Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Deal Me In Challenge: Jokester by Isaac Asimov

Card Drawn:

What's the difference between a well dressed man on a bike and a poorly dressed man on a unicycle? Attire.

The Multivac supercomputer makes several other appearances in Isaac Asimov's short-fiction, most notably The Last Question, which is an ironic re-telling of Genesis from the Bible. An absolutely mind-blowing story and I cannot recommend it enough. However, in "Jokester," Asimov is not so much interested in the religion vs. science debate; rather, epistemology takes center stage but in a very surprising way that deviates from any expected ontological discourses. Instead, he proposes a seemingly innocuous question: Where do jokes come from? This philosophical conundrum binds and structures Asimov's text, setting up the reader to play along as an audience member that is listening to an elaborate joke with a comedic punch-line at the climax, consisting of irresolvable ironies. The entire conceit is cleverly orchestrated by Asimov.

The advanced technology of Multivac is able to store and process vast amounts of information at an exponential rate, capable of answering the most complex questions in the universe. However, only a select few on Earth, referred to as Grand Masters, are able to properly communicate with Multivac. Meyerhof, the protagonist, is one of these rare great minds. He is depicted as a stereotypical scientist upholding rationalism and lacking a sense of humor. As a Grand Master, he is socially awkward and alienated by others because of his superior intellect. In an attempt to fit in with his colleagues, he has resorted to telling funny jokes and has earned the reputation as a jokester. However, one of his colleagues, a senior analyst named Whistler, catches him feeding Multivac jokes in order to receive new jokes. This is a violation of company policy since Meyerhof should be using Multivac to improve mankind rather than for personal reasons. Asimov maintains a lighthearted and sardonic tone throughout the story. Additionally, he seems to be satirizing government bureaucracy and the morality of scientific research. 

The ending is wonderful in all of its ironic splendor, revealing that the joke has been on us, as readers, the entire time. Like any great comedian, Asimov has been meticulously setting up the joke so that the punch-line lands in an unexpected way, which is both funny and profound. 

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