May 27, 2009
The New Psychohistory
Paul Krugman reminds us of the awesome fact that he got into economics because he read the Foundation series as a kid. In the series, there’s a character named Hari Seldon who studies psychohistory — the imaginary super-socio-economics that allows you to predict mass-scale human behavior using quantitative models. He shows up as a hologram at various point in the series’ long chronology, long after he’s dead, saying: “I pretty much predicted what you will be doing right now.” And he’s always right!
Anyway, it made me remember seeing, in the new issue of Wired, that Google’s chief economist Hal Varian admitted the same thing!
“In Isaac Asimov’s first Foundation Trilogy, there was a character who basically constructed mathematical models of society, and I thought this was a really exciting idea. When I went to college, I looked around for that subject. It turned out to be economics.”
This makes me want to come up with some new, imaginary discipline and write a series of books around it, expressly in order to inspire a generation of smart young people to find ways to do it in real life. They will fail, but they will do such cool things along the way!