Isaac Asimov


Asimov, Isaac. Foundation. 1951. New York, NY: Bantam Spectra, 1991. Paperback: 9780553293357.


“One of the great masterworks of science fiction, the Foundation novels of Isaac Asimov are unsurpassed for their unique blend of nonstop action, daring ideas, and extensive worldbuilding. The story of our future begins with the history of Foundation and its greatest psychohistorian: Hari Seldon. For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. Only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future-a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire-both scientists and scholars-and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation. But soon the fledgling Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. And mankind's last best hope is faced with an agonizing choice: submit to the barbarians and live as slaves-or take a stand for freedom and risk total destruction.”


Seldon “showed amazing ability in mathematics … his greatest contributions were in the field of psychohistory. Seldon found the field little more than a set of vague axioms; he left it a profound statistical science” (3)

“hyper-space, that unimaginable region that was neither space nor time, matter nor energy, something nor nothing, one could traverse the length of the Galaxy in the interval between two neighboring instants of time” (5)

“childishness comes almost as naturally to a man as to a child” (6)

“This enormous population was devoted almost entirely to the administrative necessities of Empire” (12)

“beneath the metal skin of the world” (15)

“He was not aware of a jugular vein delicately connecting the forty billion of Trantor with the rest of the Galaxy. He was conscious only of the mightiest deed of man; the complete and almost contemptuously final conquest of a world” (16)

“psychohistory … that branch of mathematics which deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli” (19)

“A further necessary assumption is that the human conglomerate be itself unaware of psychohistoric analysis in order that its reactions be truly random” (19)

“a forbidden socio-operation” (22)

“psychohistory is a statistical science and cannot predict the future of a single man with any accuracy” (28)

“Scientific truth is beyond loyalty” (32)

“Q. Can you prove that this mathematics is valid?
A. Only to another mathematician” (32)

“The psychohistoric trend of a planet-full of people contains a huge inertia” (33)

“to reduce the duration of anarchy to a single millennium, if my group is allowed to act now. We are at a delicate moment in history. The huge, onrushing mass of events must be deflected just a little,—just a little—It cannot be much, but it may be enough to remove twenty-nine thousand years of misery from human history” (37)

“All my project; my thirty thousand men with their wives and children, are devoting themselves to the preparation of an ‘Encyclopedia Galactica.’ They will not complete it in their lifetimes. I will not even live to see it fairly begun. But by the time Trantor falls, it will be complete and copies will exist in every major library in the Galaxy” (38)

“Why, then, should we concern ourselves with events of three centuries distance?” (40)

“fifty years to establish them selves and set up Encyclopedia Foundation Number One” (50)

“Hardin returned the compliment with a blaster specifically borrowed for the occasion” (55)

“we’re not so much a world as a scientific foundation” (56)

“Space knows when we’ll get more—if ever” (58)

Commentator’s Note: In the early days of the foundation, they swear by ‘space’ itself, neither deity nor emperor.

“You’re not fifty parsecs from Smyrno’s capital” (59)

Commentator’s Note: “The word parsec is a portmanteau of ‘parallax of one second’ and was coined by the British astronomer Herbert Hall Turner in 1913 to simplify astronomers’ calculations of astronomical distances from only raw observational data” (Wikipedia). Like “hyper-space,” “blasters,” and the “metal skin” of Trantor, lots of material that George Lucas poached for Star Wars.

“Back to oil and coal, are they?” (64)

“What kind of science is it to be stuck out here for centuries classifying the work of scientists of the last millennium? Have you ever thought of working onward, extending their knowledge and improving upon it?” (69)

“there are no psychologists among us at the moment” (71)

“I wanted to be a psychological engineer, but we lacked the facilities, so I did the next best thing I went into politics. It’s practically the same thing” (71)

“psychology was the key” (71)

“The Owigin Question. The place of the owigin of the human species, y’know. Suahly you must know that it is thought that owiginally the human wace occupied only one planetawy system” (75)

Commentator’s Note: I hate when authors write accents like this. I have excerpted this purely for the detail that humanity has forgotten their home world, another detail of memory and knowledge.

“‘You realize,’ said Hardin, ‘that the independent kingdoms of the Periphery have lost nuclear power altogether?’” (77)

“there is a branch of human knowledge known as symbolic logic, which can be used to prune away all sorts of clogging deadwood that clutters up human language” (80)

“a symbolic analysis” (81)

“eliminating meaningless statements, vague gibberish, useless qualifications—in short, all the goo and dribble—he found he had nothing left. Everything canceled out” (83)

“pure deduction is found wanting. Again what is needed is a little sprinkling of common sense” (86)

“First, you refused to admit that there was a menace at all! Then you reposed an absolutely blind faith in the Emperor! Now you’ve shifted it to Hari Seldon. Throughout you have invariably relied on authority or on the past-never on yourselves” (87)

“He thought that the way to solve archaeological puzzles was to weigh the opposing authorities” (87)

“We consider the greatest end of science is the classification of past data” (87)

“Well, mystical philosophy isn’t going to help us here. Let us be concrete” (88)

“Why was it that among the original population of the Foundation not one firstclass psychologist was included, except Bor Alurin? And he carefully refrained from training his pupils in more than the fundamentals” (88)

“Perhaps because a psychologist might have caught on to what this was all about” (89)

“we’ve been stumbling about, getting misty glimpses of the truth and no more” (89)

“Their whole training has been authoritarian” (90)

“members of the Foundation have been ignorant of what it was they were working toward. It was necessary that they be ignorant, but now the necessity is gone. ‘The Encyclopedia Foundation, to begin with, is a fraud, and always has been!’” (93)

“by knowledge, your freedom of action would be expanded and the number of additional variables introduced would become greater than our psychology could handle” (95)

“they were scientists enough to admit that they were wrong” (96)

“You’ve made half religion, half balderdash out of it. You’ve erected a hierarchy of priests and complicated, meaningless ritual” (108)

“The priesthood built itself and if we help it along we are only following the line of least resistance” (108)

“Their knowledge of their tools is purely empirical; and they have a firm belief in the mummery that surrounds them” (108)

“And if one pierces through the mummery, and has the genius to brush aside empiricism, what is to prevent him from learning actual techniques” (108)

“If you think that those who are left, with practically no knowledge of the elements of science, or worse, still, with the distorted knowledge the priests receive, can penetrate at a bound to nuclear power, to electronics, to the theory of the hyperwarp-you have a very romantic and very foolish idea of science” (108)

“There are many epigrams attributed to Hardin—a confirmed epigrammatist a good many of which are probably apocryphal” (112)

“He inveigled me into a theological discussion and did his level best to elevate me out of sordid materialism” (114)

“It is remarkable, Hardin, how the religion of science has grabbed hold” (114)

“science, as science, had failed the outer worlds. To be reaccepted it would have to present itself in another guise” (114)

“He worked with mobs, populations of whole planets, and only blind mobs who do not possess foreknowledge of the results of their own actions” (120)

“Seldon wanted us to proceed blindly and therefore correctly—according to the law of mob psychology” (120)

“By Seldon, if I had been my grandfather” (128)

Commentator’s Note: Now, people swear by Seldon rather than space.

“I mean, if there were really a Galactic Spirit” (129)

“‘They believe it. I’ve presided at festivals, and I’m sure they do.’ ‘Yes, they do; but we don’t’” (130)

“‘The religion—which the Foundation has fostered and encouraged, mind you—is built on strictly authoritarian lines. The priesthood has sole control of the instruments of science we have given Anacreon, but they’ve learned to handle these tools only empirically. They believe in this religion entirely, and in the … uh… spiritual value of the power they handle’” (135)

“the Foundation had installed a device so holy it had never been placed in any previous ship, but had been reserved only for this magnificent colossus of a vessel—a hyperwave relay” (156)

“For it is the chief characteristic of the religion of science that it works” (158)

“Hardin still smiled and his force-field aura scarcely brightened as it absorbed the energies of the nuclear blast” (164)

“It is difficult now to tell which tales are real and which apocryphal” (173)

“They won’t buy nuclear gadgets of any sort” (176)

“Ponyets looked at him, and laughed shortly. ‘I forgot. You never read the ‘Book of the Spirit’, did you?’”
“‘Never heard of it,’ said Gorm, curtly” (176)

“your devil’s machines are not wanted anywhere in Askone” (179)

“There’s something about a pious man such as he. He will cheerfully cut your throat if it suits him, but he will hesitate to endanger the welfare of your immaterial and problematical soul” (183)

“It’s a form of ancestor worship. Their traditions tell of an evil past from which they were saved by the simple and virtuous heroes of the past generations. It amounts to a distortion of the anarchic period a century ago, when the imperial troops were driven out and an independent government was set up. Advanced science and nuclear power in particular became identified with the old imperial regime they remember with horror” (184)

“Transmutation? There have been fools who have claimed the ability. They have paid for their prying sacrilege” (188)

“Ponyets smiled and meditated on the uses of a religious education” (191)

“I am not the entire slave of our mythology, though I may appear so. I am an educated man, sir, and, I hope, an enlightened one. The full depth of our religious customs, in the ritualistic rather than the ethical sense, is for the masses” (194)

“the Korellian Republic” (206)

Commentator’s Note: This is worse than Lucas stealing the idea of Coruscant. Here he took a name and just changed the consonant!

“They are Outlanders, educated apart from religion. On the one hand, we put knowledge into their hands, and on the other, we remove our strongest hold upon them” (211)

“All this mysticism and hocus-pocus of the missionaries annoy me” (230)

“Mallow said, ‘We can explain the workings of dummy corporations, if you would like. —Then, working further at random, take our complete line of household gadgets. We have collapsible stoves that will roast the toughest meats to the desired tenderness in two minutes. We’ve got knives that won’t require sharpening. We’ve got the equivalent of a complete laundry that can be packed in a small closet and will work entirely automatically. Ditto dish-washers. Ditto-ditto floor-scrubbers, furniture polishers, dust-precipitators, lighting fixtures—oh, anything you like. Think of your increased popularity, if you make them available to the public. Think of your increased quantity of, uh, worldly goods, if they’re available as a government monopoly at nine hundred percent profit’” (233)

“It’s out of fashion in these decaying times to be a scholar” (250)

“You wish to be taught the mysteries of nucleics and the care of the machines” (255)

“I am a tech-man, senior grade. I have twenty years behind me as supervisor and I studied under the great Bler at the University of Trantor” (257)

“It is unscientific to suppose meaningless cases” (259)

“A foreign policy of domination through spiritual means is his idée fixe, but it’s my notion that his ultimate aims aren’t spiritual” (268)

“he must see the bankruptcy of our religious policy, which has hardly made a single conquest for us in seventy years. He’s obviously using it for purposes of his own” (268)

“Now any dogma, primarily based on faith and emotionalism, is a dangerous weapon to use on others, since it is almost impossible to guarantee that the weapon will never be turned on the user” (268)

“The men of the Outer Planets could hear only censored versions that would suit the requirements of religion” (273)

“His hoarsened voice faded into the featureless background of a shouting mob. He was being lifted onto shoulders, and carried to the mayor’s bench. Out the windows, he could see a torrent of madmen swarming into the square to add to the thousands there already” (279)

Commentator’s Note: Strong men and mobs. Asimov’s fascination. Post-WWII and fascism, the dawn of mass media.

“Mob enthusiasm is a powerful thing, but it’s notoriously fickle” (280)

“I have to be mayor and high priest. Both!” (281)

“What did I make you Minister of Education and Propaganda for?” (286)

“For the last year, I’ve been deafening you with the rising danger of Sutt and his Religionists” (286)

“Seldon crises are not solved by individuals but by historic forces. Hari Seldon, when he planned our course of future history, did not count on brilliant heroics but on the broad sweeps of economics and sociology” (289)

Commentator’s Note: This is the thesis of Foundation, and what the TV adaptation gets so wrong. Despite it’s assertions about psychohistory being statistical, concerned with mass, its plot is fixated on brilliant heroics.

“The Empire has always been a realm of colossal resources. They’ve calculated everything in planets, in stellar systems, in whole sectors of the Galaxy. Their generators are gigantic because they thought in gigantic fashion” (292)

“But we,—we, our little Foundation, our single world almost without metallic resources,—have had to work with brute economy. Our generators have had to be the size of our thumb, because it was all the metal we could afford” (292)

“they don’t even understand their own colossi any longer. The machines work from generation to generation automatically, and the caretakers are a hereditary caste who would be helpless if a single D-tube in all that vast structure burnt out” (292)

“More dangerous? Nonsense! He’s lost all power of judgment” (294)

“you’re establishing a plutocracy. You’re making us a land of traders and merchant princes” (295-296)

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