Is Psychohistory possible in today’s age?

With the premiere of Foundation on Apple TV back on September 24, 2021 as well as rewatching the show. It got me thinking back to 2003 when I read Issac Asimov’s Science Fiction epic. I began to rethink of the feelings I had about prediction planning and how maybe in a century this might be possible…cue the time skip to 18 years later. We have data science, AI, and are on the verge of quantum computing. We track mountains of data on individuals from buying habits, health and even feelings nowadays. So, could psychohistory actually predict events 50 to 200 years from now on a societal scale? The answer is in my opinion…sort of.

Everyone who knows me knows I don’t care for seeing my future. If someone gave me a time machine, I would just leave it in a box on the shelf in the garage. However, at a societal level and not an individual level we could very well use some clarity on possible roadblocks. Would we get to the Federation, or would mankind’s story fizzle out into just another planet in the cosmos? Do we owe it to ourselves to only look at the group and not the individual? It’s as K said in Men in Black, “A person is smart, but people are dumb crazy, and you know it.” Knowing the future of the individual, I always see as a bad idea, but the future of society that’s where we might need to gaze into the vail of the future.

What Asimov thought about Psycho History

As Harry Sheldon said in Foundation “Psychohistory is a prediction model designed to forecast the behaviors of very large populations.” Where did Asimov get the idea for Psychohistory? One of the core pillars of Psychohistory is how Asimov used Gas as the analogy. It is impossible to predict how a gas will react at the single molecule scale, but in a massive group, you begin to see a pattern play out.

Now while Psychohistory might be a great idea in theory there are some things that can cause issues such as major ones like outliers. For instance, Asimov would through in characters that would cause issues with psychohistory. It might be a great concept but there always that issue with the outliers especially when it comes to the human factor.

The show itself and even the book presented problems that were predicted by psychohistory such as how civilizations would fall and what would rise from the ashes. Now however, there were also forces that eventually rendered psychohistory useless. We call them outliers and that is a coin termed for unpredictable items that we don’t plan for basically render any plan useless. We will talk a little more about outliers down the road.

The Earth3 Model

A while back, what also got me thinking more about Psychohistory and not just was the show or the book but how back in 1972 an MIT model predicted that society would collapse by the year 2050. Recently this model was retested back in 2014 by the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute and found yup we are right on track.

The study follows several key variables from population, mortality, and production and quite a number of others. Now the key thing that I took away is that it is a business-as-usual approach and that continues to be an area of contention. However, if the last 6 years have taught me anything it is that society has continued with business as usual.

I would highly suggest reading through it since it is quite a number of pages and seeing how the data creates a possible prediction for the future is quite something. It makes me wonder if with predictive systems and outputs can this data from this model be put into monthly checks to see if we are still on the same path or if it will change because currently with how things are going it seems like this approach might be correct.

Psychohistory: my thought process

What I meant in the intro to it all, is that psychohistory won’t be totally real. I don’t think the term should be psychohistory but more of a psycho sociological study due to the fact you can’t put the human race into a math problem, but we can use it as a way to study populations based on certain categories. With climate, GDP, economic output, we could very well possibly predict how society might be in a few years based on these factors. And the earth 3 model built itself off this idea.

Now while that sounds easy, the prediction might not account for the outliers I had mentioned earlier. The earth 3 model predicted something happening by 2050 with a huge population drop off which could very well be world war 3 or maybe every food ecosystem crashes. Or maybe a new technology could come along and fix our problems rendering this model false.  I say this because of where we have come in just 20 years. Or maybe just maybe, by 2050 everyone just decides to not have kids because it isn’t for them and it becomes socially acceptable to not have kids but to enjoy life. From the iPhone to now flat TV’s that are just a few credit cards thick, or individual solar powered homes, technology itself is advancing at a rapid pace and this could be an outlier that we have not predicted especially the technological idea and growth. And that is one of the things that comes from the Earth3 model is that yes it might not seem like all sunshine and rainbows, there is the outlier of the social movement on the environment which could very well cause the next 10 years to create a better 50 years out. Maybe someone invents technologies that fixes a lot of issues. We don’t know and that’s what an outlier is. It’s something that we can not account for but can change everything.

I really believe that we can’t have a thing such as psychohistory like we have seen in the show Foundation, but we could possibly have some type of system that can scan for predictions that are several years out in terms of data points that are without human emotion. Now while this does kind of kick the idea of psychohistory to the curb with the idea of being able to predicts mankind’s full future, we can predict factors that might affect mankind as a whole down the road such as migration, and climate patterns with GDP and economic output. But we won’t be able to predict for main outliers such as new technologies, or even in the current case, a plague.

So, if you are wondering if we can make the prime radium or create some type of super computer like in WestWorld that will predict who and what is going to happen. The short answer is not exactly, the idea of maintaining control over society is very murky and dangerous but the idea of predicting changes that could affect society on a massive scale very well could help us prepare for an unpredictable future. And I believe until we figure out what data we need to track vs all the data we track and create unbiased data models we will not be able to achieve this.

see you space cowboy…

Photo by Victor He on Unsplash