September 13, 2007

ASIMOV'S PSYCHOLOGISTS


El Cabrero is a big fan of audio books and lectures, especially those by The Teaching Company and The Modern Scholar.

Recently, I listened to one of the latter's offerings, an entertaining series on science fiction literature by Professor Michael D. C. Drout. Drout is one of those teachers who can make just about any subject interesting and fun.

It had been years and years since I read any science fiction, but I was moved to dive into one of the old-school hard-boiled epics of the 40s and 50s, Isaac Asmiov's Foundation Trilogy.

It was kind of a hoot and an interesting social artifact. Good though.

While it's set so many thousands of years into the future that nobody can remember for sure what planet the human race started out on, the characters talk and act like classic 50s males (with a few notable female exceptions).

The plot is about the decline of the galactic empire and a plan to rebuild a new one and save the galaxy from thousands of years of chaos and destruction through the application of the science of psychohistory. As developed by Hari Seldon, this science can predict the course of future events based on a statistical analysis of the actions of large groups of people, in this case over thousands of worlds and involving billions of people over thousands of years.

There are some limits to its predictive powers, however. It can't foresee the actions of individuals and its success depends on people not knowing about it, because this knowledge could change reality. As the story unrolls, things get a little dicey.

Asimov himself was moved to write it after re-reading Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

The thing that struck me most was how odd it seems now to imagine even in fiction a world with that degree of predictability. I think the universe and human history is open, if not for business, then at least for novelty and surprises.

THE LATEST ON THE LOGAN, WV CASE is that federal authorities do not plan to bring charges in the case of the abduction, rape, and torture of an African American woman. The state will proceed with its case, which could carry life imprisonment. I hope readers are aware that the people of West Virginia and of Logan County are horrified by this incident and that they avoid the all too human response of judging an entire population by the actions of a few. I expect this crime will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Residents of Logan will be meeting today to discuss a response to this horrible event.

THE POLITICAL BRAIN. Are conservatives and liberals really different when studied scientifically? You be the judge. Here's a start.

MORE LOSSES. Two of the soldiers who signed a recent NY Times op-ed critical of current policy were killed in Iraq. They did their duty in more ways than one.

HERE THEY GO AGAIN. Pro-Iraq war spin doctors are once again trotting out the long-discredited link between Iraq and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This is part of a major propaganda effort to revive support for this disaster.

IN CASE YOU WERE WORRIED that the earth may not survive the death of the sun in 5 billion years, relax.

GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED

6 comments:

Brecht said...

I enjoyed the Foundation trilogy, but I found Asimov (like so many sci-fi writers) was good on plot and great on ideas, but not nearly so good at creating full characters. Though The Mule is a pretty construct.

Who are the best sci-fi writers for making real people?

El Cabrero said...

Yeah, character development wasn't a strong suit...

It's been a long time since I've read much but the one who made the biggest impression on me was Ursula K. LeGuin, although I just read her older stuff. The Left Hand of Darkness was a good one.

Thanks!

maplehouse said...

Fellow Teaching Company addicts can now view Yahoo groups and phpbb forums:

My new Teaching Company forum:
http://teachingcompany.12.forumer.com/index.php

Robert Hazen's "Origins of Life" forum:
http://teachingcompany.12.forumer.com/viewforum.php?f=17

Some of my new Yahoo groups:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Teaching_Company_Users/?yguid=317656331
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Teaching_Company_Users_Professor/?yguid=317656331
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Teaching_Company_Users_Subject/?yguid=317656331

Doug van Orsow
moderator

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