What is the highest range for mental abilities of mentalists and of Gaia in the Foundation universe? I'd like an order of magnitude, because for all I know it could be anything from a few ten meters to astronomically huge distances.

In particular, to influence people on a planet, does the Second Foundation have to send agents to that particular planet? To the same solar system? Or can it do that from much farther?

The answer might differ depending on who you take:

early mentalists like Wanda Seldon and her group, precocious mentalists like Vara Liso, trained mentalists like the Second Foundation agents hundreds of years later, Daneel, the Mule, Gaia.

If possible, I'd like an answer for as many of these as possible.

One indication that the abilities have a high range is the plans for Galaxia. Presumably such a galaxy-wide organism is possible only if their members can communicate to interstellar distances.

Here's a list of the books to consider, possibly incomplete, with mentalists mentioned in them:

  • Robots of dawn (Giskard)
  • Robots and empire (Giskard)
  • Prelude to the Foundation (Daneel)
  • Forward the Foundation (Raych, Wanda Seldon, Settin Palver)
  • Greg Bear's Foundation and Chaos (Daneel, Vara Liso, Klia Asgar, and others)
  • Dabid Brin's Foundation's Triumph
  • Second Foundation (Second Foundation agents, the Mule)
  • Foundation's Edge (Second Foundation agents, Gaia)
  • Foundation and Earth (Gaia)

Here are the works that I think should not be considered, but your opinion may differ:

  • Nemesis
  • Pebble in the Sky

There seems to be no mention of a superluminal mechanism for mentalism, so there would be a constraint on the time delay. this would be contradicted by any mention of nearly instantaneous communication between planets indifferent star systems, and I know of none such. This would place a practical limit on the range for interactions relevant to the mentalist's lifetime.

  • The Foundation novels do feature faster-than-light travel, introduced on p. 4 of "Foundation" which says: "He had steeled himself just a little for the Jump through hyperspace, a phenomenon one did not experience in simple interplanetary trips. The Jump remained, and would probably remain forever, the only practical method of travelling between the stars ... Through hyperspace, that unimaginable region that was neither space nor time, matter nor energy, something nor nothing, one could traverse the length of the Galaxy in the interval between two neighboring instants of time." – Hypnosifl Mar 9 '14 at 15:33
  • Also, searching a little more I see Asimov's books also mention a "hyperwave relay" system which allows FTL communication without travel, see for example p. 128 of "Foundation" (end of ch. 6). In "Second Foundation" this is often referred to as just a "hyper-relay", you can click the cover at amazon.com/Second-Foundation-Novels-Isaac-Asimov/dp/0553293362 and then type "relay" in the "search inside the book" box to find a bunch of examples. – Hypnosifl Mar 9 '14 at 15:45
  • I believe those relays were man made. I have not seen any reference to mentalism being relayed through them. – Curious One Mar 9 '14 at 18:03
  • Well, I thought when you said that you don't know any mention of "nearly instantaneous communication between planets" you were talking generally, not just about psychic powers. If the laws of nature of this universe allow for FTL communication in general, then there's no reason to take it as a default assumption that telepathy is limited by light speed, we should just say that we haven't found a reference in the text that settles the question one way or another. Though I think the OP's mention of "Galaxia", a unified group mind spanning the galaxy, tends to favor FTL telepathy. – Hypnosifl Mar 9 '14 at 18:53
  • @Hypnosifl - I agree that the reference to "Galaxia" likely implies FTL telepathy. The only other way it would be possible is if "Galaxia" were to "metabolize" VERY slowly, which I do not think was implied by Asimov. – Curious One Mar 9 '14 at 20:11

In at least some cases, mental abilities can span interstellar distances.

In David Brin's Foundation's Triumph, Dors and Lodovik can simultanously detect the presense of

the positronic emotional control satellite devices orbitting the fifty former spacer worlds

when they get near Earth.

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