In my quest for intellectually unchallenging reading matter, suitable for flushing one’s brain after a whole day’s thinking, I recently came upon Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels. For a science fiction novel (or probably for any modern novel), there was pleasingly little of sex and violence to mar my enjoyment of the plots, even though, ideologically, the books are of cause utterly unsound. I was quite amused by the author’s early 1940s enthusiasm about nuclear energy and faith in sociology. In the story, a central role is played by the science of psychohistory, defined by Wikipedia (is there any pop culture item without a Wikipedia entry?) as “a fictional science i[…] which combines history, sociology, etc., and mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behavior of very large groups of people”. The founder of this science uses it to predict with statistical probabilities the course of history and the incidence of crucial crises for a foundation established at the fringe of the galaxy over a course of 1000 years.

A helpful plot device, but somewhat risible, I thought. Something that people are actually trying to develop, according to Nature.