Second Foundation

Isaac Asimov


Asimov, Isaac. Second Foundation. 1953. New York, NY: Bantam Spectra, 1991. Paperback: 9780553293364.


“Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels are one of the great masterworks of science fiction. An unsurpassed blend of nonstop action, daring ideas, and extensive world-building, they chronicle the struggle of a courageous group of men and women dedicated to preserving humanity's light in a galaxy plunged into a nightmare of ignorance and violence thirty thousand years long. After years of struggle, the Foundation lies in ruinsdestroyed by the mutant mind power of the Mule. But it is rumored that there is a Second Foundation hidden somewhere at the end of the Galaxy, established to preserve the knowledge of mankind through the long centuries of barbarism. The Mule failed to find it the first time-but now he is certain he knows where it lies. The fate of the Foundation rests on young Arcadia Darell, only fourteen years old and burdened with a terrible secret. As its scientists gird for a final showdown with the Mule, the survivors of the First Foundation begin their desperate search. They too want the Second Foundation destroyed... before it destroys them.”


“The First Galactic Empire had endured for tens of thousands of years. It had included all the planets of the Galaxy in a centralized rule, sometimes tyrannical, sometimes benevolent, always orderly” (1)

“Psychohistory was the quintessence of sociology; it was the science of human behavior reduced to mathematical equations” (1)

“He foresaw (or he solved his equations and interpreted its symbols, which amounts to the same thing)” (1)

“All was arranged in such a way that the future as foreseen by the unalterable mathematics of psychohistory would involve their early isolation from the main body of Imperial civilization and their gradual growth into the germs of the Second Galactic Empire” (16)

“a strong mind, untouched and unmolded except by the manifold disorganizations of the Universe. It writhed in floods and waves” (18)

“The Cosmos had one of its feature writers compose a weirdie about a world consisting of beings of pure mind—the Second Foundation, you see—who had developed mental force to energies large enough to compete with any known to physical science” (19)

Commentator’s Note: An in-universe scifi pulp magazine.

“The planning is too careful, too long range. A single man would be in a greater hurry. No, it is a world” (22)

“The Executive Council of the Second Foundation was in session. To us they are merely voices. Neither the exact scene of the meeting nor the identity of those present are essential at this point” (23)

Commentator’s Note: This is an interesting shift in narratorial voice Asimov does throughout the book, with us, the reader, as spectators upon the conferences of the Second Foundation.

“We deal here with psychologists—and not merely psychologists. Let us say, rather, scientists with a psychological orientation. That is, men whose fundamental conception of scientific philosophy is” (23)

“pointed in an entirely different direction from all of the orientations we know. The “psychology” of scientists brought up among the axioms deduced from the observational habits of physical science has only the vaguest relationship to PSYCHOLOGY” (24)

“Have you ever tried analyzing the problem deductively?” (27)

“the significance of any descriptive name should stem, nine times out of ten, from a Trantorian orientation” (31)

“‘What made you think of this?’
‘It was accidental. I’d like to take intellectual credit for this, but it was only accidental’” (33)

“the Lens had performed a near-revolution in interstellar travel. In the younger days of interstellar travel, the calculation of each Jump through hyperspace meant any amount of work from a day to a weekend the larger portion of such work was the more or less precise calculation of ‘Ship’s Position’ on the Galactic scale of reference” (37)

Commentator’s Note: Like the star map in Mass Effect, or any number of other scifi games with star maps. An early (the earliest?) precursor.

“it is the word ‘known,’ that is the catch” (37)

“interstellar travel became less of an art and more of a science” (37)

“if there was ever any science to History, it has been quite lost in this region of the Galaxy” (39)

“Not if you enjoy personal chronicles of rulers. Probably unreliable, I should say, in both directions. Where history concerns mainly personalities, the drawings become either black or white according to the interests of the writer. I find it all remarkably useless” (39)

“one of those marginal worlds usually neglected in Galactic history” (42)

“Imperial history flowed past the peasants of Rossem” (43)

“Space looked actively hostile … now it contained that strange creature, the Mule, and the very content seemed to darken and thicken it into ominous threat” (51)

“All the extreme permutations had had to be considered” (51)

“Their questions were those of utter and disarming wonder. Their eagerness to know was completely irresistible and would not be denied” (54)

“Your proof? Or evidence, assumptions, daydreams? Are you mad?” (65)

"’… your argument is irrefutable’ … ‘Because to all the facts there is a third explanation. Both you and Pritcher explained some facts in your own individual ways, but not all’” (73)

“‘What is your direct evidence? Deduction has proven wrong twice today’
‘There is direct evidence, too, Channis’” (74)

“It was a time of absolutes, of the great final generalities, at least in thought. It was a sign of decaying culture, of course, that dams had been built against the further development of ideas. It was his revolt against these dams that made Seldon famous” (81)

“he created his Foundations according to the laws of psychohistory, but who knew better than he that even those laws were relative” (81)

“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” (81)

“Have I calculated rightly, Channis? Have I outwitted your men of the Second Foundation? Tazenda is destroyed, Channis, tremendously destroyed; so why is your despair pretense? Where is the reality? I must have reality and truth! Talk, Channis, talk. Have I penetrated, then, not deeply enough? Does the danger still exist? Talk, Channis. Where have I gone wrong?” (84)

“Most humans can read emotion in a primitive manner by associating it pragmatically with facial expression, tone of voice and so on” (87)

“Actually, humans are capable of much more, but the faculty of direct emotional contact tended to atrophy with the development of speech a million years back. It has been the great advance of our Second Foundation that this forgotten sense has been restored to at least some of its potentialities” (87)

“Your emotions are, of course … only the children of your background and are not to be condemned-merely changed” (89)

“MATHEMATICS The synthesis of the calculus of n-variables and of n-dimensional geometry is the basis of what Seldon once called ‘my little algebra of humanity’” (116)

“the Second Foundation … the abode of pure science—yet it had none of the gadgets with which, through millennia of association, science has come to be considered equivalent” (116)

“For one thing, there was in that room—protected by a mental science as yet unassailable by the combined physical might of the rest of the Galaxy—the Prime Radiant” (116)

Commentator’s Note: I believe this is the first mention of the Prime Radiant, that awful macguffin, which continues to lead the television adaptation astray.

“Speech, originally, was the device whereby Man learned, imperfectly, to transmit the thoughts and emotions of his mind. By setting up arbitrary sounds and combinations of sounds to represent certain” (117)

“mental nuances, he developed a method of communication—but one which in its clumsiness and thickthumbed inadequacy degenerated all the delicacy of the mind into gross and guttural signaling” (118)

“no man in the history of the Galaxy, until Hari Seldon, and very few men thereafter, could really understand one another” (118)

“Occasionally there were the dim signals from deep within the cavern in which another man was located—so that each might grope toward the other. Yet because they did not know one another, and could not understand one another, and dared not trust one another, and felt from infancy the terrors and insecurity of that ultimate isolation there was the hunted fear of man for man, the savage rapacity of man toward man” (118)

“Grimly, Man had instinctively sought to circumvent the prison bars of ordinary speech. Semantics, symbolic logic, psychoanalysis-they had all been devices whereby speech could either be refined or bypassed” (118)

“Through the development of the mathematics necessary to understand the facts of neural physiology and the electrochemistry of the nervous system, which themselves had to be, had to be, traced down to nuclear forces, it first became possible to truly develop psychology” (118)

“through the generalization of psychological knowledge from the individual to the group, sociology was also mathematicized” (119)

“The larger groups; the billions that occupied planets; the trillions that occupied Sectors; the quadrillions that occupied the whole Galaxy, became, not simply human beings, but gigantic forces amenable to statistical treatment-so that to Hari Seldon, the future became clear and inevitable, and the Plan could be set up” (119)

“You have studied mental science hard and well for most of your life” (120)

“The Seldon Plan is neither complete nor correct. Instead, it is merely the best that could be done at the time” (123)

“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. They’ve done more than that. They’ve watched nearly four hundred years pass and against the predictions and equations, they’ve checked reality, and they have learned” (123)

“There will be nothing to indicate that the correction or addition is yours. In all the history of the Plan there has been no personalization. It is rather a creation of all of us together. Do you understand?” (125)

“a civilization based on mental science” (126)

“In all the known history of Mankind, advances have been made primarily in physical technology; in the capacity of handling the inanimate world about Man. Control of self and society has been left to chance or to the vague gropings of intuitive ethical systems based on inspiration and emotion” (126)

“since such an orientation would lead to the development of a benevolent dictatorship of the mentally best—virtually a higher subdivision of Man—it would be resented and could not be stable without the application of a force which would depress the rest of Mankind to brute level. Such a development is repugnant to us and must be avoided” (126)

“the First Foundation supplies the physical framework of a single political unit, and the Second Foundation supplies the mental framework of a readymade ruling class” (127)

Commentator’s Note: Asimov engaging, albeit not too deeply, with the idea of Plato’s guardians, and the danger of them.

“even the broadest conceptions had had their hordes of vitiating exceptions” (133)

“‘Are you sure that the problem is a factual one?’
‘The premises are true. I have distorted nothing.’
‘Then I must accept the results, and I do not want to’” (145)

“put your derivations to one side. I will subject them to analysis afterward. Meanwhile, talk to me. Let me judge your understanding” (145)

“for the first time in the history of the Plan, it is possible for the unexpected actions of a single ordinary individual to destroy it” (148)

“it wouldn’t be a fair history, would it, Arkady? You’d never get academic respect, unless you give the whole story” (159)

“What’s the use of writing books unless you sell them and become well-known? I don’t want just some old professors to know me” (159)

Commentator’s Note: Asimov’s voice here, no?

“it is always the characteristic of an elite that it possesses leisure as the great reward of its elite-hood” (161)

“We don’t have Traders any more; just corporations and things” (171)

“Tradition, says the historian, begging the question. Because of certain and various mysterious numerical relationships, say the mystics, cultists, numerologists, metaphysicists. Because the original home-planet of humanity had certain natural periods of rotation and revolution from which those relationships could be derived, say a very few. No one really knew” (206)

“To us, all life is a series of accidents, to be met with by improvisations. To them, all life is purposive and should be met by precalculation” (214)

“‘Nearly four hundred years of history teach the fact that the Foundation cannot be beaten. Neither the kingdoms nor the warlords nor the old Galactic Empire itself could do it.’
‘The Mule did it.’
‘Exactly, and he was beyond calculation’” (242)

“doesn’t it seem conceivable that all that has just happened, with its absolute confusion to those of us who lived through it, couldn’t possibly have been predicted” (245)

“It’s always easy to explain the unknown by postulating a superhuman and arbitrary will” (249)

“It’s a very human phenomenon … It is called anthropomorphism” (249)

“I want your translation of the mathematics” (274)

“just as without the spur of our own menace against them, encephalographic analysis will become a sterile science. Other varieties of knowledge will once again bring more important and immediate returns” (275)

“That’s the mechanical interpretation only”(277)

“The First Speaker had long since stopped speaking to the Student. It was an exposition to himself” (278)

Previous Book Next Book

« Foundation and Empire The Great Hunt »