Wednesday, November 30, 2005

asimov anyone?

Has anybody read Isaac Asimov's Foundation series? The fact the I have means either: (1) I am a total geek, or (2) I am a highly sophisticated feminist who enjoys reading "boy's" science fiction and giggling a lot. must be both. ha ha.

Anyhoo, this book reads just like the first Foundation. Here's the summary from Amazon:

For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. But only Hari Sheldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future--to a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire--both scientists and scholars--and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for a future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation.

[Using a new theory called psychohistory], Seldon can scientifically predict the future, and it doesn't look pretty: a new Dark Age is scheduled to send humanity into barbarism in 500 years. He concocts a scheme to save the knowledge of the race in an Encyclopedia Galactica.

You can't really tell from this description, but psychohistory is this new form of super-math that allows a handful of elite (and there's generally only one or two each generation) to be able to understand its logic and harness the "power." Basically, you can create algorythms for certain givens you know about patterns of human behavior, cultural schemas, technological development...etc. (published in 1951). You can poke fun at it in this blog, but I'd caution you not to do so in a sci-fi blog. People are fanatical about this book and will tear you to electronic pieces. Waldrop certainly draws on this standard narrative to give shape to the development of Complexity theory at the Sante Fe institute.

Although I was certainly giggling in places, I enjoyed it. Even though it obviously glamorizes yet another Great Man history, it was a nice break during a busy week. Sorta a case study of interdisciplinary collaboration--including issues of personality and ego.


Blogger jmj said...


I read a few Foundation novels a while back, but the details have disappeared into the dim recesses of my memory. The application of complexity to Psychohistory seems interesting, though, and brings up the question: is that what complexity researchers think they will be able to do? Do they expect to be able one day to have enough models to predict all sorts of behavior? It's not something I thought about when I was reading Waldrop's book, but it seems like that's where the field might be heading.


10:26 AM  
Blogger gfp said...

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11:52 AM  
Blogger gfp said...

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11:53 AM  
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11:53 AM  
Blogger gfp said...

Uh, no, I'm not cool enough to have read asimov, but I did read a book once about a ferret named Zucchinni in the back of a station wagon on a hot day and almost puked. Good times, but clearly not material for one of those elite in the Foundation....

The Sante Fe "Foundation" was a good read, but I don't know how significant the whole thing really was. I mean, I don't think they'd ever opt to make the book a motion picture. Wasn't it just a blip in history at an attempt to get academics to mingle, and it was BRILLIANT because these people thought THEY were brilliant, so clearly the outcomes had to be BRILLIANT?

Is the Sante Fe Institute still around and kicking? And have they predicted who'll win the superbowl, much less what the price of milk will be next month?
Enquiring minds want to know....

11:59 AM  
Blogger mdl said...

hi Greg and John.
So greg, in your first three posts were you like cussing me out or something? ;) And WTF? a ferret? I'm sure you saw that others in the blog have been looking at what the santa fe institute is up to today...

John--I should have brought the book and we could have compared the two ;) The big parallel, it seems, is the idea of the "grand system" to explain the world--which Anthony talks about in a super interesting post.

3:07 PM  

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