The Seldon Plan is the central theme of Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series of stories and novels. The plan involves mathematically predicting the broad flow of human history on a large scale, in order that the future of the Galactic Empire can be improved.
According to Asimov's novels, Hari Seldon devised the Seldon Plan using a mathematical analysis he originally developed and called psychohistory. Psychohistory is a fictional science which combines history, sociology, etc., and mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behavior of very large groups of people, such as the Galactic Empire. His analysis worked only for large numbers of persons, at least 50 billion, pursuing their idiosyncratic life interests, uninterested in shaping future history, and gave probable paths for historical developments. Using this technique, Seldon deduced that it was certain the Galactic Empire was about to collapse, and bring about a 30,000 year Dark-Age.
The basic concept behind the plan was initially stated to be to reduce 30,000 years of Galactic barbarism, to under 1,000, and establish a Second Galactic Empire. This appears to have been the original version of the plan. Not because Seldon did not have wider aspirations, but because that was as far as it was originally worked out by Seldon himself.
Seldon obtained permission from the Emperor, via the Commission of Public Safety, to start an Encyclopedia project, on a resource-poor planet towards the outer edges of the Galaxy. This project, which he called "The Foundation," was to face a series of crises, each of which would force the Foundation to take a particular path. For example, a scarcity of metals forced the Foundation to co-operate and trade with neighbors. Each time a major crisis happened, a projection of Seldon would appear, and make comments on the situation that had just passed. It was during the first of these crises that Seldon revealed the real purpose of the Foundation, which was to create the Second Galactic Empire.
As the novels progress, the reader learns more of the Second Foundation, composed of mental rather than physical scientists. These Second Foundationers have the power to manipulate minds, to shape the course of the development of the First Foundation (often referred to simply as the Foundation). This leads to strife between the two Foundations, as seen in Second Foundation.
Evolution of the plan
The Second Foundation agent Bail Channis states, on page 78, in Second Foundation:
- "So he (Seldon) created his Foundations according to the laws of psychohistory, but who knew better than he that even these laws were relative. He never created a finished product. Finished products are for decadent minds. His was an evolving mechanism and the Second Foundation was the instrument of that evolution."
In Chapter 8, the First Speaker, effectively the leader of the Second Foundation, provides more details on how the Second Foundation maintains the plan, a complex series of mathematical models, kept in the "Prime Radiant."
- "The Seldon plan is neither complete nor correct. Instead, it is merely the best that could be done at the time. Over a dozen generations of men have pored over these equations, worked at them, taken them apart to the last decimal place, and put them together again."
In this chapter, the wider scope of the plan is revealed to the reader, and it is stated that the purpose of the Second Galactic Empire will be to accept a ruling class populated from the mental scientists of the Second Foundation. Without control of emotion, the models show all Galactic Empires will ultimately fail and fall, regardless of the level of their technology.
The Seldon Plan is statistical in nature. Future events are described as being probabilities. The variables, as discussed (see above) require a very large number of human beings, literally the population of the Galaxy, in order to reduce the ordinarily random events concerning human affairs to become amenable to statistical modelling.
Seldon's original address at the Decennial Convention on Trantor in 11,178 G.E. was his proof, using the irreducibility theorem (or First Seldon Theorem) that the population of the people of the galaxy fell just short of being a dynamic system which would be impossible to model adequately mathematically, the definition of 'just' most likely being one order of magnitude, though this is not discussed within the novels. At the time of this discovery, Seldon was not yet sure of either the scope or time constraints required to develop this discovery further.
Initially, Seldon was unable to make any headway on developing the model, as he was attempting to bring knowledge of all Galactic History, as well as considering all of the Galactic Population into modelling. Inadequate history and news reporting in the 12th millennium G.E. hindered his progress during his first year on Trantor, particularly during the period known as 'The Flight'.
After some consideration, at the end of the period of 'The Flight', Seldon realised that Trantor and its attendant worlds constituted an 'Empire In Miniature' on which he might model the past and future course of the Empire. Events in the rest of the Empire could be effectively modelled as second-order effects. Seldon often described this breakthrough as being 'the result of a turn of phrase' he encountered during The Flight.
During Seldon's lifetime, congruent points in the Plan were developed and modeled with enough accuracy to determine the critical points of inflexure that would set the Galaxy on the path of Foundation, and the Second Empire. In order to ensure that the First Foundation would be created, Seldon and the Psychohistorians of Trantor placed the Commissioner Linge Chen (then actual if not crowned Emperor) under intense scrutiny, as well as Mentalic influence in order to achieve their aims. This was a clear but vital breach in the limits of psychohistorical theory, as psychostatistics is meaningful only with planetary numbers, and not with individuals.
Thereafter, refinement in mathematical modelling saw the development of specialists with Seldon's group of Psychohistorians, now the nascent Second Foundation. Specialisations mentioned include:
- Psychostatistical Technician
The Foundation also developed an Assembly, which was not a feature of its early days.
The Seldon Plan was never, even from its start, kept stored in any form of paper, as the mathematics was expressed not as simple equations, but of necessity as a dynamic process model. Computer technology allowed the development of the Prime Radiant, which permits not only observation of mathematics, associated papers, and related data in multi-dimensional dynamic displays, but also permits inclusion of changes, improvements, and modifications of the Plan. The Prime Radiant has had offshoot technologies to improve mathematical modelling, including the mini-radiant, which allows Speakers access to the Plan in private, for the purposes of refinement. Mini-radiants are able to access the Prime Radiants containing the Plan in real-time across radio data-networks.
Threats to the plan
The plan came close to failure in Foundation and Empire because of the mutant called The Mule. Because the Mule had psychic powers of mind control, he did not fit the model of interactions psychohistory was based upon. The Mule could influence men at a distance, unlike Second Foundation agents, who required eye contact. The Mule was eventually lured to a remote planet to destroy the Second Foundation. However, in so doing, he left his main fleet, which was turned against him by Second Foundation agents in his absence, thus ending his rule.
In Foundation's Edge and Foundation and Earth, the reader, as well as certain characters in the novels, learns of another world called Gaia, a planet of humans who all share a collective consciousness. Strangely, they seem to be fostering the Seldon Plan similarly to the Second Foundation. However, they seem to have a much more subtle, and complex, understanding of the final nature of the Seldon Plan. In fact, the "eternal" robot, R. Daneel Olivaw, created Gaia as a parallel plan (he influenced Seldon's Plan) that was hidden from Hari Seldon and even from the Second Foundation.
Finding a complete canonical reference for the Plan is difficult. Asimov admitted that he wrote the last two novels due to reader demand, and not from a predetermined plan or vision. Thus, he may have made significant changes to his original vision, as set forth in the Foundation trilogy. He also made efforts in Foundation's Edge and Foundation and Earth to tie the books into his Robot and Empire series. This can, at least somewhat, account for some of the discrepancies that the reader finds in the literary development of the plan. Eventually, the Seldon plan was abandoned in favor of the giant super organism Galaxia, also known as Gaia. However, later works by other authors suggest that the great second empire could be a powerful combination of the two possibilities.
In the end of Foundation and Earth, the main character, Golan Trevize, explains that psychohistory had a flaw, that it didn't apply for humaniform robots like R. Daneel Olivaw, Gaians like Bliss and the Mule and more like them. Also, Trevize says that, the only smart life beings are humans, and if other life beings attacked them, humans wouldn't be united to defeat them. If it was Galaxia, every planet would be united. With this message, all of Asimov's books have a chronological ending, and it seems that humans have universal peace now.
All the above is taken from the Foundation Series novels, including at points both chapter and page number references.