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.
Isaac Asimov’s Foundation – Cycles of History
Isaac Asimov’s Foundation – Cycles of History
Foundation is a novel throughout which the cycles of history are present. Isaac Asimov’s peculiar notions on how change in the environment affects the nature of historical change are present throughout this novel. Asimov uses principles of Marxism to fabricate his future history. Asimov also creates a future political structure modeled on the Roman Empire.
According to Jean Fielder, one of the greatest influences on Asimov’s Foundation novel is Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. This parallel is most discernible as Foundation depicts the gradual disintegration of a great empire, the concomitant rise in regional trade, and the eventual consolidation of political and economic power in the trading city- (or planet-) states. And, like a history, “[Foundation] focuses on mass movements rather than on individual actions”(Fiedler 59). In Foundation, the Galactic Empire is the gradually disintegrating great empire, just as the Roman Empire is the disintegrating empire in Gibbon’s work. And, as in Gibbon’s history, the Foundation builds a trading empire that later unites the planets together.
Many popular histories seem to focus on the empire-builder’s military conquests. However, in Foundation, Asimov’s history of the future “makes the cogent point that the true tools of empire-building are economic and socio-political development” (Fiedler 57). This principle is shown through the use of the Seldon Crises. Most often, the resolutions to these crises are a unique mix of psychological manipulation and technological usage. For example, the Galactic religion provides a means of psychologically manipulating the people of the galaxy to become dependent upon the technological sophistication of the Foundation.
Much of Asimov’s Foundation is based upon Marxism and the Marxist principle of historical materialism. In Charles Elkins’s opinion, these Marxist ideas include the
old puzzle of historical inevitability (predestination) versus free will, which itself flows out of the often unsuccessful yet desperately necessary-and therefore always repeated-struggles of men to control their personal futures and the futures of their societies.(Elkins 100)
These ideas are shown throughout Foundation, and in fact are the basis behind most of the heroic characters. Characters like Hober Mallow, Salvor Hardin, and Limmar Ponyets epitomize men who struggle to control their futures (Elkins 105). These men devote their lives to doing their part to help Seldon’s Plan to be a success, but in reality, they are a planned part of Seldon’s plan to help the Foundation succeed.