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Thread: Psychohistory

  1. #1 Psychohistory 
    Forum Professor arKane's Avatar
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    Ever sense I first read Isaac Asimov's Foundation I've been intrigued by the concept of Psychohistory as he defined it. But when I did a search on it, I find it's a branch of study that has nothing in common with Asimov's construct.

    I could be way off base here as one of these versions is considered fictional. However, Asimov's version seems to have valid reasoning behind it. First of all does anybody know if Asimov coined the term 'Psychohistory' first, before it became a field of study? The reason I ask is maybe Asimov should have come up with another name, but if he was first maybe they should have come up with another name. Comments and opinions are welcomed.


    Psychohistory is the controversial study of the psychological motivations of historical events. It combines the insights of psychotherapy with the research methodology of the social sciences to understand the emotional origin of the social and political behavior of groups and nations, past and present. Its subject matter is childhood and the family (especially child abuse), and psychological studies of anthropology and ethnology.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychohistory

    Psychohistory is a fictional science in Isaac Asimov's Foundation universe which combines history, sociology, and mathematical statistics to make (nearly) exact predictions of the collective actions of very large groups of people, such as the Galactic Empire. It was first introduced in the five short stories (19421944) which would later be collected as the 1951 novel Foundation.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychohistory_(fictional)


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    Forum Isotope Bunbury's Avatar
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    I think Asimov was the first to use the term. See this from your Wiki link:

    Its first academic use appeared in Erik Erikson's book Young Man Luther (1958), where the author called for a discipline of "psycho-history" to examine the impact of human character on history.
    Foundation was published in 1951, seven years before the above author suggested the hyphenated version as the name for an academic discipline.

    Personally, I'm skeptical of both versions of psychohistory. In Asimov's version he built the whole novel and its sequels around the ability to predict the future based on a detailed analysis of the past. There are too many variables and too many random events for this to be feasible, and Asimov eventually had to introduce a character, a wild card called the Mule, to acknowledge his recognition of this.

    Not being familiar with the academic discipline of the same name, I infer, perhaps incorrectly, that it claims to determine causes of historical events from psychology (of individuals or groups or whole nations?), but causes are never simple nor are they ever single. It would seem to be an area ripe for confirmation bias.


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    I didn't care for the mule plotlines and then it only got worse afterword.
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    The wikipedia article says
    Psychohistory is the pseudoscientific study of the psychological motivations of historical event
    Note the pseudo part of that line.
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    Forum Masters Degree DianeG's Avatar
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    I guess it is pseudo-scientific in terms of constructing testable, falsifiable theories. But people have been psychoanalysing world leaders for a long time, trying to figure out what makes them tick. And we've been applying things like game theory to historical events or leaders' decisions. That's kind of interesting. And while game theory assumes people behave rationally, and you can apply it to anyone, I also heard a game theory professor say "People behave rationally, but sometimes the trick is understanding what their pay off really is" and I can see how that may vary from person to person or culture to culture.
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