There is no psychohistory, and there never will be

Ijlal Naqvi in Scatterplot:

FoundationPsychohistory is the mathematical social science from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series which can be used to predict important societal developments at the population level. My colleagues writing in this blog series have used Foundation as an illustrative example of structural functionalism for a sociological theory course and likened psychohistory to quantitative sociology. Elsewhere, Paul Krugman described it as an inspiration to his younger self. It is a series which is familiar to more than just the geekier social scientists – there are clearly plenty of us! – after winning the only Best All-Time Series Hugo award and selling many millions of copies. For good measure, the series was packed into the boot of the Tesla roadster recently launched into space.

As recounted in Asimov’s Foundation, psychohistory can be used to generate probabilistic predictions of future events, works with mobs and large populations rather than individuals, can only handle a limited number of independent variables, works best when freedom of action is heavily constrained, and only works when its findings are kept secret. In the opening of the book, Hari Seldon – the founder of psychohistory – tests the new hire to his research institute by having him calculate (in his head) the probability of the galactic empire’s demise within 300 years. The collapse of the empire will lead to 30 millennia of chaos, but Seldon wants to reduce that interregnum to 1000 years by judiciously guiding the rise of a new empire through the use of psychohistory. I argue against the possibility of psychohistory by drawing on concepts of emergence and meaning making, while also questioning the normative basis of such a social science and its usage.

More here.