Study and Discussion questions for Isaac
Asimov's "Nightfall" 
While each of the stories we will discuss next week addresses conflicts between
spiritual and scientific ways of knowing, thereby engaging historical and
cultural tensions between institutionalized religion and the scientific
community, each also invokes a more abstract set of issues. To some
extent, I think we can see that these conflicts also investigate record keeping
and the limitations of human knowledge. That is, each of these stories
seems to frame religious and scientific ways of knowing and dissemination of
knowledge over time as alternative methods of confronting the inconceivable, of
defining the nature of physical reality and human experience, of the order of
things in a universe that is, ultimately, too vast and complex to be fully
explained, given the limitations of human understanding. While reading
"Nightfall," consider some of the following issues:
- To what extent is this story an address to hubris, to our
arrogance concerning the state of our own knowledge? Recall T.H.
Huxley and Wells's notion that scientific inquiry functions in part to
exhaust human knowledge by demonstrating its limits. Is the Asimov
story yet another example of derivative SF, of a story that is inspired by earlier SF and that extends a tradition within a genre?
- Why does Asimov create an opportunity to discuss
the basic instinctive fear of human beings? That is, how does this
idea function in the story?
- Why does the experiment engaged in by Yimot 70
and Faro 24 fail? What is it that they fail to take into account while
constructing their experiment
- At the Jonglor Centennial Exhibition, 1 out of
every 10 people who rode in darkness for 15 minutes went mad. Why?
What fixation did they develop?
- At story's end, why do the cultists--who are
proven right--go mad?
- At story's end, why do the scientists--who are
also proven right--go mad?
- While considering #6 & #7, investigate how
Asimov's story directly addresses the limitations of record keeping [either
religious or scientific] and the similar functions of these two ways of
knowing. What commentary on the limitations of human knowledge does
Asimov make here?