Asimov's Foundation trilogy

Tuesday July 14, 2020

I was inspired to read the core trilogy of Asimov's Foundation series. Started in 1942, it's in many ways a relic, but it's interesting for its influence and explorations of how history develops, what matters, what can be predicted, and what can be controlled.

Hari Seldon comes up with a mathematical psychohistory for predicting the future of society, obtaining predictions we are to take as correct for up to 30,000 years in the future. As a kind of statistical mechanics for humanity, it seems like history from below. This conflicts with Great Man Theory—and the author's desire to have characters drive developments (though the main characters do once turn out to be totally irrelevant).

I usually think of the future as hard to predict, so just imagining there could be such good predictions is kind of fun. Is it just that we don't know how, or (as the book suggests) that it's only possible on scales greater than one planet?

I've recently been learning about supposed economic cycles as long as 50 to 60 years, but it isn't clear how truly predictive these are.

"The current view of mainstream economics is that business cycles are essentially the summation of purely random shocks to the economy and thus are not, in fact, cycles, despite appearing to be so." [wiki]

Also, if a prediction is widely known then it may no longer be valid, which is then a possible incentive to secrecy. Regardless, it's fun to think about how much can be predicted, how it might be done, and what might invalidate predictions.

Foundation trilogy cover