Author Topic: Isaac Asimov - Foundation and Empire (1952)  (Read 3839 times)

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Offline Hanes

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Isaac Asimov - Foundation and Empire (1952)
« on: June 18, 2008, 05:35:20 AM »
4:30 am, I just finished Foundation and Empire.  I couldn't put it down!  Reading that book is like having a mind orgasm spanning hours.  I've got to get to the bookstore tomorrow and buy the next in the series.
« Last Edit: June 30, 2008, 02:05:44 PM by Apeiron »

Offline Zookster

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Re: Isaac Asimov - Foundation and Empire
« Reply #1 on: June 18, 2008, 05:45:42 AM »
4:30 am, I just finished Foundation and Empire.  I couldn't put it down!  Reading that book is like having a mind orgasm spanning hours.  I've got to get to the bookstore tomorrow and buy the next in the series.

I love that series, read it as a kid years ago, over and over.

There are now 6 in the trilogy, but really, the newer 3 are separate. 

BTW, the 3rd book, Second Foundation, is excellent!!!
Massey: No, he needs to be left alone.  We can't fix any of this with violence.
Schlock: You're just afraid to use enough of it.
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Offline DaveTheReader

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Re: Isaac Asimov - Foundation and Empire
« Reply #2 on: June 18, 2008, 02:42:12 PM »
I have pretty much read all of the books in the Foundation series, including the approved newer books written by other authors. A pretty good series.
However, there is a major flaw in the base premise of the series, the idea of an entirely deterministic universe. Azimov doesn't seem to have taken into account the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, an underlying reason why the universe can't be predicted, except on a macro level. The Foundation series is making predictions at a detail level over the long term. Another problem is the amount of computing power necessary to know about every particle in the universe, necessary to do the predictions; it would take considerably more than the entire universe to have that much computing power to track every particle in the known universe. A few years ago there was a book, I think that it is "The Science of StarTrek" by Lawrence Krause, which discussed the problem with making a transporter, a similar problem. Remember the Heisenberg compensators in Star Trek? I wasn't able to confirm the exact title and author, but also a good read.
Many theists have the notion that their particular god knows the future as wells as the present and past. That would be one powerfull god.
Azimov seems to have done most of his writing, including the robot series and the Foundation Series, without the notion of a computer. It should be fairly obvious that the Foundation Series would be quite different if Azimov were more aware of computers, the brain of the robots,  along with the ubiquitous general computers, such as the one I am using to write this reply.
James Randi has a great podcast on his friend Azimov.

Offline Hanes

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Re: Isaac Asimov - Foundation and Empire
« Reply #3 on: June 18, 2008, 07:07:27 PM »
The psychohistory of Seldon didn't attempt to predict anything micro, so uncertainty doesn't come into play.  Furthermore, it doesn't attempt to track particles.  It seeks to predict future human behavior based on population trends on the most macro of scales.

A quote to illustrate:
Quote
"What can upset Hari Seldon's careful scheme of history, eh?"  He peered from one to the other with a mild, questioning anxiety.  "What were Seldon's original assumptions?  First, that there would be no fundamental change in human society over the next thousand years."
[...]
"But, there was a second assumption, a more subltle one!  Seldon assumed that human reaction to stimuli would remain constant."
In addition to this, it was required that the population sample be sufficiently large, and that the population remain ignorant of the psychohistorical analysis.

In this sense it's  much more like the analysis of ants in an anthill.  It's impossible to predict what an individual ant will do in the case of a catastrophy, but it can be predicted very accuratly how the colony as a whole will react.

As far as computing power is concerned, given that the story is set hundreds of millions of years in the future, and the goal is much less ambitious than the prediction of atoms, I don't see much of a problem.

I also fail to see what effect a knowledge of the modern computer would have on the macrostory.  Some details might have been changed, such as doing hand-calculations to plot hyperspace routs, but the story arcs would be almost identical.

Offline DaveTheReader

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Re: Isaac Asimov - Foundation and Empire
« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2008, 03:23:04 PM »
I don't know about you, but I don't want to know the end of the story before I get a chance to read the book, so, I am trying to not give anything away. Particularly relevant when it is a series.
As I said before, I have pretty much read all of the books in the Foundation series, including the estate approved newer books written by other authors. I have read about half of the Robot series. About a month ago, I read Nightfall by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg. It is based on the shortstory Nightfall by Asimov, which I originally heard as a podcast on X Minus One. Nightfall is also about predicting human behavior over a long term.
I think that it is safe to say that I have enjoyed reading his books.
Asimov died in 1992. I suspect that Asimov wasn't comfortable with computers more advanced than mainframes. His books and stories reflect this. I always like to know the biases of the authors that I read.
Your description of ant behavior is a fairly good description of a part of Chaos theory, though you may know Chaos theory better as the "butterfly effect". The butterfly effect is the idea of large changes from small changes in initial conditions. That is why predicting human behavior is such a problem. At the quantum level, behavior is theoretically totally non-deterministic - the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. You can only make probability statements. The further out you go in time on your predictions, the less reliable they are. Human behavior is chaotic.
Weather, another chaotic system, is really done by meteorologists on a probability basis, not the absolutes that you see on television weather. The farther out you go, the more unreliable the weather predictions. Super computers are used to predict weather, 5 day predictions are getting somewhat reliable. Psychohistory would necessarily also require super computers to have any accuracy at all. There are simply too many variables to predict this chaotic behavior any other way.

As previously mentioned, James Randi has a great podcast on his friend Asimov. It would be an honor and a privilege to have Randi involved in this discussion. I wonder if he could be talked into it. I suppose that he is at the TAM. Isaac's collaborator, his wife Janet, would certainly have thoughts on the subject as well. The authors of the newer books in the series would also have thoughts on the subject.

Which book are you going to read next? I read Prelude to Foundation before I started the regular series. I don't remember the author.

I find Asimov's stories intrigueing but far from convincing. Not impossible, just not probable, A good read nonetheless. Good reading!

Offline seanahan

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Re: Isaac Asimov - Foundation and Empire
« Reply #5 on: June 19, 2008, 09:45:12 PM »
Prelude, Forward, Edge, and Earth were the 4 written by Asimov outside of the trilogy.  I would avoid Fear, Chaos, and Triumph until you've read all of Asimov's stuff, they're disappointing, but are worth a read as fanfic.
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Offline Hanes

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Re: Isaac Asimov - Foundation and Empire
« Reply #6 on: June 20, 2008, 04:38:29 AM »
David, I don't want to sound overly negative, so I'll start by saying that the parts of your posts I don't bitch about, I enjoyed.

That said, "At the quantum level, behavior is theoretically totally non-deterministic - the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. "  Quantum theory doesn't have anything to do with the psychohistory in Foundation.  As you said earlier, "the universe can't be predicted, except on a macro level."  Macro level stuff is all that is attempted to be predicted.  I don't know why you keep bringing it up, since it doesn't apply to anything under discussion.

Secondly, this subject of compters in his fiction.  I see no dislike for computers in any of his fiction I've read so far, though I haven't read his robot series.  What specifically are you talking about when you say, "Asimov wasn't comfortable with computers more advanced than mainframes. His books and stories reflect this."  How is this reflected in his books and stories?


Nightfall was the first full length novel of his that I read, and I enjoyed it immensly.  I was utterly suprised when I found that I enjoyed Foundation more.  The first of Asimov's writings that I read was "The Last Question," and it's by far the best short story I've ever read.

Offline Zookster

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Re: Isaac Asimov - Foundation and Empire
« Reply #7 on: June 20, 2008, 05:33:13 AM »
My first Asimov novel was 'Pebble in the Sky'.  Great book.

And in one of the second 3 books in the Foundation trilogy, there is quite a bit about advanced computers, with a link directly to the brain of the user, but a computer surely.  The user is initially wary of this hyper advanced computer-brain link, but it it all turns out well, so that is hardly Asimov being uncomfortable with computers, although admittedly it is written much later.
Massey: No, he needs to be left alone.  We can't fix any of this with violence.
Schlock: You're just afraid to use enough of it.
-----------------
Tagon: So what is it, gas?  Ice crystals?
Ennesby:  It's a melange.
Tagon: I didn't ask what colour it was!

Offline DaveTheReader

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Re: Isaac Asimov - Foundation and Empire
« Reply #8 on: June 20, 2008, 08:16:55 PM »
Looking into the Foundation Series more carefully, I have discovered that Asimov has written about 500 books and there are 10 books in the entire Foundation series if you include the 3 B's. So it seems, that I haven't, in fact, read most of the books. And then there is the robot series and the Galactic empire series, which some people apparently include as part of the Foundation universe.
Asimov's suggested reading order is included in the introduction to Prelude to Foundation which is, coincidentally, the first book that I happened to read.
I found a pretty good synopsis of the stories at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Foundation_Series#Other_authors.
The synopsis doesn't seem to give away the story lines, just a very broad overview.
I went to the book store today and bought Asimov's Forward the Foundation. Haven't had time to read it yet. That is pretty much the final word on the series, from Isaac Asimov. It was published in 1993.
His widow/collaborator, Janet Asimov wrote a biography of Isaac which seems to be only available in hard-cover.

Now that I am digging into it more, I see that psychohistory is only doing macro predictions, which don't involve the Heisenburg uncertainty principle. The major problem I see is attempting to predict the behavior of a chaotic system - human behavior.  Large changes from small changes in initial conditions.
The closest that I could find to psychohistory is a Long Wave theory of economics, real world, not fiction. The Long Wave Theory aka Kondratiev waves - The Major Economic Cycles, published 1925. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kondratiev_wave
I have seen this extended further, though I don't remember the book or author. It is apparently part of a school of thought in the US. One reference is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanuel_Wallerstein
This would seem to predate Asimov and may have been an inspiration for psychohistory. Economics is another chaotic system.

To a person who works with computers, fiction relating to computers is typically rather disappointing. Humanoid robots are simply mobile computers.
I see that in Forward the Foundation, Asimov mentions a tricomputer. Oh well. I haven't read the book yet.
Asimov can take credit for the laws of computing.

I am not condemning Asimov, he was ahead of his time, but I can't ignore the things that I see as rather questionalble. An analogy is Ray Bradbury writing about walking around on Mars without a pressure suit. Heinlein made the same mistake. Based on the best knowledge at the time, these things seemed reasonable. Today, I  am seeing stories about how there is now evidence of frozen water on Mars. This is a long way from cities with Martians.
I don't know that psychohistory makes any sense. It won't stop me from reading more stories, but part of me will be rebelling.

I also bought a book today "Kitty and the Silver Bullet" by Carrie Vaughn - werewolves! No computers or long wave theories.

Offline seanahan

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Re: Isaac Asimov - Foundation and Empire
« Reply #9 on: June 22, 2008, 05:06:39 PM »
Asimov is quoted as saying (don't have exact quote, can look for) that he didn't really anticipate computers when he first wrote Foundation, and he stuck them into Foundation's Edge and hoped that nobody noticed.  Apparently, most people didn't, although obviously some people here did. 
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Offline Espresso Frog

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Re: Isaac Asimov - Foundation and Empire
« Reply #10 on: June 22, 2008, 06:55:38 PM »
I'm warning you Asimov fans, I'm ready to hide under my lily pond at the first sign of an organized lynching.  ;D


The first 3 books, the original trilogy of Foundations, are a masterpiece.  Long timescale adventure, heroes born, their fight, their legacy, the second foundation, Trantor... Wow ! Those books did have a huge influence on SciFi and the little kid that I was.   I'm fact I'm going to read them yet again.


The 3 that follows, and Isaac himself says that he was forced into it because of the series success, just feel good but sort of Lost in Space-y.  It didn't have the appeal and strength the first books had.   I did like them but they didn't give me the shivers at all.  Then again I was 18, I may have changed as a reader.


The prequel books... they feel like Isaac wanted to merge one successful line of classics like the Robot series with the best seller Foundation series so that now when you pick up either one you are coaxed into buying the other series. But it's not that convincing.  It felt cheap like reading some Star Trek or Dr Who pocket book adventure.  This wasn't literature anymore.


I was 19, then I've discovered Phil K. Dick and was hooked on SciFi written by nutcases instead.  I've never touched Asimov as I was more into P.K.D.'s mad and yet logical universe.


So was I was going thru phases and failed to recognize the increasing value of the new foundation books ?  Or are they others who feel the pre-quels are so-so, the sequels are there but don't feel as good...


Offline Kurt

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Re: Isaac Asimov - Foundation and Empire
« Reply #11 on: June 22, 2008, 07:31:44 PM »
I'm warning you Asimov fans, I'm ready to hide under my lily pond at the first sign of an organized lynching.  ;D


The first 3 books, the original trilogy of Foundations, are a masterpiece.  Long timescale adventure, heroes born, their fight, their legacy, the second foundation, Trantor... Wow ! Those books did have a huge influence on SciFi and the little kid that I was.   I'm fact I'm going to read them yet again.


The 3 that follows, and Isaac himself says that he was forced into it because of the series success, just feel good but sort of Lost in Space-y.  It didn't have the appeal and strength the first books had.   I did like them but they didn't give me the shivers at all.  Then again I was 18, I may have changed as a reader.


The prequel books... they feel like Isaac wanted to merge one successful line of classics like the Robot series with the best seller Foundation series so that now when you pick up either one you are coaxed into buying the other series. But it's not that convincing.  It felt cheap like reading some Star Trek or Dr Who pocket book adventure.  This wasn't literature anymore.


I was 19, then I've discovered Phil K. Dick and was hooked on SciFi written by nutcases instead.  I've never touched Asimov as I was more into P.K.D.'s mad and yet logical universe.


So was I was going thru phases and failed to recognize the increasing value of the new foundation books ?  Or are they others who feel the pre-quels are so-so, the sequels are there but don't feel as good...



I am a HUGE Asimov fan, and have read just about every piece of scifi he has written. That being said, I agree with you. Foundation and Earth was a total "WTF?". I don't think Isaac was to happy with it either. I read most of his work between the ages of 14-20, and I have found that when I try to go back and reread them, I find it incredibly naive. Placed in its proper historical context though, his stuff is awesome.
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Offline DaveTheReader

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Re: Isaac Asimov - Foundation and Empire
« Reply #12 on: June 22, 2008, 07:55:02 PM »
Can Chaos theory (real) or Long Wave theory (real) integrate with Psychohistory (fiction)?

Also See: Bad science and science fiction

Offline DaveTheReader

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Re: Isaac Asimov - Foundation and Empire
« Reply #13 on: June 22, 2008, 08:05:30 PM »
Kurt,
Asimov has written about 500 books! I made the same mistake in an earlier blog. The difference id that I didn't read any of his books until after 9/11 when I had a lot of time on my hands. At that time, his original Foundation series was getting somewhat dated - no computers etc. That is why I have been critical. Also, See seanahah 2008Jun22 15:06

Offline Kurt

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Re: Isaac Asimov - Foundation and Empire
« Reply #14 on: June 22, 2008, 08:07:49 PM »
Kurt,
Asimov has written about 500 books! I made the same mistake in an earlier blog. The difference id that I didn't read any of his books until after 9/11 when I had a lot of time on my hands. At that time, his original Foundation series was getting somewhat dated - no computers etc. That is why I have been critical. Also, See seanahah 2008Jun22 15:06

I know how many books he has written, and yes, I have read just about all of his works of scifi.

edit: You can look here and see that his works of scifi are not so numerous as to be impossible to read in their entirety within the span of a few years:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Asimov_complete_bibliography
« Last Edit: June 22, 2008, 08:11:16 PM by Kurt »
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