Paul Krugman's Asimov Inspiration

During a PBS interview with this year's Nobel Prize winner in economics, Dr. Paul Krugman, I found out something I didn't know about Krugman. His career choice was inspired by the science fiction he read as a boy.

(Paul Krugman, erstwhile psychohistorian)

Jim Lehrer
"When and why did you decide to become an economist in the first place?"

Paul Krugman
"That's a little embarrassing. I don't know how many of your viewers read science fiction, but there's a very old series by Isaac Asimov - the Foundation novels - in which the social scientists who understand the true dynamics save civilization. That's what I wanted to be; it doesn't exist, but economics is as close as you can get, so as a teenager I really got into it."

Krugman is talking about the psychohistorians like Hari Seldon, who practiced the science of psychohistory; in the Foundation series, Seldon predicts the fall of the Galactic Empire and then works with a team to reduce the period during which civilization falls into barbarism to a single millenium.

Here is how Isaac Asimov defines psychohistory in the novel:

PSYCHOHISTORY–...Gaal Dornick, using nonmathematical concepts, has defined psychohistory to be that branch of mathematics which deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli....

... Implicit in all these definitions is the assumption that the human conglomerate being dealt with is sufficiently large for valid statistical treatment. The necessary size of such a conglomerate may be determined by Seldon's First Theorem which ... A further necessary assumption is that the human conglomerate be itself unaware of psychohistoric analysis in order that its reactions be truly random ...

The basis of all valid psychohistory lies in the development of the Seldon Plan. Functions which exhibit properties congruent to those of such social and economic forces as ...


The quote is from the Newshour with Jim Lehrer for Monday, October 13, 2008.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 10/14/2008)

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