Hari Seldon's "Psychohistory"-is It Feasible?

Marxism was supposed to be a predictive science of history and was, um, quite influential at the time the Foundation trilogy was written. I always assumed this was what Asimov had in mind (stripped of its leftist and revolutionary aspects). Spengler’s theory of the rise and inevitable fall of civilizations (or Toynbee’s ideas about same) were probably also influences.

I think I’ve seen Asimov mention Spengler somewhere as an influence. The story was written before Chaos Theory, and let’s not forget that psychohistory failed even within the three novels - note the scene where Seldon’s prediction and advice were totally wrong thanks to the Mule.

It’s good to see that those MIT kids are at it with their document/paper generator again. Except that this stuff looks even less like real English then their first attempts.

Warning: Wear sunglasses if you click on the linked site. It is the worst designed web page I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen lots. Two colors for one word?

James Blish mentions Spengler throughout the “Cities in Flight” series.

This is first order bullshit. With only the first order Peano postulates you lack mathematical induction and cannot even define addition. Without elementary arithmetic, how can you do anything?

As mentioned upthread, it is virtually certain (and I had always assumed) that psychohistory was an analogy with statistical mechanics. The trouble is that you cannot predict what a unique individual (think Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot) can do to deflect those mechanics. Historians do argue whether history is the inevitable result of great movements or is deflected from that course by great man. As another example, can anyone besides Ralph Nader really think that the history of the last 12 years would have been the same had not 5 supreme court justices chosen Bush as president?

Another point to note is that Asimov was self-contradictory in that he posited that history flows in inevitable paths and then created the two foundations whose purpose was to deflect that flow. So my namesake contradicted his own theory. Then along came the Mule…


re: Your spoiler (for a book over 20 years old) is only half-right - as of Foundation and Earth, there were no alien races known, although it’s implied at the very end that Solarians pretty much qualify, though they are likely human enough to be covered by the three laws of Robotics. (and yes, I remember that the Zeroth law can be used to get around that, if he feels they need to be killed)

This thread reminds me of the Bablyon 5 episode where the idiot “Academics” argue that everything that happened was not due to the individuals involved, but “The Forces of History”. Right up until the ancient but still living Delenn shows up to shame the shit out of them.


Sorry for the typo, but it does serve as a probe for me, to see if people are “paying attention”.

Thanks for reading!

Exapno Mapcase,

I made no personal insult, but offered sincere condolences to you regarding your affliction.

You confessed, publicly, that you are unable to read cognitively-advanced content, such as Asimov’s “Foundation” – you wrote that such is “unreadable” to you.

If there were any “personal insults”, then it was you who “personally insulted” yourself.

Is it an infraction, here, to do so – to personally self-insult?

I hope that you will at least SLAP YOURSELF on your wrist.

Again, my sincere condolences to you!

Hari Seldom,

The fifth Peano Postulate – the so-called “mathematical induction” postulate – is a second order sentence: it “quantifies over” [makes assertions about] sets of “Natural” Numbers, not just about individual “Natural” Numbers, as would a first order sentence.

Therefore, only the Goedel First Incompleteness Theorem applies, not the Goedel Completeness Theorem, which applies only to first order logic.

However, the necessary existence of “Non-Standard Models of the Natural Numbers”, if the Standard Model “exists”, is an implication of both Goedel theorems conjointly –
"Most discussions of Gödel’s proof [of his ‘’‘First Incompleteness Theorem’’’ — M.D.] … focus on its quasi-paradoxical nature.

It is illuminating, however, to ignore the proof and ponder the implications of the theorems themselves.

It is particularly enlightening to consider together both the completeness and incompleteness theorems and to clarify the terminology, since the names of the two theorems might wrongly be taken to imply their incompatibility.

The confusion arises from the two different senses in which the term “complete” is used within logic.

In the semantic sense, “complete” means “capable of proving whatever is valid”, whereas in the syntactic sense, it means “capable of proving or refuting [i.e., of “deciding” — M.D.] each sentence of the theory”.

Gödel’s completeness theorem states that every (countable) [and ω-consistent — M.D.] first-order theory, whatever its non-logical axioms may be, is complete in the former sense: Its theorems coincide with the statements true in all models of its axioms.

The incompleteness theorems, on the other hand, show that if formal number theory is consistent, it fails to be complete in the second sense.

The incompleteness theorems hold also for higher-order formalizations of number theory [wherein the Godel completeness theorem no longer holds at all, neither semantically nor syntactically — M.D.].
If only first-order formalizations are considered, then the completeness theorem applies as well, and together they yield not a contradiction, but an interesting conclusion.

Any sentence of arithmetic that is undecidable must be true in some models of Peano’s axioms (lest it be formally refutable [as it would be were it true in no models of the Peano axioms — M.D.]) and false in others (lest it be formally provable [as it would be were it true in all models of the Peano axioms — M.D.]).

In particular, there must be models of first-order Peano arithmetic whose elements do not “behave” the same as the natural numbers.

Such non-standard models were unforeseen and unintended but they cannot be ignored, for their existence implies that no first-order axiomatization of number theory can be adequate to the task of deriving as theorems exactly those statements that are true of the [“standard” — M.D.] natural numbers."

[John W. Dawson, Jr.; Logical Dilemmas: The Life and Work of Kurt Gödel; A. K. Peters (Wellesley, MA: 1997); pages 67-68, emphasis added by M.D.].

Moderator Note

MiguelDetonacciones, calling another poster illiterate is indeed an insult, and insults of this kind are not permitted in this forum. Since you are new here, I’m making this a note rather than an official warning. However, you need to deal way back on the snark if you plan on continuing to post here.

You can rest assured that on this board people will recognize and comment on any typos, misspellings, or other errors you make. You don’t need to deliberately misquote things (if that is what you are claiming you did) in order to attract attention.

General Questions Moderator

Follow-up to last post –

The axioms of Karl Seldon’s “First Dialectical Arithmetic” – a “Non-Standard Model of the “Natural” Numbers” – are given here:



That arithmetic "works"!!!

MiguelDetonacciones, if you want anyone to take this “real-world psychohistory” seriously, there’s something that you (or Karl Seldon) absolutely need to do. Fortunately, it’s something simple. What you need to do is make concrete, falsifiable predictions about something, anything, that’s going to happen. Do that, and people will sit up and take notice, and if we can’t understand your methods, we’ll study them until we do understand them. But until and unless you do that, we’ll disregard your ideas as meaningless babble.

I was just wondering if anyone had ever heard of a website called dialectics.org. There’s a lot of good info on this subject there.


Excellent point! To be considered “scientific”, a theory must make falsifiable predictions.

Indeed, Seldon and his followers claim, not only to reconstruct the history of the cosmos in ontological categories, up to and including the emergence of the ontological category of planetary human[oid] species, with their single “equation of everything”, when iterated to its epoch tau = 8.

They also claim, by iterating that equation to epoch tau = 9, to “pre-construct”, or “pre-dict”, the next-to-emerge category of cosmological ontology: the “meta-human”.
That is, with respect to that overall-cosmos ‘meta-model’, it predicts that, with the quantitative growth/concentration of “human socio-mass”, h, will come the irruption into existence of “delta_h”, i.e., of a new, “meta-humanity” ontological category –

h —> h of h = h times h = h + delta_h = h + y

– a new cosmological <<genos>> which, they infer, will be characterized by three constituent <<species>>:

a "thesis" species-category, which they name that of "human-**g**enomic self-re-engineerings", **g**;

a *"contra-*thesis" species-category, which they name "android **r**obotics", **g**-squared, or **g** times **g**, minus **g** = **delta_g** **= r**, and;

a *"uni-*thesis" species "uni-category" of the hybridization/dialectical synthesis/"complex unity" of the two, of **r** and **g**, which they name "**c**yborg prosthetics", or "**c**yborg bionics", **c**, such that **r** times **g**, minus **g**, **= c**.

They argue that these new species have already, “partially”, or “fractionally”, begun to appear – though largely unnoticed as such by most contemporary humans – e.g., for the third category, c, in the form of human individuals modified with pacemakers, artificial hips, artificial corneas, etc., etc.
For another example, in their third “psychohistorical meta-equation”, called “The [Meta-]Equation of Human Social Relations of Production Meta-Evolution”, the equation for tau = 4 predicts that the expansion of the quantity of, and of the spatial concentration of, the units of the capital/wage-labor social-relation-of-production category, symbolized K, will at length irrupt into existence a qualitatively new, “meta-Kapital”, social relation of production socio-ontological category, by the end of that fourth historical epoch of the ‘meta-evolutions’, or “revolutions”, of the human social relations of production.

Clearly a falsifiable prediction.

This process of quantitative expanded reproduction of Kapital units, leading to irruption of the units of a qualitatively new category of social relations of production ontology, is built-in to that “meta-equation”, but, as a separate process, looks like this:

K —> K_squared = K + delta_K = K + E.

They identify the new social relations ontology, delta_K above, with the category of the units of a new, higher social relation of production, which they name “Generalized Equity”, leading to *"Political-*ECONOMIC DEMOCRACY".

A rather detailed specification as to what the predicted “Generalized Equity” social relation of production, and as to what the predicted “Political-ECONOMIC DEMOCRACY” social formation will look like has been supplied.
With respect to past human history, there are “retro-dictive”/explanatory aspects, or “re-constructive”/explanatory aspects, to this “meta-model”, as well as “pre-constructive”/explanatory, or predictive/explanatory aspects per se.

For example, this same “psychohistorical-dialectical meta-equation”, in its equation for the t = 2 epoch, is standardly interpreted as asserting that the “exchange-use” of Goods, i.e., the [pre-Money] Commodity Barter social relation-of-production, will irrupt once the quantitative “population” level, and local spatial concentration, of the units of the Goods/obligatory-Gifts social relation of production crosses a threshold, i.e., once the social forces of production grow to a level which can sustain the reproduction of such a quantitative scale/concentration of Goods/Gifts units:

G —> G_squared = G + delta_G = G + C.

There are many more examples of such model-based, psychohistorical equations-based “re-constructions” [and “pre-constructions”].

IIRC, Asimov mentioned that the ideas came out of his work with a history prof during one summer job. While working with someone studying cycles of history, he cameup with the idea “aha, what if history could be predicted?” along with the thought, all great empires rise and fall. It’s no surprise that the Galactic empire and its fall are pretty much modelled on the Roman Empire.

Would it really work? As others have pointed out, myriad individual actions have a significant impact on the course of history. Germany might have exploded in the 40’s to recover the prestige and territory lost in WWI, but would it have been as significant a world disruption without the Nazi leaders? Would the world have been significantly different without Bush, without bin laden and 9/11, without Lech Walensa, without Nelson Mandela, without Ayatollah Khomeni? Napoleon? Lawrence of Arabia? In many cases the trends were there, but someone being the guiding force probably takes that social tide in different directions to different ends.

Khomeni took a revolution driven by democratic trends, for example, and perverted it into an Islamic theocracy that still represses what was an advanced country, 30 years later. Napoleon or Hitler turned what might have been a minor terrirtorial dispute into a continent-wide conquering spree. Hitler’s genocidal hatred has perverted the course of the Middle East and its dynamic to this day. And so on…

I’m not convinced that claiming the effects of some individuals on history are significant isn’t simply appealing to our conceit that individuals are important.

For an oversimplified analogy, in a supercooled vial of water, one molecule will be the first to freeze. Or one snowflake will be the the trigger of an avalanche. But they really aren’t important to the overall event.

I don’t think psychohistory is possible, but I don’t think pointing to individuals who seemingly shaped history disproves it.

Do you understand that Asimov’s fictional Psychohistory only worked because there was a hyperintellectual robot manipulating things behind the scenes for thousands of years. Does you “Dialectics” group happen to have one of those on hand?

A key element of Asimov’s concept of psychohistory is that it only works in the enormous populations that would be found in a galaxy-wide civilization. It’s similar to the gas laws in that the behavior of a single gas molecule is unpredictable, but when you consider the behavior of many trillions of trillions of gas molecules the behavior of the gas is highly predictable. Psychohistory couldn’t work on a single planet like the Earth with a population of mere billions. Since Asimov’s Galactic Empire consists of 25 million inhabited worlds, each with a population of billions, that gives him a population of about 10[sup]17[/sup]. The role of the individual would be much less significant in such a population.

I take something of a mixed approach. The technology of the times is almost always dominant in modern history. The industrial revolution created its own imperative. The farming revolution refuted Malthus. Transportation systems created cities, and the automobile created suburbs as we know them. All those things would have happened no matter who was involved in the science or in the politics.

But it’s hard to say to WWII would have happened without Hitler. Or that the U.S. would have stayed democratic without Roosevelt. Or that Communism would have taken hold without Lenin. Individuals do matter.

The real issue is defining your time scales and the level at which your predictions hold. Western-style democracy has been the dominant trend in world history for the past 200 years and can be said to be inevitable given our understanding of recent technologies. If you’re writing a future history that covers 25,000 years you can sweep minor temporary details like Fascism and Communism aside as dead pixels in the Big Picture. Nobody dealing with the real world can get away with this. I see Colibri has said something along the same lines as I typed this.

Mostly, though, it’s all handwaving equivalent to Asimov’s use of a positronic brain for his robots. The words sound good on a page, but have no meaning associated with them that anyone can pin down allowing them therefore to support any flight of imagination. I’m tempted to say that this is a common tactic in many supposed depictions of reality.