Krugman’s Introduction to Asimov’s Foundation Series

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

Krugman’s introduction to Asimov’s Foundation Series strikes me as rather smug and self-satisfied.

I enjoyed this passage though:

Each time, the Foundation triumphs. But here’s the trick: after the fact, it becomes clear that bravery and cunning had nothing to do with it, because the Foundation was fated to win thanks to the laws of psychohistory. Each time, just to drive the point home, the image of Hari Seldon, recorded centuries before, appears in the Time Vault to explain to everyone what just happened. The barbarians were never going to prevail, because the Foundation’s superior technology, packaged as religion, gave it the ability to play them off against each other. The warlord’s weapons were no match for the Foundation’s economic clout. And so on.

This unique plot structure creates an ironic resonance between the ‘Foundation’ novels and a seemingly unrelated genre, what I’d call prophetic fantasy. These are novels — Robert Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time’ cycle comes to mind — in which the protagonists have a mystical destiny, foreshadowed in visions and ancient writings, and the unfolding of the plot tells of their march toward that destiny. Actually, I’m a sucker for that kind of fiction, which makes for great escapism precisely because real life is nothing like that. The first half of the ‘Foundation’ series manages, however, to have the structure of prophecy and destiny without the mysticism; it’s all about the laws of psychohistory, you see, and Hari Seldon’s prescience comes from his mathematics.

I suppose I need to reread the original trilogy.


  1. Ross says:

    There’s no “fate”, “predestination” etc. The only “mythical destiny” is that imagined by Krugman (and later, by the trilogy’s increasingly unknowing characters along the vast timeline.)

    Psychohistory, as pitched beautifully by Asimov, is tantalizing blend of predictive cliodynamics, crowd psychology, and advanced statistics, the outputs of which were all tracked, updated and even manipulated and managed by Seldon’s benevolently-purposed fifth column, The Second Foundation.

    Seldon’s pre-recorded pronouncements tracked Galactic events eerily well, with only slight deviations over time, until the black swan of The Mule kicked the model (and predictions) off track.

  2. Isegoria says:

    I’m sure Krugman understands the difference between mythical destiny and psychohistory, even if he is a little too confident in his own abilities.

  3. Bill says:

    What version of Foundation has this Introduction? Can you link to it on Amazon? Thanks!

  4. Isegoria says:

    Krugman’s introduction is included in the Folio Society‘s new edition of the Foundation trilogy.

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