How Asimov's Foundation will improve your life

  • : Assigning the return value of new by reference is deprecated in /home/pachydom/public_html/modules/modules/vbcore/vbcore.module on line 430.
  • strict warning: Only variables should be assigned by reference in /home/pachydom/public_html/modules/modules/vbcore/vbcore.module on line 213.
  • strict warning: mktime(): You should be using the time() function instead in /home/pachydom/public_html/modules/modules/vbforumblocks/vbforumblocks.module on line 230.

For me, Foundation by Isaac Asimov is one of the great all-time scifi classics. It takes a concept so simple you can’t help but say “huh, I wish I thought of that” and pulls it off beautifully. It’s a book that changes the way you look at the world, for the better. Don’t believe me? Well I don’t care, but maybe you should read the following half-baked set of brain-drool I’m going to call a thread.

Geeks Versus Bullies

At its heart, Foundation is a metaphor for the collapse of the Roman Empire and the following spread of Christianity, only a thousand times more awesome because it invokes destiny and has spaceships. Which is entirely incorrect though, since it is actually a classic story of a high school geek surrounded by bullies.

At the start, the Foundation is new to the scene. The cool kids, in the guise of the Empire and the would-be kingdoms, all hang out in the playground and cafeteria while the shrimpy, nerdy kid tries awkwardly to fit in. What happens is inevitable:

Empire: Hey new kid, you look pretty smart. Want to hang out?
Foundation: Umm… okay… what do you want to do?
Empire: I think it’d be really fun if you did our homework for us. Over there, on the edge of the school property. Alone. Agreed?
Foundation: Yeah… yeah, okay, sure.
Empire: You’re all right, kid

And so innocent little Foundation has a friend, or so he thinks. What he really has is a destiny, but we’ll get to that. So time goes on, and little Foundy is doing the homework of several of the tougher kids, kids who hang around Empire cos he is so cool but they secretly gossip behind his back. Anyway, Foundy has an unfortunate encounter.

Anna Creon: Hey shrimp, do my homework.
Foundation: Okay, sure, I’m doing it.
Anna: Not fast enough. Maybe if you wasted less time reading about dead scientists and more time getting me through high school, I wouldn’t have the need to beat you

And with that Anna left, content with the threat. What did little Foundy do? He ran straight for Empire, the guy who had called him a friend. If anyone could sort this out it'd be him. But as he pleaded his case, he could see the amusement and sarcasm in the reply. Empire wouldn’t help him. So he paid a visit to where Anna hung out with her friends, the Four Kingdoms.

Foundy: Anna threatened to beat me
Four Kingdoms: So what? Who cares? Piss off! Et cetera
Foundy: If Anna beats me and I’m hospitalised, I can’t do your homework. And I know your pocket money all relies on good marks at school, so yeah.
Anna: Frak you, kid

But she never did threaten to beat him ever again.

Convinced? And that’s only the first Seldon Crisis. Pretty soon he starts working out and doing everyone’s homework, to the point where not even the Empire can attack him because he will accuse his own fists of treason and have them executed.

Clearly, a geek versus bullies story. And the geek wins. Big time.

Salvor Frakking Hardin

The first mayor of Foundation is, without a doubt, the most bad-arse hero in fiction unless you count the ones with superpowers, supergadgets and those that kill people. When the Foundation is pursuing its fake goal of recording all known science, Hardin is watching with horror at the meaningless bureaucracy he is trapped in, and how unequipped it is to deal with the looming threats. The threats which are obvious to see, but somehow those in power are able to ignore them.

We’ve all been there. Most of us have had a boss that can’t see the issues, but will gladly hand us the mop when the shit hits the fan that’s now on fire and is spewing acid onto that pile of money you carefully raked that morning, even though you have a doctorate in Better-than-you-ology from the University of Suck-It-You-Overpromoted-Dickweed and it’s entirely reasonable to expect you to do menial labour. It’s demeaning, but it’s a part of life.

Unless your name is Salvor Frakking Hardin.

Hardin is right, bitches, because he is hard. Can’t administrate? Gonna sideline him out of the important decisions? He’ll just buy a newspaper, bide his time, then throw you out of office and establish a real government. While the former rulers of Terminus were weeping about the hopelessness of it, he took action. First order of business – cutting the tumours from the previous government.

Which included nearly everyone.

And yet, the government he was now in control of was still a democracy. Because he is altruistic, too.

And those were just a bunch of pissy scientists. When a massive war machine loomed above him and an angry populace below, what did he do? Went straight into the belly of the beast, turned off their civilisation, and mocked the corpse of the despot who decided he’d risk taking his own laser to the face than endure Hardin’s disapproving, victorious expression one second longer.

When I say “mocked” I mean it. He didn’t kick, prod or incinerate. He merely ridiculed its former and not so successful life strategy. Because Salvor is not a man of action. He doesn’t need to be. With words alone, he brought down governments. Five governments over the course of his career, in fact. Even the Doctor needs to sonic something occasionally.

The Ability to Predict the Future… with Science!

Not stupid, Ben Affleck space time warping balony, either. With mathematics. That’s right, Asimov applied the concept of ideal gases – where the actions of an individual molecule are unpredictable but the gas as a whole is deterministic – and applied it to people. Well, within fiction, at least. But that’s not the point. Think about it long enough, and you’ll be convinced that not only is psychohistory is real, but you can do it.

I’m serious. For years throughout high school and university, I felt as though history was marching to the beat of a drum, and that I could sometimes catch a glimmer of the drummer. Optimistic, given my lack of mathematical ability, but it felt great anyway. Mathematics was subtly shaping everything, and if you could just tap into it you’d be like a god.

The feeling lasts right up until the realisation that other people are better than you at maths, and they will outgod you with one lobe tied behind their back.

Respect for your elders

Hari Seldon might have been wheelchair-bound, sickly, and dead for hundreds of years. But still, he was wise. He knew the nature of the crisis, and he knew how to solve it. But he’d never interfere… he’d show you the way to resolve it yourself with subtle hints and comments, sometimes after the fact. The strength to succeed, he would say, was inside you all along. A perfect guardian. And if you think you’re problems are more significant than “oh darn, the Empire is waging a full-scale war against my civilisation” then you are either wrong or unfortunate. Sort that nonsense out, mate.

Either way, you start to draw the parallel. Old people know your problems and can fix them. If they can’t, it’s because they know that you need to solve it on your own. You will become stronger for the experience. You have a destiny for greatness and they know it. This, of course, only applies if the old person in your life is a hologram recording.


Really interesting take on the books. I need to reread your post later to make a better comment but I'll say I never bought into the possibility of P'hist. That was the major point I need to suspend by disbelief for.

Vogt wrote a book about the "Space Beagle" that had some similiar ideas but presented in a more believable way and the scale was much smaller.