable as the people who contributed to it’s creation.
The line “INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGUL ANSWER” means a lot more in this context, because of how despite it being powered by Thermodynamic energy, The AC’s will always be man-made machines that can’t answer questions that we as people can’t answer ourselves. Yet, the characters seem to forget this, seeing as how thousands of years pass and the AC’s consistently improve to process greater questions. Yet after all the questions have been answered, and all the data that could be collected has been, there is still no answer to The Last Question.
“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.”
Chaos is a concept that can’t be understood or accounted for by normal means. It’s complete disorder and confusion, something that can’t be withheld or prepared for. The concept of Entropy in “The Last Question” was handled wonderfully in my opinion because in the end, there is no conceivable answer to a question regarding chaos. In the end, there is only a demonstration that couldn’t be witnessed or accounted for, there was only a result.