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The Foundation Trilogy
http://www.heinleinsociety.org/thsnexus/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=491
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Author:  PeterScott [ Tue Sep 29, 2009 7:23 pm ]
Post subject:  The Foundation Trilogy

(Exercising the "classic" part of this forum's charter...)

I just finished a periodic rereading of the trilogy. (I don't care for Asimov's later additions... at all... and for the additions by other authors even less...)

It's just so delightful, even knowing all the surprises in advance. What struck me this time was the writing style. Asimov was such a consummate expert writer, his vocabulary was amazing for its sheer range and yet he rarely used a word that I don't know. His style is so accessible, the grammar a model of clarity. His characters have distinctive voices without caricatured accents. I was reading this time from the perspective of a writer appreciating the skill of another and it certainly showed.

I never read the trilogy in its original form and it was years before I learned that it had appeared one small story at a time. So I don't know what it would have been like to experience it in that episodic form. But nevertheless, the stories work completely when combined into novels. It's remarkable how Asimov was able to switch the entire cast and set from one chapter to the next and yet maintain the continuity and hold the reader's interest and caring about the future of the Plan throughout all these changes. According to Faulkner, this is supposed to be impossible.

Well, f**k Faulkner.

The few signs of aging are easily forgivable: societies that have lost atomic technology can still run faster-than-light drives? The legend is that the trilogy was based on Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but it transcends that in so many ways, not the least of which is, being, like, readable. But also, Asimov goes way beyond Gibbon with the development of psychohistory, the rogue factor of the Mule, and the extra dimension of the Second Foundation. It deserved the award it got for for best series of all time.

Author:  audrey [ Tue Sep 29, 2009 9:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Foundation Trilogy

Also one of my favorites. I do think it dates a little (not nearly as much as Gibbons though!) . Psychohistory is not as far-fetched as he made it sound I believe. The prediction of the behavior of large numbers of people actually is a serious science now, though a lot of it seems to be spent on how to make advertising more effective there are pretty reliable statistics about what percentage of a large group of people is likely to do x, y, or z under given circumstances... economics and other sciences also look at this. In fact some recent studies have made the news regarding how even small peer groups influence the likelihood that a person will smoke or even become overweight.

Author:  sergeial [ Tue Sep 29, 2009 10:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Foundation Trilogy

I haven't read Foundation since I was a teen. I'm not normally one to fault a plot for a little predictability, but I remember being put off in Foundation and Empire by Asimov using such a hoary old trick as a "Doc Savage villain." (The harmless, innocent fellow accompanying Our Heroes who is actually the villain incognito.) It seemed a cheap gimmick for such a highly praised novel.

Perhaps it would have appealed to me more in the original, serialized form of presentation, with waiting time between installments to build suspense. "Am I right about this Jester fellow or not? If so, when will he reveal himself? Perhaps in the next story?" Etc...

audrey wrote:
The prediction of the behavior of large numbers of people actually is a serious science now, though a lot of it seems to be spent on how to make advertising more effective there are pretty reliable statistics about what percentage of a large group of people is likely to do x, y, or z under given circumstances...


Eh. More "pseudo-" than "science," I'd say. Those who claimed to be able to do this are known as "quants" in the business world and widely blamed (as one of the bigger factors at least) for the current economic tailspin. Here's a Scientific American article on the topic: After the Crash. And Forbes: Blame the Quants.

Author:  JamesGifford [ Thu Oct 01, 2009 7:13 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Foundation Trilogy

sergeial wrote:
Eh. More "pseudo-" than "science," I'd say. Those who claimed to be able to do this are known as "quants" in the business world and widely blamed (as one of the bigger factors at least) for the current economic tailspin.

Every tool has its use and its misuses. Such quantification of social and human factors can be done, but the results are fairly blunt edges not of much use for anything better than advertising focus. At this, such numbers have been and will continue to be useful (until we all get our acts together and feed enough garbage into marketing surveys...)

Attempting to sharpen that edge, no matter how much data goes in and how precisely the curves seem to map out, is nonsense. Percentages and individuals do not correlate and never will, no matter how fancy the calculations.

Author:  PeterScott [ Thu Oct 01, 2009 4:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Foundation Trilogy

Yep, definitely agree on advertising.

Now I come to think of it, the closest I have read to modern psychohistory is George Friedman's "The Next 100 Years" (q.v. elsewhere in this forum). He certainly appears to have the knack of extrapolating (primarily geopolitical/military) consequences in a thoughtful and logical fashion.

Author:  BillPatterson [ Thu Oct 01, 2009 5:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Foundation Trilogy

JamesGifford wrote:
sergeial wrote:
Eh. More "pseudo-" than "science," I'd say. Those who claimed to be able to do this are known as "quants" in the business world and widely blamed (as one of the bigger factors at least) for the current economic tailspin.

Every tool has its use and its misuses. Such quantification of social and human factors can be done, but the results are fairly blunt edges not of much use for anything better than advertising focus. At this, such numbers have been and will continue to be useful (until we all get our acts together and feed enough garbage into marketing surveys...)

Attempting to sharpen that edge, no matter how much data goes in and how precisely the curves seem to map out, is nonsense. Percentages and individuals do not correlate and never will, no matter how fancy the calculations.


I'm not so sure -- I think they're just going about it the wrong way with the wrong assumptions (you know, Noam Chomsky in a book that appeared in I think 2003 chided one of his critics by saying that there is no such thing as a scientific definition of content in an utterance, and what does that say about the stability and maturity of the discipline?) For one thing, I'm pretty sure you could do something like semantic indices, but I think you'd have to use chaos mathematics for strange attractors and possibly catastrophe theory as well, though it's hard to wrap the head around that combination . . .

Anyway the assumption has always been, going clear back to 1939 at least, that the "answer" of such an index would be a single vaue across statistically large populations, and that makes no sense at all. Such a thing would have to have multiple values depending on other data dimensions, at the very least. (for such a schema, you might be able to get correllations from individual to group, though they probably would not yield hard values.)

Nonlinear dynamics didn't really exist as a mathematical discipline when Asimov was writing the Foundation novellas (ISTR "Bridle & Saddle" was written while he was at NAES during the war). Mathematicians couldn't get access to enough computational resources until the desktop micro came around in the mid-70's, which is why you suddenly see things like the Mandelbrot set and Sensitivity to Initial Conditions and Fuzzy Logic and Catastrophe Theory coming out in the 1960's, plus complexity theory, of course. Turbulance and flow patterns, that sort of thing.

Author:  DanHenderson [ Fri Oct 02, 2009 8:01 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Foundation Trilogy

JamesGifford wrote:
Percentages and individuals do not correlate and never will, no matter how fancy the calculations.

"Statistics is a mathematically precise line drawn between an unwarranted assumption and a foregone conclusion."
BillPatterson wrote:
there is no such thing as a scientific definition of content in an utterance

"Trying to express an idea in words is like trying to build a tree out of lumber."

I'm afraid I have no attributions for either quote, but I like them both.

Author:  PeterScott [ Fri Oct 02, 2009 9:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Foundation Trilogy

How timely that a few days ago on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart interviewed Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, author of a new book called The Predictioneer's Game, during which Bruce said, "You must think I'm Hari Seldon." Seems that Bruce has developed predictive models that can tell things like, what Iran is going to do with nuclear weapons, twice as accurately as the CIA can...

Author:  audrey [ Fri Oct 02, 2009 10:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Foundation Trilogy

Seems that Bruce has developed predictive models that can tell things like, what Iran is going to do with nuclear weapons, twice as accurately as the CIA can...


course 2 X 0 is still 0.......

Author:  RobertJames [ Mon Oct 05, 2009 11:54 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Foundation Trilogy

Mr. Scott, can you provide a quote for the Faulkner comment, because I don't recognize that sentiment.

And how odd to discover you're a necrophiliac...

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