21

When Asimov originally wrote the short story Pâté de Foie Gras in 1956, he intended one solution to the problem asked at the end. (This related question considers the clues in the story leading to that original intended answer) However, when the story was reprinted in the 1982 anthology Laughing Space, Asimov wrote a head note reading:

This story, written a quarter-century ago, was carefully designed to allow one rational answer to the question that was asked at the end. To my pleasure, I got a number of answers (correct ones) over the next decade or so, with everyone marveling at the ingenuity of the problem. Imagine my chagrin, however, when the advance of science made possible another answer that was better than any I had imagined. I found myself beginning to get that better answer from more and more people who were astonished (since the new answer was an obvious one) that the character in the story had any trouble at all. I am seriously considering a lawsuit against the scientific establishment for the crime of making unauthorized scientific advances. The least they might have done would have been to clear the whole thing with me first.

What was the new answer made possible by scientific advance between 1956 and 1982? It was something that became obvious but was not the original answer intended by Asimov (which is discussed in the linked related question), but clear enough that a pile of letters came in about it.

6
  • Same question without answer at physicsforums.com/threads/asimovs-pate-de-foie-gras.163039
    – b_jonas
    Feb 19 at 11:45
  • Just a guess but since the problem was that there was only one goose and it was infertile, cloning seems like the obvious solution. And it had been early experiments with it before 1982 Feb 19 at 13:50
  • @BjornEriksson Sorry, not stealing your answer, I was off trying to find a better source than Wikipedia when you posted that.
    – DavidW
    Feb 19 at 14:24
  • @DavidW No problem. It was not even an answer, just a suggestion. Didn't even had time to factcheck it so i am glad you had the same idea. Feb 19 at 14:39
  • 2
    @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft the problem is how to get the goose to lay fertile eggs so they can create more geese that lay golden eggs and conduct a liver biopsy without killing the only goose that lays the golden egg! The story deals with, humorously, the chemistry involved in laying golden eggs
    – sfqa1104
    Feb 20 at 2:29

3 Answers 3

19

The "most obvious" alternative solution, and one that is conceivably less Herculean to implement than isotope separation, is cloning. (Technically somatic cell nuclear transfer.)

Cloning of amphibians had been demonstrated as early as 1962, so after the original story but well before 1982.

1
  • 1
    But somatic cell transfer is said to be essentially impossible with birds (hence why birds haven’t been cloned) raising the question of if Asimov, a science writer, would have known this impossibility in 1982 audubon.org/news/…
    – sfqa1104
    Feb 19 at 17:18
14

In addition to "Laughing Space," Asimov also mentioned in his short story collection "The Edge of Tomorrow" (1985) that there is a second solution, but again without disclosing it:

The story, which was written in 1956, ends with a puzzle presented to the reader for solution. There actually was a logical solution at the time, and a number of readers supplied me with it. As time went on, a second possible solution arose, and I began to get letters on that too. You’re still welcome to send me a solution of your own if you haven’t come across the story before, but I can’t promise I’ll be able to answer you.

So we don't know which second solution Asimov had in mind. However, the Isaac Asimov FAQ offers three alternative solutions:

Since it is the liver of the goose that is of interest, if there was a way available to grow copies of the goose's liver, the mechanism might be studied in that way. Thanks to modern science, it should be possible to take the cells extracted by the liver biopsy and grow such livers in the laboratory.

Because of advances in in-vitro fertilization, it might be possible to extract egg cells from the goose's ovary, fertilize them, and implant them in a normal goose. This assumes that the egg that grows in the surrogate mother goose is not a golden one, and enough chicks that hatch are genetically capable of developing the mechanism.

Now that various other farm animals have been cloned, it might be possible to create clones of the goose, once again assuming that the egg can grow in a normal fashion. The advantage here is that the chicks will certainly have the same genetic capabilities as mother goose.

6
  • 1
    The one hurdle with cloning is that methods, particularly those which existed in the 1980s, don’t work for birds. As a science writer who wrote about cloning in his columns, wouldn’t Asimov know this? audubon.org/news/…
    – sfqa1104
    Feb 19 at 17:19
  • 8
    @DozoisMysteryQuestion, cloning techniques have needed all sorts of adaptations for different species (for example, you can't clone a monkey using the technique for cloning a sheep). Once cloning was shown to be feasible, most people would figure that it was just a matter of time until a species-appropriate technique was developed.
    – Mark
    Feb 19 at 21:46
  • @mark I don’t disagree that eventually it may be possible to clone birds (though we still can’t do it in 2024), but Asimov’s headnote indicated that the new development made a solution so obvious and feasible he got piles of letters about it, which to me suggests it was possible in 1982. But that’s speculation on my part I admit, and I may be mistaken
    – sfqa1104
    Feb 20 at 2:32
  • @DozoisMysteryQuestion It's irrelevant whether Asimov knew, his readers, who flooded Asimov with letters, may have thought it possible to clone the goose.
    – b_jonas
    Feb 20 at 12:02
  • 1
    I totally agree with Mark. That some technical hurdle prevents cloning of birds with present time technology is irrelevant. The very idea of cloning is enough to offer an "obvious" better solution to the problem. Note that, for the original solution, besides O18, all radioactive nuclei would have to be removed from the goose's environment. K40 is at least as big a problem as C14.
    – Alfred
    Feb 21 at 5:23
1

A possible answer: liver transplant.

  • The earliest published reports of canine liver transplantations were performed in 1954 by Vittorio Staudacher at Opedale Maggiore Policlinico in Milan, Italy.

  • First human attempt in 1963 (unsuccessful); patient in 1967 survived 1 year after liver transplant; "the 1980s saw recognition of liver transplantation as a standard clinical treatment".

(The above information from the Wikipedia article on liver transplants.)

1
  • 1
    (This sort of question seems amenable to a Community Wiki answer, as various theories are proposed and evaluated.)
    – Roger
    Feb 21 at 4:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.