Foundation, Reason, and Rearranging

Foundation Reason and Rearranging
By Pat Wictor . . . . . Subscribe:
     Tuesday, August 8, 2023
-Foundation, Reason, and Rearranging
-Ears and Eyes:  What I’m Listening to and Reading
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Foundation, Reason, and Rearranging

I’ve been watching the Apple TV series “Foundation,” which recently began its second season.  

It’s nominally based on Isaac Asimov’s novel by the same name.  They’ve improved on some of Asimov’s major blind spots - there are more characters of color and female characters.  But it’s such a thorough rewriting, it’s basically unrecognizable.  (I’m a sci-fi buff, so I’m still going to watch it anyway, and I'll mostly enjoy it.)  I can’t go too hard on the Apple folks, because Asimov’s “Foundation” novel (and its two sequels) presents major challenges in being translated to television.  

I understand the impulse to take source material and rearrange thoroughly.  I’ve done it countless times with songs, looking for some unexplored emotion or emphasis in it.   I’ve created some pretty adventurous arrangements of plenty of songs.  

But I always try to remain faithful to the heart of the song, the core message.  For me, with even the most far-out versions, it’s never the case that anything goes.   If you’re just randomly imposing yourself on the song, instead of following a strand that’s already present in the song, you’re not really playing the song anymore.

So that’s why I’m finding myself disappointed with the Apple TV version (so far).  And here’s why.  Isaac Asimov’s core message, I think, was that reason was the most important tool available to humanity.  It’s not foolproof - Asimov famously described robots as “logical but not reasonable.”  But the human capacity for reason, in Asimov's view, might be what makes us - and keeps us - fully human.  It is our best defense against the worst human tendencies - hatred, falsehood, selfishness, willful blindness and the tyranny and disaster born of all of these.  Rationality was fundamental to Asimov’s outlook, and his novels thoughtfully explored reason and its outer boundaries and limitations.  

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 Asimov’s “Foundation” showed again and again how reasoning actors could steer away from the worst outcomes, preventing violence and disaster.  Apple’s “Foundation” shows a universe in which almost nobody seems capable of rational thought, much less rational action.  Asimov’s characters have been rewritten by Apple as tormented souls, swallowed by overwhelming emotions and mystical gut feelings.  Rationality is reduced to a kind of superficial jargon, a veneer for irrational decision-making by everyone.  I don’t want to overstate how rational people are - certainly nobody operates from reason all the time, and we’re all overwhelmed by emotions and gut feelings sometimes.

But our world right now is a playground for entrepreneurs of irrationality.  Politicians appealing to the worst in people - fear and hatred - are trying to crowd out rational discussion with falsehoods, histrionics and manufactured “panics.”  Irrationality serves their agendas of power and impunity.  I believe that reason is still our best tool in the face of that.  I don’t want to see Asimov’s message lost - to me, it’s too important.

So, okay - I’ve got an opinion on the importance of reason.  What’s yours?  And is it okay to take source material and change it completely?  What, if any, are the limits on that? :-)
Watch Apple’s Foundation, Season 1:
Read Asimov’s Foundation:
Want just the short summary?

Ears and Eyes:  What I’m Listening to and Reading

Willie Nelson and Sinéad O’Connor - Don’t Give Up (by Peter Gabriel)

Mavis Staples, We’ll Never Turn Back (album)

Also, a fun and surprising documentary about drummers on Netflix:  
“Count Me In”

Maggie Estep, Alice Fantastic

Robert C. Ellickson, America’s Frozen Neighborhoods:  The Abuse of Zoning