Friday, 13 September 2013

Plato's Cave

Fifty years of writing by Poul Anderson were celebrated by Going For Infinity, a new collection of stories published during that period with additional autobiographical passages. Fifty years of writing by Isaac Asimov were celebrated by Foundation's Friends (London, 1991), an anthology of new stories inspired by Asimov's works. Thus, all the stories in Going For Infinity and one in Foundation's Friends are by Poul Anderson.

The "Foundation's Friends" that are new contributions to Asimov's future history cover three periods:

US Robots (2 stories);
Elijah Bailey (1);
Empire and Foundations (3).

Anderson's "Plato's Cave" is one of the US Robots items.

In Platonic philosophy, particulars, eg, particular men or round objects, are imperfect copies of a universal Idea, i. e., in these cases, Man and Circularity, just as a shadow is an imperfect copy of a solid object:

"'...we are like prisoners chained in a cave who cannot see the outside, yust the shadows of t'ings that are cast on the wall. From this they must try to guess what the reality is.'" (p. 268)

- explains one of Anderson's characters, Captain Borup, in his Danish accent. Borup says that the metaphorical shadows are unreliable images only because the senses are often wrong, not because the Ideas are, in Plato's view, beyond the sensory realm. But, in any case, Borup cites Plato's cave only to make a comparison with the robotic conundrum encountered by Powell and Donovan.

A robot is bound to obey a human being but can be hoodwinked into thinking that the entity communicating with him by laser beam is just another robot especially if he has been led to suspect that the transmitted image has been tampered with. In this sense, the hoodwinked robot, Jack, is in Plato's cave. Powell and Donovan must appear to be committing pointless suicide only to be stopped by a peremptory order from Borup in order to convince the robot that has been impersonating a man in order to fool Jack that Borup at least is probably human and must be obeyed. Anderson gets into the spirit of Asimov's robot puzzle stories.

As often in Anderson's puzzle stories, there is a moment when one of the characters has suddenly realized the answer but does not tell us what it is yet:

"He broke off. Donovan had smacked fist into palm. Powell drew a whistling breath." (p. 272)

- and thereafter the problem is solved.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Very nice! I have a copy of the original edition of FOUNDATION'S FRIENDS. Think I will soon reread "Plato's Cave."

And, I'm IMPATIENT for the volume in honor of PA containing stories set by other writers in Anderson's "universes," MULTIVERSE, to come out. The delays are ANNOYING!


Paul Shackley said...

I expect you to email me a long appraisal of "Multiverse" as soon as you have read it, or while reading it, but I hope that others will also, especially since I expect that our trans-Atlantic cousins will see the book before we do.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

Ha! Be glad to, if I ever get my copy of MULTIVERSE. I expect to like some stories and dislike, even loathe, others. I'm esp. curious about the Dominic Flandry story. I've already long since pre ordered a copy.

Please, readers! Come out and deposit commments of your own! Both Paul and I are eager for feedback!