History and the Future: A Paradox

“To that end we have placed you on such a planet at such a time that in fifty years you were maneuvered to the point where you no longer have freedom of action. From now on, and into the centuries, the path you must take is inevitable. You will be faced with a series of crises, as you are now faced with the first, and in each case your freedom of action will be forced along one, and only one, path” (Asimov 94).

“And after the Fall will come inevitable barbarism, a period which, our psyhohistory tells us, should, under ordinary circumstances, last for thirty thousand years. …we can shorten the period of barbarism that must follow- down to a single thousand years” (Asimov 95).

After his apparent appearance in The Vault, the great psychohistoricist Hari Seldon enlightens Hardin and his fellow leaders on Terminus of the nature of their condition and the destiny they are bound for. The very notion of psychohistory alludes to the idea of history being something that is not only “readable”- but predictable. Seldon, though arguable one of a kind in his mental acumen, is able to read the future and those destined for it’s nature and arrange everything in such a way that it aligns perfectly with what he projects (and is always correct) will take place. The future, with it’s insurmountable complexities, is a history in and of itself: it follows patterns, is able to be studied, and it’s contents, though uniquely so, are fixed.

Though this “freedom of action” is arrested, Seldon binds their destiny to be “forced along one, and only one, path”, suggesting that history is fixed. But however fixed it is, I find the second quote to be illuminating in that though events themselves are fixed, the process in which, or perhaps the nature of these events, is less defined. This suggests a very interesting way of thinking about the future, at least in the context of Foundation. One cannot change the future, just as one cannot change the past. The importance lies not in what happens- but how it happens, which seems to be Seldon’s claim for why he’s lead them to the place that they are. That even though the events of the future are unchangeable, how we come to those events and what we do with them matter far more.

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