Only One Can Rule the Galaxy

December 15th, 2011 at 12:00 am | 41 Comments |

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While reading Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column about Newt Gingrich, we learn that the former Speaker of the House is a big fan of the science fiction novels of Isaac Asimov, and not in a good way:

Speaker Gingrich told me that he became a historian because he read Isaac Asimov’s seven-volume Foundation series about a mathematician and psychohistorian from Planet Trantor “who looked at long sweeps of history and tried to understand probable patterns of behavior.”

“I found it a very believable and understandable way of thinking about data,” he said. (Feel free to supply your own joke about Psycho Historians.)

Who else across the entire span of the space-time continuum also shares Gingrich’s fascination for technocratic experts who can save civilization? None other than Nobel Prize winning economist and conservative punching bag, Paul Krugman:

Krugman explained that he’d become an economist because of science fiction. When he was a boy, he’d read Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy and become obsessed with the central character, Hari Seldon. Seldon was a “psychohistorian”—a scientist with such a precise understanding of the mechanics of society that he could predict the course of events thousands of years into the future and save mankind from centuries of barbarism. He couldn’t predict individual behavior—that was too hard—but it didn’t matter, because history was determined not by individuals but by laws and hidden forces. “If you read other genres of fiction, you can learn about the way people are and the way society is,” Krugman said to the audience, “but you don’t get very much thinking about why are things the way they are, or what might make them different. What would happen if?

With Hari Seldon in mind, Krugman went to Yale, in 1970, intending to study history, but he felt that history was too much about what and not enough about why, so he ended up in economics.

The Isaac Asimov-Krugman connection is even more remarkable given that one of the Gingrich criticisms of President Obama is that he is too much like Paul Krugman!

Newt Gingrich took to FOX News Monday night to compare President Obama to, of all people, Paul Krugman, one of the White House’s fiercest critics.

“This is a Paul Krugman presidency,” Gingrich told Bill O’Reilly. “[Obama] believes that stuff. He actually believes in left-wing economic ideas. The only problem with them is that they don’t work.”

It was an odd comparison, given that the New York Times columnist has staked out a position as Obama’s ultimate nemesis on the left since the very earliest days of his administration.

Ray Smock notes at the History News Network that Gingrich also referred to the Foundation series in a book published while he was still House speaker:

While Toynbee was impressing me with the history of civilizations, Isaac Asimov was shaping my view of the future in equally profound ways….For a high school student who loved history, Asimov’s most exhilarating invention was the ‘psychohistorian’ Hari Seldon.  The term does not refer to Freudian analysis but to a kind of probabilistic forecasting of the future of whole civilizations.  The premise was that, while you cannot predict individual behavior, you can develop a pretty accurate sense of mass behavior.  Pollsters and advertisers now make a good living off the same theory.

The question is, would Hari Seldon’s psychohistory predict the current deflation that Gingirch seems to be experiencing the polls?

Recent Posts by Noah Kristula-Green



41 Comments so far ↓

  • Clayman

    Gingrich is unfit to hold Krugman’s jock straps.

  • hisgirlfriday

    So Newt “secular humanists are fundamentally destroying America” Gingrich got a doctorate in the humanities from a secular university because he was inspired to do so by the secular writings of a former president of the American Humanist Association?

    Neat.

    • LauraNo

      I’m sure it’s yet another story he tells, meant to make him seem ‘intelligent’. Probably stole it from Krugman, he does seem a bit obsessed with the man.

  • NRA Liberal

    Cutting your teeth on “the Foundation Series” and dreaming of becoming a psychohistorian is pretty much de rigeur for wonks of a certain age.

    • Sinan

      This headline is childish really. I read those books as well and loved them. Is it surprising that two very intelligent men of roughly the same age read Asimov as kids? This article reminds me of something on Townhall.com.

  • Oldskool

    Gingrich is the kind of candidate Rs deserve for the crap they’ve spoonfed low-info voters for so long. He may even be too good to epitomize such an irrational party. Romney is almost as bad/good.

  • indy

    C’mon Noah. I want my five minutes back.

    And these LG ads are freaking horrible. I understand, like most readers I think, the need to place ads but seriously, these are ridiculously over the top.

    • LFC

      UGH! I posted a comment and they completely scrambled my screen. David, please stick to static ads. These goofy animated things and anything that starts playing audio/video immediately need to be banned.

      • Frumplestiltskin

        what browser do you use? I have the latest firefox and I have no idea what you are referring to. There are ads, but are above the fold.

        • LFC

          It scrambled up on Firefox V8.0.1. Parts of the LG ad ended up in both the left and right hand parts of the screen, covering up the left portion of the comments. If the LG ad didn’t come up, everything was fine … but still a lot slower than running Google Chrome with Adblocker. (I tried to load Adblocker for Firefox, but their add-on site failed several times so I gave up.)

        • indy

          I was on a Kindle Fire at the time I posted my complaint. There is no adblocker yet. The LG ad occupied both the left and right side of the page and made the entire page unreadable. I could only see a tiny sliver down the center and there was no way to dismiss it.

  • Baron Siegfried

    Count your blessings – Asimov as an influence is INFINITELY better than L. Ron Hubbard! I think the Foundation series was visionary and brilliant, and as inspirations go, at least you finish the books thinking, actually thinking about the fate and destiny of humanity. It’s just amusing that people can read the same works and come away so differently influenced.

    Of course, I have to wonder how many Heinlein fans are populating the libertarians and teabaggers. Probably more in the former than the latter, as I’ve observed that most of the baggers don’t have the mental discipline to deal with anything more sophisticated than bumper stickers or low information websites . . .

    PS – install Adblocker (free download) on your system and it’ll cut way back on the amount of junk that pops up on your screen, and help your system run much faster as well. I put it on my computer last month and the improvement in performance was quite noticeable.

    • Graychin

      As adolescent fantasy, Asimov is also a lot better than Ayn Rand. I read the Foundation series when I was about 13, and loved it.

      But it didn’t change my life. Neither did The Fountainhead. Neither did Tolkien. (I took a pass on L. Ron Hubbard.) If a book changes your life at 13, you really ought to give yourself a chance to grow out of it.

      Considering Asimov’s influence on Newt, I had the same thoughts as hisgirlfriday: When someone says “secular humanist” I think automatically of Isaac Asimov. Asimov’s picture ought to be in the dictionary next to the term. “secular humanist.”

      It just goes to show what a radical conversion Newt must have had when he found Jesus – wherever it was that he went looking for Jesus.

      How I wish that it was Krugman ruling the galaxy.

  • TerryF98

    Looks like Krugman learned a great deal from Azimov, he is almost always correct in his analysis and predictions.

    Newty, not so much.

  • TJ Parker

    Fortunately there are 100-500 billion galaxies, so Knut has plenty to choose from. Just not the one that I inhabit, please.

    The question is, would Hari Seldon’s psychohistory predict the current deflation that Gingirch seems to be experiencing the polls?

    Why is that the question?

    Knut 2012! The candidate the GOP deserves!

  • armstp

    Gingrich is an academic pipsqueak compared to Krugman. Krugman actually backs up the stuff he says with analysis and numbers. Gingrich would not know actual academic or even practical analysis if it hit him in the face.

    Who are you going to trust? A career rental politician that cheats on his wife or an Nobel winning economist with a strong moral compass?

    • balconesfault

      I’m not really down with the shots against Gingrich for his infidelities (his callous discarding of wives is another matter …) – that’s between him and the Billy Graham crowd to work out, imo. But comparing Krugman and Gingrich is a lot like comparing the investment broker who really wants to help you grow your portfolio in a sustainable way and build money for your kids college fund, and the grifter who wants to shuffle your money through various schemes that enrich his cronies while maximizing the transaction fees he pockets.

  • Reflection Ephemeral

    While reading Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column, we learn

    Huh. That’s a first.

  • nhthinker

    STAR WARS ART WORK???? Massive failure.
    http://www.asimovonline.com/asimov_home_page.html
    The Imperial Galaxy, a gallery of original artwork illustrating the Foundation universe, brought to us by Slawek Wojtowicz.
    http://www.slawcio.com/foundation/cover.html

    20th century Sci-Fi writers were mostly blind to some very critical things.

    Humans as intelligent designers – and will replace humans with super-humans. Remaining “natural” humans will be put on game reserves much like we would treat a lost pocket of Neanderthals if they were found today.

    Technological advancement and artificial intelligence accelerates much faster than 20th century Sci-Fi writers could ever comprehend. The idea of competition and [i]balanced[/] “wars” is completely and utterly inane.

    • sweatyb

      I am confused by your mixed tenses and improper sentence structure.

      • Frumplestiltskin

        i know, it is utterly bizarre and get this: “STAR WARS ART WORK???? Massive failure.”

        He is getting worked up about artwork in Scifi novels.

  • LFC

    “This is a Paul Krugman presidency,” Gingrich told Bill O’Reilly. “[Obama] believes that stuff. He actually believes in left-wing economic ideas. The only problem with them is that they don’t work.”

    Funny to see the words “the only problem with them is that they don’t work” from a guy who supported massive tax cuts, especially for those with higher incomes, as well as lots of deregulation. Hey, Newt. Guess which economic ideas didn’t work in a spectacular and nation crushing fashion. Here’s a hint. They weren’t Krugman’s.

  • ZombieTory

    Noah,

    I don’t really see your point here. Go to your local (serious) university and try finding any nerdy grad student who hasn’t been influenced by Asimov? It’s like trying to find a musician who doesn’t list The Beatles as an influence.

    Also, if the weird devices Sci-Fi authors use to frame their stories affects the credibility of their fans, does that mean Heinlen enthusiasts have no chance of ever holding public office?

    Your argument, I can’t grok it.

  • Geprodis

    A lot of Krugman love on this forum. Krugman is a lot like Gingrich in that they both think they are smart enough to fool everybody. Krugman though, usually fools smart people, whilst Gingrich fools dumb people. There are WAY more dumb people.

    • balconesfault

      Krugman though, usually fools smart people

      Like those who do peer review for academic journals?

  • Neal Rauhauser

    The GOP primary this cycle is an unfunny combination of a stalled clown car, a lonely railroad crossing, and a fast approaching freight train. None of the hapless denizens of that vehicle are worth electing except Huntsman and he hasn’t got a prayer. Maybe some sensible governor (Haley B?) sitting on the sidelines will sweep in and surprise the lot of them. Newt? If it’s him I’ll actually get off my butt and work for Obama’s re-election – he’s just ludicrous.

    I worked hard for Democrats after I left the GOP in 2004/2005, but after what I’ve seen the last six years I think both parties are equally useless. There is a crazy little populist fringe on the right who hates everybody else, a larger, less delusions group of people on the left, and now with the occupiers America’s ticked off middle is about to vote NO as a block. I roam around Capitol Hill and all the electeds that don’t have a PVI +10 in their favor have that deer in headlights look.

    I’m not sure how I feel about that. We obviously need sweeping reform – just look at this MF Global circus – but Obama is too beholden to Wall Street to get the job done. If we zap 280 House members this cycle will it get any better?

    And Gingrich was influenced by the planning ideas in Foundation, which is why the Legislative Service Organizations were defunded in 1995, turning over our long term planning to unaccountable corporate think tanks. I guess if he intended to turn America into a jobless, hopeless wasteland when he started he’s on the right track.

    • LFC

      “If we zap 280 House members this cycle will it get any better?”

      No. As long as Republicans hold more than 40 seats in the Senate, they will ensure that nothing can get done unless it is 100% their way (and we all know their way on virtually every topic is insane). They’ve told us this. I take them at their word. And this graph is all one needs to see to understand how serious they are about it.

    • chephren

      What’s a PVI +10?

      • LFC

        From The Cook Political Report:

        Partisan Voting Index: Otherwise known as the PVI, this index was developed for The Cook Political Report by Clark Benson and Polidata Inc. The index is an attempt to find an objective measurement of each congressional district that allows comparisons between states and districts, thereby making it relevant in both mid-term and presidential election years. While other data such as the results of senatorial, gubernatorial, congressional and other local races can help fine tune the exact partisan tilt of a particular district, those kinds of results don’t allow a comparison of districts across state lines. Only Presidential results allow for total comparability. A Partisan Voting Index score of D+2.3, for example, means that in the previous two presidential elections, that district performed an average of 2.3 points more Democratic than the nation did as a whole, while an R+3.8 means the district performed 3.8 points more Republican than the nation.

  • LFC

    Baron Siegfried said… PS – install Adblocker (free download) on your system and it’ll cut way back on the amount of junk that pops up on your screen, and help your system run much faster as well. I put it on my computer last month and the improvement in performance was quite noticeable.

    Good call. FF pages took forever to load and hung up regularly for me. Things seem to be much faster and smoother with AdBlocker on Chrome.

  • jdd_stl1

    My impression of Krugman and Gingrich in light of their shared Foundation influence
    is that Krugman went on to have an open mind and study the data to make predictions.
    Gingrich went on to think, “I can predict the future of civilization”, without any need
    to study data or think about science or anything.

  • think4yourself

    So you’re saying Krugman is Hari Seldon and Gingrich is (or wishes to be) the Mule?

  • WaStateUrbanGOPer

    For as long as I have been a serious reader (my early teenage years, approximately) I have never really cared much for science fiction, and until recently I had couldn’t quite put my finger on my lack of enthusiasm for the genre. I knew sci-fi wasn’t really my thing, but I could never articulate a compelling reason when asked why. I vaguely knew that my distaste had something to do with sci-fi’s appeal to the cult of nerdiness, but the specific reason for my feelings, which I was certain lurked inside of all this murkiness, never quite made itself apparent to me.

    And then a couple of months ago I was leafing through a collection of Kingsely Amis’s essays, and in one them, a long reflection on science fiction and its reception by both academia and the broader reading public, Amis, himself a huge fan of science fiction, pointed out the genre’s almost total silence on the subject of sex. BINGO. Mystery solved. Granted, this essay was written before Philip Dick and Robert Heinlein had published any of their work, and it omitted to mention that Kurt Vonnegut’s fiction deals with sex in at least a roundabout manner, but it was largely spot on.

    Reading this article about Newt Gingrich’s early fascination with sci-fi, and its subsequent influence on his career as a historian and politician, I’m struck by the way that this almost painfully sexless genre appealed to a man who, as a public figure, is above all defined by his sexual dysfunction. Three wives, four “no-adultery” pledges. Left his first wife on the operating table, more or less.

    Compare Newt to Kingsely Amis’s own struggles with sex. (Not nearly enought space here to elaborate!) Coincidence?

    • WaStateUrbanGOPer

      Correction: At the time Amis wrote his essay, Robert Heinlein had in fact published the odd piece of fiction. But having read only “Starship Troopers” and “Strangers from a Strange Planet,” I can’t say whether or not any of this early work contains sexual content comparable to the frank sexiness on display in these two books.

  • SJReidhead

    I’m still trying to figure out what is wrong with admitting to have read science fiction instead of Ayn Rand? There is far more reality and humanity in sci fi than Rand. The great visionaries, Clark, Bradbury, Asimov, Roddenberry have influenced far more people in a far more positive way than Rand will ever do. Then again, Asimov could sometimes be wrong. Back in 1978 I submitted a short story to him about reviving a long dead person through recovering almost fossilized DNA. My favorite rejection slip, and it came personally from Asimov, is that no serious writer or publisher would even even consider publishing a short story or book about using fossilized DNA. It just proves that even Asimov did not grasp the implication of the future.

    To criticize Newt Gingrich for being a well-read visionary is just plan – ignorant. I worked as a lobbyist dealing with space issues for years. I was at numerous meetings when Newt was present. I knew many of the same visionaries. I find this entire line of attack against him – because of his interest in the future, to be personally insulting.

    I would put my money on the future via visionaries led by science fiction than I would a corporate raider who can only see a bottom line that does not include space exploration.

    SJR
    The Pink Flamingo

  • When the Right Has a Sci-Tech Candidate – the Left Laughs! | The Pink Flamingo

    [...] The Frum Forum, which is rapidly losing my respect for their constant anti-Gingrich stand, did a take down of Newt because of his love for Science Fiction.   I’m still trying to figure out what is wrong with admitting to have read science fiction instead of Ayn Rand?  There is far more reality and humanity in sci fi than Rand.  The great visionaries, Clark, Bradbury, Asimov, Roddenberry have influenced far more people in a far more positive way than Rand will ever do.  Then again, Asimov could sometimes be wrong.  Back in 1978 I submitted a short story to him about reviving a long dead person through recovering almost fossilized DNA.  My favorite rejection slip, and it came personally from Asimov, is that no serious writer or publisher would even even consider publishing a short story or book about using fossilized DNA.  It just proves that even Asimov did not grasp the implication of the future. [...]

  • Biped

    Michelle Backmann is right in this instance of her attack on Newt. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet and a lobbyist who is paid (huge sums) for influence with lawmakers would smell as foul no matter that the name is evaded by legalistic legerdemain. Newt was a lobbyist.

    Nothing wrong with reading Sci-fi as such unless that is your main intellectual diet. As for Rand, she was a German/Russian romanticist in the 19th-century mode and typical fodder for adolescents. Adults outgrow her nonsense in the same way that they come to come to abjure their youthful enthusiasm for the Cavalier side in the English Civil War.

    • WaStateUrbanGOPer

      Yeah, Rand belongs right beside Herman Hesse on the sophomore’s bookshelf.

  • baw1064

    It looks like Newt’s positronic brain is malfunctioning…it may need replacing.