Friday, September 21, 2007

Psychohistory is Here

It was back in college that I started reading Asimov thanks to an Inquest Gamer (back when they were still Inquest) article of the 100 books you were supposed to read (the cover had a werewolf in front). It wasn't I, Robot that I read but rather Foundation and I was blown away. The central science fiction of the series is Psychohistory, a predictive science that the protagonist, Hari Seldon, develops. Psychohistory can be summed up like this: the future actions of a collective (as opposed to an individual) can be predicted. It is by this theory that Seldon steers the fate of humanity for the next few centuries.

Now predicting the future using mathematics appear to be quite fictional. The first Foundation short story was published in 1951 and it's been more than half a century since then. Perhaps just as Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea served as inspiration for the world's first submarine, could Foundation lay the groundwork for a real-world science? Now I know it's not the duty of science fiction to predict the future but rather talk about modern day concerns (just look at 1984). Asimov himself admits that The History of the Fall and Decline of the Roman Empire served as inspiration for his series. Yet it's not uncommon for people to draw inspiration from science fiction and make them a reality.

I've recently been listening to Courtney Brown's lectures on Science Fiction and Politics and one of the first novels he tackles is the Foundation series. He brings up two good points. One, that Foundation's science is that of social science. Typically, when I think of science fiction, I usually think in terms of physics or biology or chemistry. While I've certainly read science fiction that's classified as political or social, I never thought to view them from the perspective of the social sciences. The second point he brings up is that facets of Psychohistory is here. By no means do we have Second Foundation-level psychics (i.e. actual psionics) but we do have a mathematical formula that predicts human behavior to a certain extent. For example, we have Social Theory that tries to explain human behavior on a large scale and identifying telltale signs when a government or regime will fall (for the most part, Foundation is the story of the fall of empires).

The elements Asimov brings into play isn't new. Government, religion, economics--these are forces we're all familiar with and suspect others as using for their gain. For example, when Spain attempted to conquer the Philippines, many Filipino scholars do not think it was coincidental that it was followed by numerous missionary expeditions. The Catholic church wielded great power centuries ago and to a certain extent, it still does now, affecting the decisions of how the citizenship will vote, what laws to veto, or even how to live their sex life. Right now in most countries, economics is the name of the game and trade is used as a tool to subjugate other nations albeit less directly. Perhaps we'll ultimately know if there's a fall-out when countries start cashing in on their debts.

I've been thinking of the political climate in this country and it's interesting to note where rallies and coups tend to converge. The first and most obvious is Mendiola due to its proximity to the seat of government, Malacanang Palace. That's as no-brainer. The second and perhaps most prominent is EDSA Shrine in Ortigas, the site of all three EDSA Revolutions. Granted there was no religious significance attached to the place prior to the first EDSA Revolution (there wasn't a shrine back then), but it did become a focal point for politics and religion afterwards (or rather it's no surprise why the site was converted to a mini-church). The third is Makati, easily the hub of Philippine commerce. And when I talk of Makati, I'm really talking about a small portion of it, where business is most centralized. It's been the site of a bombing, a coup, and to this day when there's a bombing rumor, Makati is frequently cited (and is followed by another business hub, Ortigas).

In many ways, I think my perspective is limited, mainly because I close myself from most of the world: I don't listen to the news, I don't read the newspaper, I don't go out much, and I don't travel. I can just imagine that a political science student might draw much more from Asimov and perhaps even generate new and original theories. But the thing is, when I think of political scientists, science fiction isn't the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to their reading material (although I'm sure there are those that do read and appreciate SF). Then again, the same can be said for me. Why don't I become more politically active, more politically aware?

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