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?