Psychohistory (fictional)

From Academic Kids

Psychohistory is the name of a fictional science in Isaac Asimov's Foundation universe, which combined history, psychology and mathematical statistics to create a (nearly) exact science of the behavior of very large populations of people, such as the Galactic Empire. Asimov used the analogy of a gas: in a gas, the motion of a single molecule is very difficult to predict, but the mass action of the gas can be predicted to a high level of accuracy. Asimov applied this concept to the population of the fictional Galactic Empire, which numbered in the quadrillions. The character responsible for the science's creation, Hari Seldon, established two postulates: that the population whose behaviour was modeled should be sufficiently large and that they should remain in ignorance of the results of the application of psychohistorical analyses.

Later on in his career, Asimov described historical (pre-Seldon) origins of psychohistory. In The Robots of Dawn, which takes place thousands of years before Foundation, he describes roboticist Han Fastolfe's attempts to create the science based on careful observation of others, particularly his daughter Vasilia. In Prelude to Foundation we learn that it was in fact one of Fastolfe's robots, R. Daneel Olivaw, that manipulated Seldon into practical application of this science.

Precursors to Asimovian psychohistory exist elsewhere in the Western literary canon. In one of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels, a character describes the possibility of forecasting the behaviour of society using mathematical means. Also, Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace postulates a mathematical regularity behind human actions, which is only apparent when studying large populations. Tolstoy's populations, the French and Russian armies during the Napoleonic Wars, are a billion times smaller than Asimov's, but the principle is much the same.

Asimov on psychohistory

On September 25, 1987, Asimov gave an interview to New York Times reporter Terry Gross. In it, Gross asked him about psychohistory:

Gross: What did you have in mind when you coined the term and the concept?
Asimov: "Well, I wanted to write a short story about the fall of the Galactic Empire. I had just finished reading the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire [for] the second time, and I thought I might as well adapt it on a much larger scale to the Galactic Empire and get a story out of it. And my editor John Campbell was much taken with the idea, and said he didn't want it wasted on a short story. He wanted an open-ended series so it lasts forever, perhaps. And so I started doing that. In order to keep the story going from story to story, I was essentially writing future history, and I had to make it sufficiently different from modern history to give it that science fictional touch. And so I assumed that the time would come when there would be a science in which things could be predicted on a probabilistic or statistical basis.
Gross: Do you think that would be good if there really was such a science?
Asimov: Well, I can't help but think it would be good, except that in my stories, I always have opposing views. In other words, people argue all possible... all possible... ways of looking at psychohistory and deciding whether it is good or bad. So you can't really tell. I happen to feel sort of on the optimistic side. I think if we can somehow get across some of the problems that face us now, humanity has a glorious future, and that if we could use the tenets of psychohistory to guide ourselves we might avoid a great many troubles. But on the other hand, it might create troubles. It's impossible to tell in advance.

See also

External links

es:Psicohistoria fr:Psychohistoire it:Psicostoria


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