Study Guide

Foundation Time

By Isaac Asimov


A [Seldon]. Obviously. This courtroom may explode in the next few hours, or it may be. It [sic] it did, the future would undoubtedly be changed in some minor respects. (I.6.44)

Boy, talk about stating the obvious. But even the obvious can be important when understanding time in Foundation. The point Seldon makes here is that not everything is accounted for in the future. Even with his predictions, only the major events have the most possible outcome. The future is still mostly unknown.

Q. (theatrically) Do you realize, Dr. Seldon, that you are speaking of an Empire that has stood for twelve thousand years, through all the vicissitudes of the generations, and which has behind it the good wishes and love of a quadrillion human beings?

A. I am aware both of the present status and the past history of the Empire. Without disrespect, I must claim a far better knowledge of it than any in this room. (I.6.72-73)

What's Seldon saying here? After all, it is his study of the past that has led to his predictions of the future. Does that mean we're all just part of an endless mathematical formula, where past plus present equals future? Is that an unsettling notion—or a comforting one?

"And after you die, sir?"

"Why, there will be successors—perhaps even yourself. And these successors will be able to apply the final touch in the scheme and instigate the revolt on Anacreon at the right time and in the right manner. Thereafter, events may roll unheeded." (I.8.36-37)

As with any future, it's the future generations who will have to do the grunt work of any far-reaching plan. Plan all you want, but it's up to those kids with their Interwebs, Facebook LOLs, and kitteh memes to make the future what it will be.

"And don't forget this. Even though [Seldon] could foresee the problem then, we can see it equally well now. Therefore, if he could foresee the solution then, we should be able to see it now." (II.5.68)

As we said in the "Fate and Free Will" section, Seldon's plan isn't a crystal ball scenario. It's about paying attention to the past and present and gathering what data you can to plan the best future. Anyone can do it, so long as you keep your eyes open and no. 2 pencils sharpened.

And for the third time: "Don't you see? It's Galaxy-wide. It's a worship of the past. It's a deterioration—a stagnation!" (II.5.76)

History is great. (We're big fans here at Shmoop.) But, worshipping the past as the best and only source of knowledge and truth, well that's just stupid. Such thoughts lead to stagnation, which in turn leads to death. And death does not bode well for any future.

"For the first time in over seventy years, we are facing a major domestic political crisis. I should think the synchronization of the two crises, inner and outer, puts it beyond all doubt." (V.2.12)

The pattern of the past dictates our view of the future. If someone sees a pattern in the past, they'll look for that pattern in the present to consider possible future actions. Pattern recognition: it's how human beings do what they do. Luckily, we're also smart enough to know when our brains are just playing tricks on us. We hope.

The spaceport itself was decrepit and decayed, and the crew of the Far Star were drearily aware of that. The moldering hangers made for a moldering atmosphere and Jaim Twer itched and fretted over a game of solitaire. (V.4.3)

Remember that stagnation we were talking about? That worshiping of the past and reluctance or inability to move on? Well, this scene presents a physical example of what a lack of change means. And we don't know about you, but we find the term moldering to be just…yuck.

"But Siwenna is no longer capital of the Normannic Sector. Your old map has misled you after all. The stars may not change even in centuries, but political boundaries are all too fluid." (V.10.18)

The thing about maps is that, land doesn't change—or at least, not often—but a map does. That's why maps can show you how people used to think about the world. Pretty cool, right? But the thing about maps is that we update them when we learn new information. You don't want to be studying for A.P. Human Geography with a map that still shows the USSR.

"It's out of fashion in these decaying times to be a scholar." (V.10.60)

Sad but true. A quick look at history shows that times of great scholarly pursuit come and go throughout the centuries. If you were to graph it out, it would look like peaks and valleys. But, hey. We'll take any excuse to graph just about anything.

"And time enough, too," said Mallow, indifferently, "for a policy outdated, dangerous, and impossible. However well your religion has succeeded in the Four Kingdoms, scarcely another world in the Periphery has accepted it." (V.13.43)

If we're picking up what Mallow's putting down, he's saying that just because something worked in the past doesn't mean it'll work in the future. What do you think?