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Foundation > Is Psychohistory Plausible?

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message 1: by Rob, S&L Forum Mod (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rob (robzak) | 2726 comments Mod
The premise of this book is built on the concept of Psychohistory: The idea that future is predictable given complex mathematical models and constrained variables.

I have a background in Computer Engineering, Math (though it's dated since I'm mostly a code monkey these days) and Computer Science.

I tend to be pretty skeptical of most things by nature. I want empirical proof.

The concept of Psychohistory really intrigued me. I'm fairly certain it's not new (to me). I feel like I've seen something similar in other sci-fi over the years.

I'm no sure if the idea originated with Asimov or not. Does anyone know?

Either way I never really gave it much thought. I like the idea that everything can quantified into something that calculated.

I can buy into the fact that their is some sort or order to everything that we don't see/understand because we're not yet advanced enough to model it.

In particular I liked (view spoiler)

I'm still not sure it is plausible (even in a small scale) but our current understanding of science of the mind and economics is so limited that I don't think it can be ruled out completely.

What do you think?


David Sven (Gorro) | 1551 comments Rob wrote: "The premise of this book is built on the concept of Psychohistory: The idea that future is predictable given complex mathematical models and constrained variables.

I have a background in Computer ..."


I like the idea, but no, I don't think it plausible. Still, one can imagine what it would take hypothetically to make it close to plausible to the point where one can suspend disbelief. I would think that you would need banks of supercomputers just for data collection. Absolute monitoring and collation of every action of every extant individual. Then you would need even more processing power just for inputting all the variables and even after that you would be left with groups of probable outcomes, none of which would come close to getting over a fraction of a percent point. But the 85 to 92% figures coming out of Seldon's hand held calculator? Hmmm....

I hate to bring Dune up again, but it handled the idea of mathematically projecting the future differently. For example the Guild pilots were basically biological supercomputers capable of doing the higher order math to plot their course through hyperspace by foreseeing where they would end up in the future until they found where they wanted to go. The downside for the pilots being that they had to live floating in a cannister of a gaseous version of melange which enriched and released their minds while their bodies wasted away.


Julia | 177 comments Rob wrote: "The premise of this book is built on the concept of Psychohistory: The idea that future is predictable given complex mathematical models and constrained variables.

I have a background in Computer ..."


Biggest problem with the book for me, honestly. I found it more than faintly ridiculous. Kind of like saying that one can predict evolution. I'd like to see your chrystal ball, please?


Sean O'Hara (SeanOHara) | 1724 comments Chaos theory pretty much killed the plausibility of psychohistory, something Asimov acknowledged in the later books. When Asimov started the series in the '40s and '50s scientists still thought that measurements could reach a point where they were precise enough that additional precision wouldn't affect their calculations. But then Lorenz showed that simply adding one additional decimal place to the accuracy of the initial data could completely change the outcome. The amount of precision necessary for psychohistory to work is such that you'd need a computer bigger than the galaxy to run the calculations.

This is one area where I think Dune, even with the psychic powers, makes more sense -- the future is highly chaotic, but it tends to settle towards attractors that need the right push to overcome, as opposed to Asimov's purely deterministic depiction of events.


message 5: by Michael (last edited Sep 02, 2012 07:56PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Michael (The_Smoking_GNU) | 177 comments Rob wrote: "I'm still not sure it is plausible (even in a small scale)"
One of the axioms of psychohistory is that the population has to be large enough.
It's based on statistical mechanics.
-> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychohi...

Afaik the opposite of Asimov's approach to understanding the behaviour of large groups of people is more fashionable at the moment.
Instead of using statistics to combine individuals into groups like in psychohistory, agent-based modelling focuses on the interaction of autonomous agents and how their interactions influence a system.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agent-ba...


John Price | 9 comments I have a degree in mathematics, and from what I understand psychohistory with a large body of people may be possible, but there would be so many variables that even if you were able to calculate it, getting an answer from it with 92% accuracy would be astonishing. I'd think you would be more likely to get thousands of answers all with <0.1% accuracy and still know nothing more. Simply due to the amount of variables involved in something like that.


David (lonewander) | 20 comments Anyone who questions the plausibility of Psychohistory should love (view spoiler)


Rick Possible? Sure, I suppose so. Plausible? Not to me. But then faster than light travel is flat out impossible and the idea of uploaded minds is incredibly implausible, but I happily read books with those concepts.


Rik | 501 comments I doubt its plausible. Oh you can predict general trends but to be as specific as its predictions were I find highly doubtful.


Fresno Bob | 211 comments We still cant predict weather reliably more than 10 days out or so....


Loyd | 9 comments But isn't it fun to imagine that the future can influence the present and make the jump to the possibility of calculating the likelihood of where that future might lie?


Darren Humphries (Darrenhf) | 95 comments Advertising tries to influence the behaviour of millions, so do political campaigns. If psychohistory were possible then the demand for it would be enormous and the corruption of it immediate.


Ian Roberts | 140 comments Hmm - lets try to predict something within a 1 year timeframe that will have a big impact - will Greece leave the Euro within 1 year?

Even with all the focus thats on that one question within a very narrow time envelope, can anyone with certainty predict the outcome? If you could, you would make millions.

To me pychohistory is completely implausible - the spectrum of what can happen might be predictable but what will actually happen is determined by too many random events/quantum events happening and interacting

And by what we know about quantum theory, in principle the fact of predicting/measuring what will happen will change the outcome in any case


Michael (The_Smoking_GNU) | 177 comments Ian wrote: "And by what we know about quantum theory, in principle the fact of predicting/measuring what will happen will change the outcome in any case "
That's why there is the second axiom of psychohistory:
"the population should remain in ignorance of the results of the application of psychohistorical analyses" ;)


Alterjess | 318 comments I doubt we will ever progress to the point where we have enough data to make psychohistory plausible. There will always be too many variables.


Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 720 comments Well, I'm halfway through book 3, The Mayors, and Salvor Hardin's already acknowledged the limitations of psychohistory. Namely that it doesn't work very well with individuals. But even before that, the concept of psychohistory seemed very dated to me. It's very rooted in an old-school Hegelian/Marxist approach to history. It's entirely based on psychology, and doesn't seem to acknowledge the possibility that events largely out of human or societal control--natural disasters, famine, resource depletion, invasion by a superior force--could also derail civilization. Sometimes there are steps society can take to predict or mitigate the impact of these, but sometimes there isn't.

I'm not saying it's impossible that far in the future, our mastery of physics will allow us to predict natural disasters and other disruptive phenomenon decades or centuries in advance. But I don't see it working with psychology alone.


Sean O'Hara (SeanOHara) | 1724 comments Joe wrote: "But even before that, the concept of psychohistory seemed very dated to me. It's very rooted in an old-school Hegelian/Marxist approach to history."

No, there's a huge difference between supposing that the future is predictable and claiming that history has a direction and goal. Asimov was riffing on Toynbee and Spengler, not Hegel and Marx.

It's entirely based on psychology, and doesn't seem to acknowledge the possibility that events largely out of human or societal control--natural disasters, famine, resource depletion, invasion by a superior force--could also derail civilization.

The Empire controls the entire galaxy and there are no aliens, so there is no real potential for a superior force that's not part of Seldon's initial calculations. Likewise we can assume that the Empire has detailed enough knowledge of the resources in its domain that Seldon could factor depletion into his calculations.

Natural disasters aren't that big a problem -- they can't be predicted accurately, but they can be included probabilistically based upon historic data.

The one issue that doesn't make sense is scientific advancement -- later stories hinge upon the Foundation's technological superiority over the Empire, including not only stuff that's been forgotten in the rest of the galaxy but new inventions that are better than anything the Empire ever had. But how do you predict that? If Hari Seldon had been around in 1900, he couldn't've predicted modern computers because they depend on scientific discoveries that didn't exist at the time -- a true unknown that can't be included in psychohistorical calculations. If Asimov had assumed that humanity had reached the limits of the tech-tree, that'd be fine, but introducing new technology changes everything.


Joshua (JKFraser) | 18 comments I think the only scenario where Psychohistory could work is one where it is singularly invented and perfected by one person, and used by that person alone, and his secrets die with him. In short, in the Foundation series, I think it works fine.

(view spoiler)

This allows me to accept it as a premise, whether it is a science perfected by a single man, or a scheme to cause the eventual downfall of one empire and regeneration another through the elaborate ruse of a genius.

I would also say that in the real world it would be nearly impossible to keep psychohistory secret enough to make it of any use at all. At best it might be a replacement for risk assessment tables...


Anne | 336 comments How close does Asimov come to predicting the future in the novel???

If he isn't using psychohistory what is he using?

Van Vogt and PKD also were predictive.

If you don't understand history then you are doomed to repeat it. If you do understand history then you know what is coming. [Clue - read The Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun or Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler.]


message 20: by Tim (last edited Sep 05, 2012 10:32AM) (new) - added it

Tim (TwistTim) | 8 comments We can trend statistics that overlay with each other, for examples Hans Rosling gave this one ted talk in which he shows amongst other things how the infant mortality rate and the religious connection of Bangladesh and other African countries are tied together.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUwS1u...

At best though what Rosling is able to do is to show predictions(rise in life expectancy) once something happens(The end of Communism in Vietnam), not predict what will happen to cause what he is trending.

If you had enough statics and enough true facts in an unchanging world you might be able to predict things, but as far as the whole "This date x will happen" thing... I don't see us there yet.

I don't know if it could be practical even if we had it, because of the inclination of people to fight against something, one thing mentioned was that (view spoiler)


Sean O'Hara (SeanOHara) | 1724 comments Anne wrote: "How close does Asimov come to predicting the future in the novel???

Not very. The fact that sci-fi authors occasionally make correct predictions is more a testament to the Law of Extremely Large Numbers than the prognosticative powers of authors.

If he isn't using psychohistory what is he using?

Pulling ideas from his ass, just like every other SF author who's ever lived. His predictions aren't based upon a broad-based statistical analysis of history, sociology and psychology. He just looked around, saw something interesting and decided to extrapolate upon it -- in this case, "What if I used Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as the basis for a space opera with the ideas of Toynbee and Spengler grafted on."

Van Vogt and PKD also were predictive.

With much the same success rate as Asimov -- which is to say, "So close to zero to be of interest only to mathematicians studying the infinitesimal."

If you don't understand history then you are doomed to repeat it. If you do understand history then you know what is coming. [Clue - read The Muqaddimah by Ibn Khaldun or Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler.] "

You are John C. Dvorak and I claim my five dollar.


message 22: by David (last edited Sep 05, 2012 11:05AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

David (lonewander) | 20 comments In the first place... as far as I'm concerned, all science fiction requires a certain degree of suspension of disbelief. True, it shouldn't seem completely absurd, but that doesn't mean it can't include concepts that defy present understanding. There have been things in the past that were considered scientific FACT, which have later been disproved. There is the old maxim that "any sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic," and there are things we take for granted in the present that a century or two ago, people would have literally seen as devilry. I see no reason to believe what we take for fact today won't be disproved in the future. Additionally, I like to believe that people like Hari Seldon have intellects vastly superior to my own, which means I'm not qualified to second guess them. On top of all that... if you read the prequels, particularly "Forward the Foundation," you will see that psychohistory was only made workable after a lifetime of struggle to develop the original theory into a practical science. And even then it would never be perfect, it would never be something that could stand on its own, hence the existence of the Second Foundation... about which I shall say nothing, to avoid spoilers.


John (Khanthulhu) | 33 comments Psychohistory requires a huge population. I think to even come up with the rules and theories you would need a huge population over a long period of time to even start seeing trends. maybe because large populations on Earth are relatively young psychohistory seems improbable. maybe we all ready have it in its infancy under the guise of sociology, history, and economics.


Joe Informatico (joeinformatico) | 720 comments Anne wrote: "How close does Asimov come to predicting the future in the novel???

If he isn't using psychohistory what is he using?"


So far (I just started Part V: The Merchant Princes), it looks like he's just rewriting the popular conception of European history ca. 300 CE - ca. 1600 CE--IN SPACE!

I'm sure it was a really innovative and influential idea at the time. And I am enjoying the book. But I'm pretty sure contemporary scholarship doesn't hold up the Roman example as the only manner in which a civilization can collapse. That's one of the main things that keeps me from taking psychohistory too seriously.


Keith (Teleport-City) | 258 comments Here at work, we have been tasked with a fairly idiotic project to "map the next thirty years of technology and development at the university." Seriously? I'd like to see what people came up with thirty years ago for today.

So I guess one has to define the target of "plausible." Is the practice plausible? Not just plausible; it's proven. As has been mentioned, everyone from marketers to politicians to aid workers uses it, or some philosophically related concept. Is the SUCCESS plausible? Ha, yeah,sure buddy.

An aside, so it doesn't look like everything we do here at work is moronic: statistical mapping is being used to in concert with a number of other disciplines (geography, economics, anthropology, history, etc) to predict the potential movements of large groups of people in times of crisis -- specifically, in the event of natural disaster or warfare in certain African nations. A huge number of variables are in play -- the geography, location of water sources, previous migrations and evacuations, relationships between tribes (they won't go that way; those two tribes hate each other), and more variables than ic an count. It's all used to guess where people will go in a time of crisis, so that aid workers and supplies can be in the right places ahead of time instead of following behind or setting up shop to the north only to discover everyone went east.

Even in this one, very specific example, the amount of data that has to be collected, entered, and analyzed is almost overwhelming, and the end results are still only "informed guesses."


Derek (Derekstar) | 7 comments Joe wrote: 'So far (I just started Part V: The Merchant Princes), it looks like he's just rewriting the popular conception of European history ca. 300 CE - ca. 1600 CE--IN SPACE!"

This was my reading of it as well. Asimov's Dark Age certainly echos quite strongly our most well known historical example.

In response to CtrlAltDefeat, sociology, history, and economics are all SO young as disciplines - only a couple hundred years - that it's entirely unclear whether or not they have any predictive capabilities whatsoever. Understand that if you're a Marxist Historian, you simply believe that events are shaped primarily by economic conditions. I'm becoming a little uncomfortable with the HISTORY emphasis within this psychohistory discussion. Not even Marxist Historians believe that they can predict the future, and they are the closest that you can get to psychohistory within that field.


David Sven (Gorro) | 1551 comments David wrote: " Additionally, I like to believe that people like Hari Seldon have intellects vastly superior to my own, which means I'm not qualified to second guess them."

I disagree. You don't need the math to pose broader logical questions to any proposed idea. There is no reason to assume that scientists are not susceptible to corruption, especially when a lot of their work is not subjected to public scrutiny(because they don't have the math) and they are competing for funding. Money plus lack of scrutiny equals higher probability of corruption or at least "stretching" or exaggeration the truth. And if the governments can monetise it then you get oppression via scientific justification.


David (lonewander) | 20 comments I don't mean a layman can't question the idea, I'm just saying... there are areas of science even now that, from a layman's point of view, contradict more basic areas of physics that anyone learns in high school or even grade school. An intelligent, educated person with a solid understanding of fundamental physics could easily disprove the statements of theoretical physicists, but the theoretical physicists may still be correct, because they know things that are over most people's heads. Things that sound completely illogical, but actually aren't. So I certainly am not going to say my understanding of statistical analysis is sufficient to overrule the life's work of a brilliant mathematician from thousands of years in the future.


John Price | 9 comments Keith: Your job sounds fascinating, and for a good cause too. My hats off to you mate.

But say we take what you do, provided I understand that correctly, and expand it. Collect data across a galactic empire for say 12,000 years. The geography of where habitable planets are, previous skirmishes and disagreements between planets/prefects/whatever and a million other variables. Then we input all the data into a computer 12,000 years more than the best computer we have now, which given how young computing is would be pretty damn good computer. I sort of think given all that, then it should be plausible to relatively accurately predict the future.

To do those calculations as easily as Hari Seldon seems to for Gaal right at the beginning of the book seems less plausible.


Keith (Teleport-City) | 258 comments John wrote: "Keith: Your job sounds fascinating, and for a good cause too. My hats off to you mate.

That's at my place of employment (a university), but it's not me. I just write about what everyone else does. Either way, thanks. It is a really cool project, and it's the day I learned something as dull sounding as "statistical mapping" can actually be fascinating (they use it a lot in archaeology too).


message 31: by Matt (last edited Sep 05, 2012 07:10PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Matt Estabrook | 2 comments I don't think psychohistory is remotely plausible, for many reasons, but I do think psychohistory and its predictions are a fun premise for a series of novels.

Progress is often due to technological advancement, which depends on innovation, which begins with strokes of genius, inspiration, and imagination. None of these can be predicted.

Any tool that we could create would be limited, in a way, by the creators' state of mind and conceptions of the possible. It would be unlikely to be able to anticipate--even in the aggregate--the nature the changes the drive history, and thus the nature of (future) history itself.

I am amused that Asimov, who supposed that Hari Seldon (himself living far in the future) could calculate probable histories thousands of years in advance, read his news, not from a computer screen (let alone a phone or a tablet), but from a newspaper!

Taking this cue from Asimov, I imagine that Hari Seldon's psychohistory calculations reflected his view of the possible and his expectation that in hundreds of years his descendants also would be reading their newspapers on dead tree. This does not inspire confidence in psychohistory, but it makes for a fine read.


Anne | 336 comments Joe wrote: "Anne wrote: "How close does Asimov come to predicting the future in the novel???

If he isn't using psychohistory what is he using?"

So far (I just started Part V: The Merchant Princes), it looks ..."


Think of human society as a living thing that grows, uses up resources, dies, grows elsewhere, etc. Oswald Spengler was quite detailed in his exposition of rise and fall of various cultures on which we have data. Ibn Khaldun did similar studies at the height of Arab culture. If certain characteristics are CYCLICAL instead of linear then prediction is much more likely to be possible...maybe not for all details but even some would be advantageous.


John Karr (Karr) | 6 comments In fiction, Psychohistory would be interesting when anomalies presented themselves to throw off the models.

In reality, would anyone want to live in a world where the future is predictable to the nth degree? No thanks.


Michael (The_Smoking_GNU) | 177 comments John wrote: "In reality, would anyone want to live in a world where the future is predictable to the nth degree? No thanks. "
The future in the Foundation series is predictable but it can also be changed.
(view spoiler)


Anne | 336 comments In the 1950's to write about The Department of Homeland Security, renditioning without appeal, the collection of wisdom (Google books?), the dispersion of what will be needed to minimize the Fall of the Foundation was quite a leap but very Oswald Spengler. Easier now to see that we have Stewart Brand's time capsule project and the seed bank manifesting. At a time when our culture might plateau for another century or two "W" sure hurried up the decay process.


Anne | 336 comments John wrote: "In fiction, Psychohistory would be interesting when anomalies presented themselves to throw off the models.

In reality, would anyone want to live in a world where the future is predictable to the..."


Sure -- humans thrive on making the future more predictable and under their control -- it's called science.

Always probability, always anomalies pop up, but only a few fundamentalists think the Dark Ages an improvement.


Robert Nasuti (rlnasuti) | 30 comments Not only is it plausible, but the Mayans had mastered it. The first crisis coincides with the beginning of the next long period on the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012.

:-)


message 38: by Rob, S&L Forum Mod (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rob (robzak) | 2726 comments Mod
Robert wrote: "Not only is it plausible, but the Mayans had mastered it. The first crisis coincides with the beginning of the next long period on the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012.

:-)"


Boooooooo

Lol.


Anne | 336 comments Paul Krugman, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, has stated that it was Asimov's concept of psychohistory that inspired him to become an economist. ...wiki's article on Asimov


Anne | 336 comments Is everyone aware that Asimov, Heinlein and L. Sprague de Camp were part of a classified think tank in WWII?


message 41: by Joe (last edited Sep 08, 2012 05:18PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joe Marion | 7 comments Plausible with our current capability would be no. The single biggest hurdle is Big Data. Anyone who's worked in Big Data (capitalization deliberate) knows the problem is you have so much information there's no feasible way to sort through it all.

The quantity of data that would be required to be collected would be astronomical. Compounding this fact would be data from our history would be sparse at best until massive data collection could be undertaken. Then you'd need a statistically valid period of time to collect, and some way to analyze cultural, economic, and political changes.

To derive a statistical mathematics from that quantity of data would be an undertaking spanning multiple lifetimes. Maybe an incredible genius could decipher a pattern from it, but more likely it would require a concerted effort over multiple generations to create something usefully descriptive, much less predictive.

Possible, it definitely is. There are a finite amount of possibilities in current & past human behavior because evolution tends to be far less drastic in more complex species, and it's not as though disciplines like psychology and sociology don't already exist. Regardless of how much choice people have, as groups especially, how they exercise it is more limited.

It's more interesting how pivotal certain individuals are in the story, given the group-centric dynamics of psychohistory as described. It seems to make the case that the times make the man, not the man makes the time, even if that's not deliberate. Such as, there would always be a Hitler, even if there wasn't Hitler. There would always be an Abraham Lincoln, even if it wasn't Abe. There would always have been a Caligula, even if it wasn't Caligula.


Alterjess | 318 comments The NY Times this weekend printed an excerpt from Nate Silver's new book on prediction, which may be of interest in this thread. It's online here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/09/mag...

One of the most interesting things this chapter (on weather forecasting) discusses is that even with a supercomputer crunching huge amounts of data, the predictions are better when a human interprets the results because the one thing we still do better than computers is pattern recognition.


message 43: by Rob, S&L Forum Mod (last edited Sep 10, 2012 10:17AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rob (robzak) | 2726 comments Mod
Weather prediction is pretty bad still.

Maryland has a crazy thunderstorm this summer, where the winds were so bad that a ton of people lost power. I'm pretty sure they didn't even predict there was going to be rain.

I want Back to the Future 2 style weather predictions! ^_^


Tim (TwistTim) | 8 comments Alterjess wrote: One of the most interesting things this chapter (on weather forecasting) discusses is that even with a supercomputer crunching huge amounts of data, the predictions are better when a human interprets the results because the one thing we still do better than computers is pattern recognition.

That is true. When I was in college, I had a two hour break in between classes.

Just for fun, I would spend part of my break in the computer lab looking at the various weather data packages.

I was able to forecast the weather better than the computer models, because I would recognize certain patterns of the weather. (For example, it always rains in Angier, Fuquay-Varina {the town next to it} doesn't see as much rain) that the computer would not or could not see.

So yes, pattern recognition is a human trait, and one Meteorologists rely on.


Keith (Teleport-City) | 258 comments Where is Sir August De Wynter when you need him?


Jonathon Dez-la-lour (jd2607) | 163 comments In theory, with enough data storage and processing power, it could be doable - to predict with a reasonable degree of accuracy the long-term behaviours of a significantly large population.

There's most likely a sweet-spot where the population being monitored is significantly large enough to make decent predictions but before the sheer quantity of data that would need to be processed becomes entirely unmanageable.

But even if someone figured a way to collect and process all of the data, it still wouldn't be something that could be done overnight. There'd need to be a significant period of data collection to build a valid statistical model, years if not decades.

Plus, the pattern recognition software would need to be so incredibly sophisticated that it's basically intuitive to make the same kind of leaps of logic that a human brain can make.


Ulmer Ian (eean) | 253 comments Jonathon wrote: "But even if someone figured a way to collect and process all of the data, it still wouldn't be something that could be done overnight. There'd need to be a significant period of data collection to build a valid statistical model, years if not decades.
"


Isn't that one of the strengths of the psychohistory in Foundation? He had tens of thousands of years of recorded history to work with. This made it believable enough to me. Easier to believe than FTL for sure.

Plus, the pattern recognition software would need to be so incredibly sophisticated that it's basically intuitive to make the same kind of leaps of logic that a human brain can make.
If Foundation was written today it would probably involve a sentient computer for sure. If you have a problem that can be solved with greater computer power, then you have a problem that can be solved for sure in the long term IMO. But of course it's not clear that politics and sociology are one of those problems. :)

Tim says: "I was able to forecast the weather better than the computer models, because I would recognize certain patterns of the weather. (For example, it always rains in Angier, Fuquay-Varina {the town next to it} doesn't see as much rain) that the computer would not or could not see."

To be honest your experiment sounds like a big exercise in remembering your hits and forgetting your misses.


Michael Sommers | 53 comments Fresno Bob wrote: "We still cant predict weather reliably more than 10 days out or so...."

But two or three years ago the limit was 7 days, and not too many years before that it was 3-5 days.


Michael Sommers | 53 comments Sean wrote: "Chaos theory pretty much killed the plausibility of psychohistory, something Asimov acknowledged in the later books. When Asimov started the series in the '40s and '50s scientists still thought tha..."

Not every equation exhibits deterministic chaos; only certain non-linear equations do. If the equations of psychohistory do not contain those particular kinds of non-linearities, there won't be a problem. If they do, then who is to say what ways of dealing with them will be discovered in the time it will take to establish a galactic empire (in a fictional world, of course; in the real world the probability of establishing a galactic empire is basically nil)?


message 50: by Rick (last edited Sep 13, 2012 03:02PM) (new)

Rick After reading this for a bit let me put it this way... Yes, it's plausible IF it's even possible in the first place.

Consider that we've had computers for less than a century. Imagine what they'll be like in another century. Now imagine what they'll be like in 120 centuries.

Sure, there's details that need to happen - data collection, etc. But presuming it's possible at all I don't see plausibility being an issue on the timescales we're looking at in Foundation. What I think is somewhat amusing is that we're talking about the plausibility of psychohistory in the context of something that is impossible - a galaxy spanning empire. Unless we discover some way to do FTL a) at all and b) in a practical manner (no "well, it takes the energy of an entire star but it's possible" techniques need apply) there's no way we will have such a thing 12,000 years from now.


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