Liveblogging the Norman Conquest: September 26, 1066: Loading the Invasion Force

Weekend Reading: Isaac Asimov: "Second Foundation", from Chapter 8

Agitation from the other side of the desk. “No--now you must take this phlegmatically. You had hoped you would qualify. You had feared you would not. Actually, both hope and fear are weaknesses. You knew you would qualify and you hesitate to admit the fact because such knowledge might stamp you as cocksure and therefore unfit. Nonsense! The most hopelessly stupid man is he who is not aware that he is wise. It is part of your qualification that you knew you would qualify.” Relaxation on the other side of the desk....

He went on. “It is not an easy thing to be a Speaker. It is not an easy thing to be a Psychohistorian in the first place; and not even the best Psychohistorian need necessarily qualify to be a Speaker. There is a distinction here. A Speaker must not only be aware of the mathematical intricacies of the Seldon Plan; he must have a sympathy for it and for its ends. He must love the Plan; to him it must be life and breath. More than that, it must even be as a living friend.”...

He depressed a lever on his side of the desk and the room was in darkness. But only for a moment, since with a gradually livening flush, the two long walls of the room glowed... the fine neatly-printed equations in black, with an occasional red hairline that wavered through the darker forest like a staggering rillet.... They stood together in the light. Each wall was thirty feet long, and ten high. The writing was small and covered every inch. “This is not the whole Plan,” said the First Speaker. “To get it all upon both walls, the individual equations would have to be reduced to microscopic size--but that is not necessary. What you now see represents the main portions of the Plan till now. You have learned about this, have you not?”

“Yes, Speaker, I have.”

“Do you recognize any portion?”

A slow silence. The student pointed a finger and as he did so, the line of equations marched down the wall, until the single series of functions he had thought of... was at eye-level. The First Speaker laughed softly, “You will find the Prime Radiant to be attuned to your mind. You may expect more surprises from the little gadget. What were you about to say about the equation you have chosen?”

“It,” faltered the Student, “is a Rigellian integral, using a planetary distribution of a bias indicating the presence of two chief economic classes on the planet, or maybe a Sector, plus an unstable emotional pattern.”

“And what does it signify?”

“It represents the limit of tension, since we have here”--he pointed, and again the equations veered--“a converging series.”

“Good,” said the First Speaker. “And tell me, what do you think of all this. A finished work of art, is it not?”


“Wrong! It is not.” This, with sharpness. “It is the first lesson you must unlearn. The Seldon Plan is neither complete nor correct. Instead, it is merely the best that could be done at the time. Over a dozen generations of men have pored over these equations, worked at them, taken them apart to the last decimal place, and put them together again. They’ve done more than that. They’ve watched nearly four hundred years pass and against the predictions and equations, they’ve checked reality, and they have learned. “They have learned more than Seldon ever knew, and if with the accumulated knowledge of the centuries we could repeat Seldon’s work, we could do a better job. Is that perfectly clear to you?”

The Student appeared a little shocked.

“Before you obtain your Speakerhood,” continued the First Speaker, “you yourself will have to make an original contribution to the Plan. It is not such great blasphemy. Every red mark you see on the wall is the contribution of a man among us who lived since Seldon. Why… why--” He looked upward, “There!” The whole wall seemed to whirl down upon him. “This,” he said, “is mine.” A fine red line encircled two forking arrows and included six square feet of deductions along each path. Between the two were a series of equations in red.

“It does not,” said the Speaker, “seem to be much. It is at a point in the Plan which we will not reach yet for a time as long as that which has already passed. It is at the period of coalescence, when the Second Empire that is to be is in the grip of rival personalities who will threaten to pull it apart if the fight is too even, or clamp it into rigidity, if the fight is too uneven. Both possibilities are considered here, followed, and the method of avoiding either indicated.

“Yet it is all a matter of probabilities and a third course can exist. It is one of comparatively low likelihood—twelve point six four percent, to be exact—but even smaller chances have already come to pass and the Plan is only forty percent complete. This third probability consists of a possible compromise between two or more of the conflicting personalities being considered. This, I showed, would first freeze the Second Empire into an unprofitable mold, and then, eventually, inflict more damage through civil wars than would have taken place had a compromise never been made in the first place. Fortunately, that could be prevented, too. And that was my contribution.... It was the climax of my career; it will be the climax of yours....

“Enough of that.”... A stride to the Prime Radiant, and the walls were blank again save for the ordinary room-lighting region along the upper borders. “Sit down here at my desk, and let me talk to you. It is enough for a Psychohistorian, as such, to know his Biostatistics and his Neurochemical Electromathematics. Some know nothing else and are fit only to be statistical technicians. But a Speaker must be able to discuss the Plan without mathematics. If not the Plan itself, at least its philosophy and its aims....

“You will see me again in a week. By that time, I would like to have comments from you as to a certain problem which I now set before you. I don’t want complete and rigorous mathematical treatment. That would take a year for an expert, and not a week for you. But I do want an indication as to trends and direction—

“You have here a fork in the Plan at a period in time of about half a century ago. The necessary details are included. You will note that the path followed by the assumed reality diverges from all the plotted predictions; its probability being under one percent. You will estimate for how long the divergence may continue before it becomes uncorrectable. Estimate also the probable end if uncorrected, and a reasonable method of correction.”

The Student flipped the Viewer at random and looked stonily at the passages presented on the tiny, built-in screen. He said: “Why this particular problem, Speaker? It obviously has significance other than purely academic.”

“Thank you, my boy. You are as quick as I had expected. The problem is not suppositious. Nearly half a century ago, the Mule burst into Galactic history and for ten years was the largest single fact in the universe. He was unprovided for; uncalculated for. He bent the Plan seriously, but not fatally.

“To stop him before he did become fatal, however, we were forced to take active part against him. We revealed our existence, and, infinitely worse, a portion of our power. The First Foundation has learned of us, and their actions are now predicated on that knowledge. Observe in the problem presented. Here. And here.

“Naturally, you will not speak of this to anyone.”

There was an appalled pause, as realization seeped into the Student. He said: “Then the Seldon Plan has failed!”

“Not yet. It merely may have failed. The probabilities of success are still twenty-one point four percent, as of the last assessment.