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A Short Note on the Discipline of 'psychohistory' in Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series

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Psychohistory is the fictional discipline created by Isaac Asimov in his 'Foundation" series. It combines psychology, history and mathematical data to predict the behaviour and future of human populations. Hari Seldon, the mathematician, is the creator of psychohistory, using which he is able to predict possible events of the future.

The novel 'Foundation' begins in the capital of the Galatic Empire, Trantor, where charges of treason are being laid upon Hari Seldon, for predicting the fall of the Empire within the next five centuries. Seldon predicted that the Empire would degenerate into a period of barbarism that would last for thirty thousand years. He claims that the fall is not a sudden event but the culmination of events from centuries ago. By using Psychohistory, Seldon detected a trend that would lead to the Empire's imminent end. When questioned whether this fact can be verified; Seldon more or less makes it clear that the understanding of Psychohistory is limited to other mathematicians. Seldon proposes a plan that would minimise the effects of the destruction of the Empire by reducing the period of barbarism to a mere thousand years and ushering in a Second Empire that would be stronger than the first.

Seldon proposes that by compiling the knowledge of the human race, especially the extent of human scientific achievement into one 'Encyclopedia Galactica' would help reduce the interregnum. He selects twenty thousand families to settle on a planet far away from the seat of the Empire in order to keep the news of the Empire's impeding doom from spreading. From that point onwards, the novel focuses almost exclusively on the exploits of the first Foundation which was settled by The Encyclopedists - a group of scientists charged with maintaining the work on the Encyclopedia Galactica- on the planet Terminus, at the far end of the galaxy. From there the Foundation learns to fend off the monarchs which, newly independent from the Empire, are eager to exercise their power.

According to the 'Encyclopedia Galatica', Psychohistory relies upon the assumptions that the human population be large in order for the statistical data to be accurate, and also that the population under scrutiny be ignorant of the science of Psychohistory. This is in keeping with Seldon's statements that only another mathematician can analyse and verify the results. Seldon attempts to control this knowledge of Psychohistory by making sure that none of the thirty thousand odd people settled in Terminus are privy to it, thereby letting future take its course.

The inhabitants of Terminus are so ingrained with the belief that the compilation of the encyclopedia would help the human population that they never question the validity of Seldon's claims. This is in keeping with what Foucault says about the 'truth claim' of science knowing the truth, because it can be validated. Seldon's 'truth claim' is believed not only by the commission that put him on trial, but also by those working on the encyclopedia. It is only later, fifty years after the establishment of the foundation; after overcoming the first Seldon Crisis and the opening of Seldon's time vault that they discover that the encyclopedia itself is just a fraud. This was also the reason that there was not a single Psychohistorian present on Terminus as a Psychohistorian



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