Positronic Brain vs. Human Brain: Robots' Brain Text as the Representation of Ethical Guiding Principles in Isaac Asimov's The Complete Robot

Wen Guo

DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.13185/KK2021.003725
Published Date: Aug 31, 2021


This article contributes to a large discussion on the paradigm of Isaac Asimov’s robot stories— the positronic brain—and postulates that the “Three Laws of Robotics” represent essential guiding principles of ethical systems by applying the concept of “brain text” with the framework of Zhenzhao Nie’s ethical literary criticism. With focus on the analogy between positronic brain and human brain, and based on the analysis from The Complete Robot (2018), this article argues that the positronic brain is the embodiment of the qualities of humans’ ethical choices by gathering and calculating the programmed brain text. By raising a copy-versus-real ethical issue, it further evinces the uncanny feelings of the highly anthropomorphic brain as simulacrum, which generates a new challenge to anthropocentrism and anxiety over humans’ subjectivity. However, attributed to the lack of ethical judgments in their brain text, robots may be confronted with ambivalence and incarnated only with humans’ desires in the face of choices among the Three Laws. Thus, with an insistent privilege of humans, Asimov considers the positronic brain in essence as a simulation of human brain to represent human ethics.


brain narration, ethical representation, identity, uncanny

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Kritika Kultura
Department of English
School of Humanities
Ateneo de Manila University

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International Board of Editors

Jan Baetens
Faculty of Arts
Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (Belgium)

Joel David
Professor of Cultural Studies
Inha University (South Korea)

Michael Denning
Professor of American Studies and English
Department of English
Yale University (US)

Faculty of Cultural Sciences
Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indonesia)

Regenia Gagnier
Professor of English
University of Exeter (UK)

Leela Gandhi
John Hawkes Professor of the Humanities and English
Brown University (US)

Inderpal Grewal
Professor of Women's Gender and Sexuality Studies
Professor of South Asian Studies, Ethnicity, Race and Migration Studies
Yale University (US)

Peter Horn
Professor Emeritus and Honorary Lifetime Fellow
University of Cape Town (South Africa)
Honorary Professor and Research Associate in German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

Anette Horn
Professor of German Studies
University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa)

David Lloyd
Distinguished Professor of English
University of California, Riverside (US)

Bienvenido Lumbera
National Artist for Literature
Professor Emeritus
University of the Philippines

Rajeev S. Patke
Director of the Division of Humanities
Professor of Humanities
Yale NUS College (Singapore)

Vicente L. Rafael
Giovanni and Amne Costigan Endowed Professor of History
University of Washington (US)

Vaidehi Ramanathan
Department of Linguistics
University of California, Davis (US)

Temario Rivera
Professorial Lecturer
Department of Political Science
University of the Philippines

E. San Juan, Jr.
Philippines Studies Center (US)

Neferti X.M. Tadiar
Professor of Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Barnard College (US)
Director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
Columbia University (US)

Antony Tatlow
Honorary Professor of Drama
Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)