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1) This is a short story about a professor who uses psychohistory (or something very similar) to manipulate his wife. At some point it stops working, and it turns out it's because his wife started reading books on psychohistory. The professor then adds another variable to his equations and everything is back to domestic bliss.

2) I remember reading this in the 1980s

3) I think the story was very short – maybe two-four paragraphs long.

4) I used to be sure that the word "psychohistory" was explicitly used in the story (as well as the revelation that "psychohistory doesn't work on people who have studied it"), but haven't found it in the usual lists of Asimov's works. It is possible that my memory is off on that point.

5) As noted below by Jeff Zeitlin, there is an early Asimov work ("The Imaginary") that has a very similar-sounding subplot. I would proclaim success except that I recall a quieter story. I don't think the professor ever leaves his couch (IIRC he asks for a drink and the wife refuses) and the punch line was something along the lines of "everything went back to domestic bliss".

6) That said, it does cast more uncertainty on the idea that "psychohistory" was explicitly mentioned.

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  • Welcome to Science Fiction & Fantasy! Take a look at this guide to help jog your memory and edit any more details. Specifically things like when you read it, or where?
    – Edlothiad
    May 10, 2017 at 15:12
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    You may be thinking of "The Imaginary", which appeared in The Early Asimov; however, the interaction between the psychologist and his wife was only a minor plot point. May 10, 2017 at 15:17
  • @JeffZeitlin That subplot is very close to what I'm remembering. Could Asimov have used the same idea as the complete plot of another?
    – Nic
    May 10, 2017 at 15:31
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    Psychohistory, in the Foundation series by Asimov, is a discipline that is used to predict the future of a whole civilization, and that has two basic assumptions: that the population that is the subject of the prediction is sufficiently large, and that it should remain in ignorance of those prediction. It was no applicable to predict the action of a single individual, like the Mule proved.
    – Sekhemty
    May 10, 2017 at 15:42
  • @Sekhemty yup, another reason I doubt my memory. It might be that the story involved regular psychology (as in "the imaginary"), and I'm thinking psychohistory because it was written by Asimov. Though to be fair, Hari Seldon does use it on an individual to get Terminus.
    – Nic
    May 10, 2017 at 15:45

1 Answer 1

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Independent of Jeff Zeitlin, my first thought was also of Asimov's The Imaginary. (Actually, my first thought was of the one with the squid, but that was enough to turn it up.)

Points in favor:

  • The main character is a professor who has a wife.
  • He manipulates his wife to stay home while he's away doing research. ("Porus laughed. 'I tell you, son. When you're an ace psychologist, you're master in your own home!'")
  • His wife has been manipulating him by studying applied psychology.
  • He discovers this at the end and thus, in his opinion anyway, beats his wife.

Points sort of in favor:

  • In this story, as in some other Asimov stories, psychology is a rigorous mathematical discipline. In other Asimov stories psychohistory is also (allegedly) a rigorous mathematical discipline. Both are studies of psychology, and Asimov was noted for coining the term psychohistory, so that probably stuck with you.
  • In this story, the professor works out the equations dealing with the psychology of the squid. You may have conflated that with his discovery of his wife's reading habits, particularly since the conclusion of the story is:

"Hello! This is Porus! Come on in, all of you! The death field is gone! I've beaten the squid." He broke contact and added triumphantly, "—and my wife!"

Strangely enough — or, perhaps, not so strangely — it was the latter feat that pleased him more."

Points against:

  • It's about psychology, not psychohistory.
  • The equation is about the squid, not his wife.
  • The professor is performing research on another planet entirely, which is a far cry from not even leaving his couch.
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