Azimov’s Psychohistory is real — why this matters today.

Mike Flynn
5 min readOct 31, 2020

In the Science Fiction series “Foundation” Azimov wrote in detail about Psychohistory, a way that advanced human beings could predict to a large extent the evolutions of humanity over hundreds and thousands of years.

In reality there is such a means of understanding the evolution of man of time but it’s not Psychohistory it’s the study of Civilization History and Science.

Let’s dig in!

First — the time scales. We have to find a time scale that works on a Civilization level. There are many options but one that works well is the generation — call it 25 years.

Why?

A shocker .. humans are not perennial plants that strictly live and die by the sun cycle. Yet we have so many Social activities based on them — from daily sleep and work, to yearly schooling and taxation, to name a few. We confused our phases of cognitive, artistic, historical and scientific development with our social cycles. While a yearly calendar is useful and accurate for articulating a precise point in time of tangible events, Civilization is not a rudimentary summation of events of points in time just as science is not driven by societal needs within an arbitrary time window.

Einstein did not develop the special theory of relativity to please his parents. Stephen Hawking did not consider blackholes’ properties as something to be done before Christmas. It’s time to move to a more useful timescale that has more relevance and meaning for humans as the means of conveying the patterns of time of civilization.

Thus, a generation — 25 years or so— is a good place to start.

How many generations since the end Caesar Augustus’ rein and the time of Jesus of Nazareth? 2020 divided by 25 gives us roughly 81 generations. EIGHTY ONE generations of opportunities for parents, grandparents, community and other factors that comprise the environment of a new human being to learn and develop, since the time of Jesus.

How many generations since Franklin stored lightning in a bottle and wrote about it, to the point at which man had the beginnings of widespread use of electricity?

Franklin published Experiments and Observations in Electricity in 1751.

Franklin was not the first person to investigate the phenomena of electricity, and he was followed by a litany of other scientists, experimenters and theorists over the next 150 years until we come to the time when the practice of electric light started to have some semblance of widespread use. Here’s a good history of electric light by energy.gov

So — about FIVE generations from structured theory of electricity to beginnings of widespread practice.

Let’s do one more — how many generations between the Renaissance in Italy and the widespread development of science? Cosimo d’Medici returned to Florence from exile in Venice in 1434 and — business practices aside — became one of the great patrons of arts, and nascent sciences. From that time to the founding of the Royal Society [of Sciences in England] (1660) was (1660–1434)/25 which spanned NINE generations.

OK let’s try a longer time period. How long was it from Jesus to the crusades (starting around 1096) — FORTY FOUR generations.

Peche Merle — 20,000 years since the first known inception of cave paintings. EIGHT HUNDRED generations.

If you’re still interested, let’s keep going.

How many years since farming began — lets call it roughly 10,000 years ago — FOUR HUNDRED generations.

The Sumerian Temple Hymns of Enheduanna the earliest known poet are dated roughly 4300 years ago which is about ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY generations ago. She was the writer of the Inanna epic and daughter of King Sargon of Akkad, king of the ‘civilization’ of the Tigris and Euphrates.

Here is a short list of other developments:

EIGHT HUNDRED generations ago— first known cave paintings
FOUR HUNDRED — first known agriculture
TWO HUNDRED FORTY — first known written language in cuneiform tablets
ONE HUNDRED SEVENTY — the first known poetess and the civilization of the Tigress and Euphrates
EIGHTY ONE — Jesus lived and Augustus’ reign
FIFTY SIX — Mohammad and the religion of Islam
FORTY FOUR — the crusades begin
TWENTY THREE — Cosimo d’Medici returns from exile and continues his patronage, in large part contributing to the Renaissance in Italy
FOURTEEN — The Royal Society in English is formed, and a generation later the Principia Mathematica of Newton
ELEVEN — Franklins experiments in electricity published
FIVE generations ago — Electricity comes into widespread practical use

So we see now in the development of man some patterns and some accelerations. Some maturations of civilization, and also some phases of regression in civilizations as in the case of the dark ages and ensuing crusades circa 1030AD. Forgive me (this is a web article..) for not including other civilizations — the Egyptian, Ethiopic, Babylonian, Chinese and Indic are just a few.

That’s an important aspect of civilization — that we have Theory, it develops through theoretical experimenting, people observe others’ experiments and analyze them, and then we bring the conscious fruits of labor to ideas, and then to tangible practice.

But unfortunately it doesn’t always go the conscious route.

And therein lies the rub. The energy can get reversed so to speak — and daily practice can be imposed by doctrines and ideas. Let’s refer to those as Artificial Thinking.

What are some examples of artificial thinking? We’ve all heard them.

In the family — “You should be grateful”, “You should love me for all i’ve sacrificed for you”
At work — “You should love your job”, “this is the way we’ve done it”
In Society —Countless examples of racism from people who have little or no experience living with or interacting with the recipients of their racism.
In government — Take your pick of authoritarian regimes. But it’s not only in authoritarian regimes, policies that are not based on conscious experimentation, or that are implemented literally and without room for personal discretion can easily and often do become artificial.

In Azimov’s Foundation the Psychohistorians accurately surveyed and then through many generations navigated 1000 years of mankind successfully to avoid a 30,000 year dark ages.

In my next article (coming shortly) I’ll follow up on how the crusades, and the division of the United States are similar, the timescales involved, and what to do about them.

In short, as new scientists of Civilization; to triage the where we are in time, the problem we are going through, how mankind went through it before, and how we can recalibrate ourselves to heal our civilization.

--

--

Mike Flynn

For whatever it's worth, I'm seeking to share any wisdom, insights and gifts of learning I've been fortunate enough to receive.