We reported recently that Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ is being adapted for film. ‘Foundation’ is considered as one of the best science fiction novels of all time, so it is no surprise that Hollywood wants to capitalize on that popularity, though past history of Asimov film adaptations does not bode well for an accurate depiction.
‘Foundation’ is a collection of five short stories that were first combined into a novel in 1951 by Gnome Press. While it can feel somewhat disjointed at times, the long time spans involved allows for pockets of mini-closure that are satisfying enough.
The book starts off on the planet of Trantor, a fully urbanized world with no forests or other natural wilderness. It is the capital planet of the current galactic empire, a 12,000 year-old entity. The first character we meet is Gaal Dornick, a mathematician who is socially awkward and bewildered by the engine of humanity that is Trantor. Dornick is hired by Hari Seldon, the inventor of a new science called psychohistory. This science uses mathematics to predict sociological change on a planetary and even galactic scale.
Seldon and his research team predict the empire’s collapse within 500 years, and this draws the attention of the Commission of Public Safety, an organization involved at the highest level of the empire’s government. The Commission is unhappy with the radical changes that the psychohistorians recommend in order to preserve civilization.
Shortly after these events, the novel jumps ahead in time 50 years, and another 30 years, then 55 years and finally reaches a point that is 155 years after Seldon founded the new science and started gathering knowledge into a reference known as the Encyclopedia Galactica. During these years, we find out that Seldon’s legacy lives on. Others join the cause of attempting to prevent a galactic slide into barbarism.
One fascinating aspect of psychohistory is the principle that “the human conglomerate be itself unaware of psychohistoric analysis in order that its reactions be truly random.” Besides being a sound scientific idea, this tenet also minimizes the risk that psychohistorians will be corrupted by outside influences. If very few of the citizens know about the new science, it is less likely to transform into a dangerous large-scale cult.
‘Foundation’ has inspired major figures in our world. One noteworthy person inspired by the book is Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist. He credits the concept of psychohistory as a major reason for his decision to study economics. Considering the mostly capitalist nature of our society, economics has the potential to be a fairly accurate predictor of collective human behavior.