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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman Cites Asimov's Foundation Series as Inspiration

A great moment on the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer tonight, when new Nobel Laureate in Economics Paul Krugman was asked by Lehrer what inspired him to become an economist. Krugman replied it was reading Isaac Asimov's Foundation series as a teenager, and seeing how social scientists saved galactic civilization.

That's the second reason I'm really happy that Krugman won the Nobel Prize - and even more important than the first, which was that Krugman is on the honor roll of guests insulted by Bill O'Reilly.

The Foundation series is much more important. Written as a series of short stories for Astounding Magazine in 1940s (later and presently Analog Magazine), expanded and published as the Foundation trilogy in the 1950s, this has easily been my favorite reading of all time - since the days I first read it at age 12, and ever since. I list the Foundation trilogy among my favorites on Facebook, MySpace, and all the online places I hang my hat and can list my favorite books (actually, I rarely wear a hat). I included Asimov among the four thinkers who most influenced my work in my 1997 The Soft Edge: A Natural History and Future of the Information Revolution - mostly because of the Foundation trilogy. It also inspired me to think and write science fiction.

And its story is: The galactic civilization looks good on the outside, but is already crumbling within. Hari Seldon develops "psychohistory," a way of mathematically mapping all trends in human behavior, and using the equations to predict the future. He sets up two Foundations, at opposite sides of the galaxy, to further refine and take advantage of psychohistory to shorten the galactical dark ages. Of course-

No, I won't tell you any more, in case you haven't read it. Suffice to say, I've read it at least three times. Asimov and others wrote sequels, and some of those novels were excellent. But none as riveting as the Foundation trilogy.

Congratulations Paul Krugman - on winning the Nobel Prize, and on your great taste in science fiction...

See also, for a little deeper reading, my The Invigoration of a Philosophic Issue in Science Fiction: How Pierre-Simon Laplace’s Demon Finds a Stage in the Foundation and Dune Trilogies.  It was first published as a  Google "knol" but was reprinted here after the knol system was shut down. It does have spoilers.
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