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Arun Chinnachamy

I am a chemical Engineer from BITS-Pilani. Right now, I work as Technology Lead at MySmartPrice. This is just a place where I write about the things I work and think.

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Isaac Asimov in his foundation series introduced a new kind of science and mathematics combo, Psychohistory. According to the foundation series, the main character Hari Seldon invents and develops a new statistical science called psychohistory which is capable of deducing the course of human history in terms of mathematical probability. Can this psychohistory really possible in our world?

Psychohistory, Hari Seldon and Foundation Series

In the foundation series, Hari seldon uses psychohistory to find about the decaying first galactic empire which was formed during the galactic era in Galactic series of Isaac Asimov and also the upcoming 30000 Years of barbaric and chaotic empires. Hari seldon and his team of psychohistorians develops series of complex mathematical equations and fed that into a small black device called primeradiant. Then they use the prime radiant to find the solution to the problem.

Even though they found it is not possible to prevent the fall of first galactic empire, Hari seldon finds out a way to bring down the 30 millenium barbaric years to merely 1000 years before the inception of second galactic empire. I do not intend to tell what will happen in the book. That is an interesting story and I will let you read through the scintillating foundation series. In this post, I just want to discuss is it really possible to develop a science like psychohistory in reality.

What is Psychohistory?

As per Hari Seldon or the author Issac Asimov, the psychohistory is capable of finding the probably future only for masses of people and not for an individual. It is easy to derive a pattern from large masses than an individual. The following statement provides the broad outline about psychohistory.

  • The program can predict the probablity of course of action for millions, billions of people or mankind as single entity.

  • Another problem being, the people should not be aware of the prediction as it might affect the actions of the people which in turn the future itself.
  • It is not perfect and can only provide probability of future events.
  • It does not account for mutation, aliens and other influenzes which are not evident during the calculation. Example, Rising of Mule (a mutant who can alter emotions of humans) almost destroyed Seldon’s plan for future.

  • It needs constant alteration and regulators to monitor the plan. As per the book, Second foundationers are the keeper of the seldon’s plan.

Is Psychohistory possible?

Is the science of psychohistory is really possible or is it just a fiction? Many things which Isaac Asimov wrote in his book are becoming reality after a century. We are entering more of the era mentioned in robotic series. We are long way to go to make hyperspace travel and inhabiting other planets, a reality. Right now (in year 2013), We are limited by both understanding of psychology and technology to handle that amount of data. So let us see what are the few factors which stops us.

  • Technology: Handling historic data and processing of that data mathematically requires a sophisticated computer system which I am sure does not exists yet. In the book, the prime radiant is small enough to hold in palm.
  • Understanding of Mankind: To derive pattern amoung the chaos of billion individuals of mankind is not a trivial work. Right now we do not even understand how our own brain works. We have a long way to travel to understand ourself before predicting the future using psychohistory.

The evolution of mankind, understanding human emotions are all limitations at this moment. Finally the question again, Is Psychohistory possible? May be but not for atleast another couple of centuries. But I really wish/think Last Analysis by Issac Asimov is a very possible scenario in the future and I strongly recommend you read the short story if you liked foundation series.