Bioethics Blogs

BioSci Fi: Asimov on the Cognitive Liberty (Sort of)

The CLB blog has an occasional series on BioSci Fi – science fiction involving, at least to some extent, on bioscience. Today’s entry is from a 1955 short story by Isaac Asimov, collected, with a dozen other stories, in a 1968 book called Asimov’s Mysteries. I am addicted to (or at least psychologically dependent on) reading before going to sleep. The other night, looking for something light, I pulled from a shelf my 1969 paperback copy of that book, complete with brittle yellow pages, and started reading it, probably for the first time since 1969.

The story in question, The Singing Bell, is the first in the collection and is one of four featuring Dr. Wendell Urth. Urth is Asimov’s equivalent to Mycroft Holmes, a brilliant, reclusive, scholar who is useful for solving the occasional puzzle. The story – one of murder – is not particularly interesting except for Asimov’s introduction and treatment of an apparent kind of mind-reading device, the never-explained “psychoprobe.” What intrigued me, and led me to write this post, was Asimov’s discussion of the legal limitations that had been put on the use of the device, which included a principle that “the right to mental privacy..is fundamental.” But that plays out in some interesting ways. Here’s the whole passage:

Dr. Urth said “Wouldn’t it be simple to use the psychoprobe, now that its use has been legalized?”

Davenport scowled and the scar of his cheek turned livid. “Have you read the Konski-Hiakawa law, Dr. Urth?”

       “No.”

“I think no one has.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.