Thursday, July 11, 2013

Psychohistory on a Grand Scale

The Foundation Trilogy (Foundation, #1-3)The Foundation Trilogy 
by Isaac Asimov

“The Three Theorems of Psychohistorical Quantitivity:
The population under scrutiny is oblivious to the existence of the science of Psychohistory.
The time periods dealt with are in the region of 3 generations.
The population must be in the billions (±75 billions) for a statistical probability to have a psychohistorical validity.”  ― Isaac Asimov, Foundation

I was disappointed with this trilogy of novels having just reread this Science Fiction classic after more than forty years. The three novels demonstrate exceptional plotting but little else to warrant praise. Asimov has a galaxy populated with humans and it is a grayish world dominated by a fading empire. Set at least 13,000 years in the future, after humanity has colonized space so thoroughly that most people have forgotten about the Earth itself. Foundation opens as the Galactic Empire is in its final years, having reigned over the galaxy for over ten millennia. One man on the capital planet of Trantor dares to stand up and tell the moribund Empire that its decline and fall is inevitable. Hari Seldon has developed the science of psychohistory, which aims to predict the behavior of large populations over vast periods of time. Seldon has predicted not only the fall of the Empire, but the fact that a whopping 30,000 years of barbarism will follow, unless his organization, the Encyclopedia Foundation, is able to finish its immense task of cataloging and preserving millennia of accumulated human knowledge and history. Then, perhaps, the 30,000 years can be shaved to a mere millennium.
The key concept is psychohistory and Hari Selden's projections based on mathematical formulas suggest with high probability the potential for minimizing a coming 'dark age' for humanity. Most of the novel hinges on a few leaders brandishing political power rather than light sabers.  The suggestion of determinism diminished the possibility of suspense for this reader. The resulting loss of interest in the story, with repetitious descriptions of the overriding Selden plan made the final novel a bit of a slog in spite of an interstellar war. Planets were destroyed with the loss of hundreds of millions of lives but that did not seem to matter. Asimov was a prolific author, but in this case his attempt to expand several stories into a series of novels was flawed.

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