9.29.2008

Sands of Mars, It's Psychohistory!
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Psychohistory is a fictional blended science introduced in Isaac Asimov's Foundation universe, combining history, sociology, psychology, and statistics to predict with great accuracy the behavior of masses of people. While spelled out in the 1950's when the series was first published, it is reminiscent of political polling and also informational trend analysis - what is echoed today in Internet search frequency and analytics. Since the 50's, the concept has been played out in numerous fictional derivatives.

In Asimov's Foundation, analysis of the psycho dataset revealed the coming onset of a Seldon crisis, a vortex of chaos descending on society that would lead to a 30,000 year Dark age. However, by archiving all the world's knowledge in a library location at the edge of the galaxy, the 'Encyclopedists' would trim the period of decay to just 1,000 years, rejuvenating civilization.

If Asimov were alive today, he might have added genetic analysis as an additional behavioral variable in psychohistory, with genes impacting collective action just like they do physical characteristics and portend future health proclivities. By training, he was a biologist.

In fact in one of his books aimed at a youth audience, he addresses the issue of genetic determinism by putting dialog in the mouth of a Sirian human, representing totalitarianism, and the protagonist, representing liberalism:

"We have kept our descent pure; we have not allowed the weaklings in, or those with poor genes. We have weeded out the unfit from among ourselves so that we are now a pure race of the strong, the fit, and the healthy, while Earth remains a conglomerate of the diseased and deformed . . . .

"To the Outer Worlds, Councilman Starr, Earth is a terrible menace, a bomb of sub-humanity, ready to explode and contaminate the clean Galaxy. We don't want that to happen; we can't allow it to happen. It's what we're fighting for: a clean human race, composed of the fit."

Starr, speaking for Asimov, retorts:

"Composed of those you consider fit. But fitness comes in all shapes and forms. The great men of Earth have come from the tall and the short, from all manner of head shapes, skin colors, and languages. Variety is our salvation and the salvation of all mankind."

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