From: Scott Chase (
Date: Tue 27 Jul 2004 - 07:49:57 GMT

  • Next message: Alan Patrick: "Re: psychohistory"

    I've been reading Asimov's Foundation series. I've made it through to Second Foundation. This Asimovian psychohistory sounds like it might be a good plot device for a science fiction story, but I'm not sure how well it would work in the real world. Historic systems are too stochastic and contigent to allow prediction on the scale of Seldon's Plan, even if probabilistic. Even in Asimov's story line, at least as far as I've read, it doesn't seem Seldon had the foresight to have accounted for the effect of the mutant Mule.

    Maybe it all works out in the end. I still have several books to go. I'm also reading Prelude to Foundation which gets into more detail on Seldon's life before he became a prognosticating holgram making appearances during Seldon crises.

    And what's with these crises anyhow? Are these akin to Kuhnian revolutions or the rapid phases of punctuated equilibria?

    What's the difference between psychohistory *sensu* Asimov and what Nostradamus is infamous for having done in our past? Is Hari Seldon just a glorified soothsayer with a slide rule?

    Don't get me wrong. I actually like the Foundation books so far, as *science fiction*, but I'm not buying the hardcore Asimovian psychohistory as applied to the nonfictional world we happen to live in, the really messy one with so much sociological complexity that we have a hard enough time coming to terms with the past, not to mention predicting the future.

    What's more realistic, the Asimovian psychohistory where history is predicted based on treating mobs of people (billions and billions) statistically) or the psychoanalytic kind of psychohistory that I've posted about not too long ago? Their is an actual field called psychohistory that's not Asimovian. It's actually kinda Freudian, with Freud's Oedipal complex in the Darwinian horde mumbo-jumbo a sort of inaugural address.

    Would memetics have any truck with such a concept as the Seldon brand of psychohistory? If memetics is studying something truly analogous to genetic evolution how are we to predict anything to the degree that Seldon did? How could we predict what the future of genetic evolution will bring, given the stochastic and contingent nature of evolution? I would think the same would hold for cultural evolution or human history, be it memetic or not. There might be room for modest, short-term predictions, but anything more is verging into Nostradamus territory.

    That ought to wake Keith from his dogmatic slumber :-)

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