Isaac Asimov's Foundation - Psychohistory
Length: 483 words (1.4 double-spaced pages)
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Psychohistory is the framework upon which Isaac Asimov's Foundation rests. It provides for diverse episodes about a variety of characters over a period 400 years, and those episodes feature a number of strong-minded individuals seeking solutions to a series of problems as they arise (Gunn 42). In the novel, these problems have all been fore-ordained long ago by Hari Seldon's science of psychohistory.
Psychohistory is defined by Asimov as a "'profound statistical science' that deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli" (Touponce 76). In short, this science predicts the future by treating humanity as one massive series of mathematical equations. However, the one drawback of psychohistory is that this science does not account for individual, random variables. Hari Seldon uses the science of psychohistory to predict the fall of the massive Galactic Empire. By using complex mathematical equations, Seldon is able to mathematically prove that the downfall of the Galactic Empire is eminent.
In addition, psychohistory also adds a sense of determination and predestination to Foundation. The main characters in each book of the novel are aware that when a Seldon crisis occurs, they will manage to make the correct decisions leading to the inevitable turnout of the crisis. Seldon's prophesies "are revealed only after the fact, and even the solutions that he or others say are obvious are obvious only in retrospect, as in all good histories" (Gunn 41). This is first shown in "The Psychohistorians" when Salvor Hardin makes the decision that he must take over the management of the Foundation. This decision is logical in retrospect, but it causes Hardin much agonizing over the probable results of his actions before he does them.
The dilemma experienced by Asimov's characters is how to achieve the predetermined outcome concocted by Seldon. The hero of the first Foundation, Salvor Hardin, decides to wait until the crisis limits his choices to only one course of action. He argues:
...the future isn't nebulous. It's been calculated out by Seldon and charted. Each successive crisis in our history is mapped out and each depends in a measure on the successful conclusion of the ones previous...At each crisis our freedom of actions would become circumscribed to the point where only one course of action was possible...As long as more than one course of action is possible, the crisis has not been reached.
We must let things drift so long as we possibly can. (Asimov 119)
This cause of action lets the character "simply follow the logic of Seldon's plan; he will do 'one hundred percent of nothing'"(Elkins 102). However, the reader is left in suspense until the crisis has reached its intended and predicted conclusion.
In conclusion, psychohistory is the foundation upon which Foundation is built. It provides the novel with a basis for the characters to make their decisions. Psychohistory also enforces the predetermination of the novel.