Seldon's plan was based on psychohistory. The way it is described in the foundation series is the prediction of future based on the actions of very large groups of people or societies. However, in the book Foundation - we see that key turning points in the book are actually due to individual decisions - not that of a large group of people.

So - how is the Seldon Plan said to have been thrown off completely by the appearance of the Mule ( I think this is mentioned in Foundation's Edge) when the events of Foundation itself should have thrown psychohistorical predictions off track?

  • 1
    There are dual views of history - one is that it's moved by individuals, one is that it's moved by historical inevitability (Marxism was always heavy on the latter). Asimov, who was very politically left; clearly expressed the latter point of view in Foundation. Apr 22, 2014 at 19:42
  • Well, not quite if a small group of manipulators could create the historical inevitability. The features of psychohistory owe more to the laws Thermodynamics than Marxism.
    – Oldcat
    Apr 22, 2014 at 20:39

2 Answers 2


The way that Psychohistory works is by predicting the actions of massive groups. These actions are more or less inevitable. If the individual (Mayor Hardin for instance) had not acted this way, someone else was bound to. Terminus was bound to have war-like and less advanced neighbors. It was inevitable that these neighbors would try to attack Terminus. And the only logical course of action was to use that very same technological edge and turn it into mysticism. And to insure that the Foundationers took the right choice Seldon made periodic appearances in the Seldon Vault to nudge the leadership in the right direction.

Also, the Seldon Plan used it's own outliers, the Second Foundation, to manipulate events clandestinely to follow the pre-arranged path. Which is how the Plan recovered after the Mule hit.

  • But the choices made by all the individuals - including Mayor Hardin - were not the obvious choice. So how can we assume that someone else was bound to take those actions?
    – mustard
    Apr 22, 2014 at 20:46
  • @mustard: Study psychohistory, I guess.
    – Charles
    Apr 22, 2014 at 20:48
  • Does psychohistory itself take into account the discovery of psychohistorical laws, and the way psychohistorians like Hari Seldon use them to affect the course of history? Was it inevitable that even if Seldon hadn't existed, someone else would have put into place something equivalent to the Seldon plan? I think Asimov wasn't entirely consistent in how he presented psychohistory, on the one hand the premise of the story was that everything was predictable, but for dramatic purposes he needed to have some individuals who could have an outsized influence on history like Seldon.
    – Hypnosifl
    Apr 22, 2014 at 21:04
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    @mustard - That's what the Seldon appearances were for. To highlight those choices. Mayor Hardin was just a very clever man who found the solution before Seldon popped up to tell him what it was. Apr 22, 2014 at 21:49
  • @Hypnosifl - The history of the creation of psychohistory itself is full of outliers, mainly in the form of Daneel and his cohorts. So I'm not sure that psychohistory could've predicted the creation of psychohistory (say that 10 times real fast!) Apr 22, 2014 at 21:51

The predictions of how the people in the Galaxy would react to the situations Seldon was setting up via the Plan depending on each person freely reacting. While the individual reaction might vary, in large groups (the idea is) that the laws of Psychohistory can predict the result and shape the plan accordingly.

This is similar to how nobody can predict the path of a molecule of gas in a room, but the behavior of the bulk can be predicted - if you compress it, the pressure increases proportionally and the temperature rises.

The Mule breaks the assumption, since he can create a response in a population by his own desire, and with fine control. If you could get all the air molecules to go in one direction, you'd blow the wall out of the room by the pressure.

So Seldon's plan fails once the Mule changes things, and then the situation in the Galaxy and what the plan thinks it is no longer match and matters get worse. In the books, after the Mule is stopped it still took the Second Foundation years and much fine work to repair the situation going forward.

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