The Dangers of Intelligence and Other Science Essays Summary

Isaac Asimov

The Dangers of Intelligence and Other Science Essays

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

With the publication of THE DANGERS OF INTELLIGENCE AND OTHER SCIENCE ESSAYS, Isaac Asimov has raised his total of published books to 342, an awesomely large number. How, one asks, could anyone have that much to say, and about such a wide variety of subjects? Well, in addition to hard work and a religiously followed schedule (one book every 5.4 weeks for 36 1/2 years, as the publisher’s biographical sheet proudly points out), such a herculean output requires a steady source of ideas, insatiable curiosity, and a mind that can put just enough spin on a familiar topic to elicit the plaintive reaction, “Now, why didn’t I think of that?”

In these short essays, averaging 2.7 pages in length, Asimov once again demonstrates his ability to clarify and explain, revealing unsuspected interconnections. For example, he describes how something as prosaic as the development of the horse collar led to three centuries of world domination by northern Europe after the Crusades. Another essay explores the notion that left-handed sugar and starch molecules might be the key to the zero-calorie goodies of the future, since they would not fit our body’s left-handed enzymes, and hence could not be absorbed in our bodies.

The book’s title essay examines the question of whether intelligence is really a good thing for our survival over the long haul. Asimov argues convincingly that it is not only intelligence but technology that matters as far as survival is concerned, and he strongly urges that we attempt to detect the interstellar radio signals that would alert us to the existence of another technologically advanced civilization. Such a discovery, he avers, would supply us with sorely needed reassurance that we too can survive the technological wonders that contain the seeds of our own destruction.