Maximilian R. Schlechtinger

Foundation Circle

Das folgende Essay ist Teil einer akademischen Studienleistung gewesen. Es handelte sich um ein Lektüreprojekt, welches einen längeren Text nach bestimmten Gesichtspunkten untersucht. Dieses Essay wurde im Fachbereich Anglistik eingereicht.



Science-Fiction is sometimes tricky literature to describe, analyze and discuss. What might appear brilliant to one person is dull and repetitive to the next. As a matter of fact, science fiction is a relatively new genre compared to e.g. epic drama, poetry, or even historical fiction. Since it began to gain more readers in the onset of the 20th century it was largely developed alongside of technological advancement. Yet there is one important distinction between science-fiction after around 1970/1980 and works that have been written before that (e.g 1950). Today authors derive their ideas of potential technological gadgets from two main ideas. Either they are found in already existing fiction (like lightsabers or hyperdrive motors), or they observe the real world and infer potential advancements. Authors like Asimov on the other hand had no access to such material since they served as pioneers in the field. The work which this essay will discuss has been published in the 1950s, long before Star Wars, Star-Trek, Terminator, even Captain Future. That positions it rather uniquely in the field. Not only is it one of the major texts that other works of fiction derived their ideas from, it is also an interesting work when it comes to space exploration, extraterrestrial human endeavors and the still vague concept of colonizing the solar system.

The nature of this work makes it fruitful for understanding our current age and the motivations of its driving forces and acteurs a little better. We will get into the importance of the work for the motivations of technological advancement, specifically SpaceX and Elon Musk and the broader concept of what Carl Sagan called “A Vision of the Human Future in Space[1].

The emergence of science-fiction is a matter of discussion in itself. Some scholars argue that elements of science-fiction stories can be found in various novels published during the age of Enlightenment. Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan considered Johannes Kepler’s “Somnium”[2] as the first science-fiction Novel, since it depicts a journey to the moon and the observation of earths movement from there. Wherever science-fiction found its beginning, Foundation helped it to gain traction.

The Literature – The “Foundation Cycle”

The underlying work of this essay is composed of the three main novels, known as the Foundation-Cycle, by Isaac Asimov. The story spans three consecutive books “Foundation”, “Foundation and Empire” and “Second Foundation”, which were all published during the 1950s. Even though the author set out to write accompanying prequel and sequel stories to the main body, this essay will aim at only these three volumes:


Published in 1951 by Gnome books. The structure follows the first two-hundred years of the Foundation era and is told in five distinct short stories. Initially published in Astonishing Science Fiction as separated texts, the author chose to publish them in book form in 1951. The story begins with Hari Seldon, a mathematician and psychohistorian, allegedly the one person who foresees the decline of the Galactic Empire. He chooses to establish a precaution against a potentially long and dreadful galactic dark age at the very edge of the Galaxy. This Foundation is founded as a scientific project to assemble a collective Encyclopedia Galactica, only to be revealed as a concealer for a much larger project fifty years later. The five stories are set roughly fifty to one hundred years apart and span two centuries in total. It establishes the flow of a steady and progressive timeline with the idea of ambitions exceeding a single lifetime.

Foundation and Empire

Published in 1951 and set around forty years after the plot of its precursor the second book “Foundation and Empire” focuses on the conflict in the clash of the major forces in the galaxy. It describes the war which has been alluded to in the first volume. The driving forces of the story feature the ambitious general Bel Riose and the Emperor Cleon II himself. Most of the action is played out implicitly. The Siwennian patrician Ducem Barr is held captive on the general’s ship, alongside with Lathan Devers a Foundation-Trader. Both attempt to thwart the general’s plans by trying to get through to the emperor, only to fail. In the end Barr and Devers discover that the inevitable fall of the Empire was not brought about by individual actions but by the conglomerate of collective activities.

The second part “The Mule” is set almost one hundred years after the first one. It mainly features another external threat to the Foundation. This time in the form of a single actor, the Mule. The Mule, whose real identity is not revealed through the story is a human mutant with malevolent psychic abilities. His ultimate plan is conquest and destruction of the Foundation and afterwards the Second Foundation. The story follows a freshly wed couple Toran and Bayta Darell and the psychologist Ebling Mis.

Mis made it his life’s work to unravel the initial ideas of Seldon’s plan. He tries to decipher the programmed messages in the Time Vault on Terminus and step by step figures out the location of the Second Foundation. During the stories climax he accidentally reveals this location of the Mule. The book ends with the Darells left on Trantor and the Mule set out to destroy the Second Foudation.

Second Foundation

The first part of the third volume “Second Foundation” is called “Search by the Mule”. With the Mule having gained knowledge of the supposed location of the Second Foundation he set out to find and destroy the Second Foundation. First, he sends his agents Han Pritcher, who makes an appearance in the previous volume “Foundation and Empire” and Bail Channis. They land on Rossem, assumed that either this planet or the neighboring Tazenda is the location of the Second Foundation. The Mule confronts both them and in a climaxing turn of events faces a member of the actual Second Foundation (the First Speaker). He reveals that the location of the Second Foundation is still not known to them, then he seizes control over the Mule and forces him to resign his quest of malice. The First Speaker offers him to live the rest of his days on Kalgan, which he accepts.

The second part of “Second Foundation” takes place around sixty years after the events of the first part. The Mule died five years prior to the story of natural causes. His last location has been on Kalgan, where he died as a warlord. The power vacuum was filled by a man called Stettin who declares war upon the Foundation. His actions are undermined by those of the Second Foundation itself. He inevitably loses.

For most of the story the Second Foundation has made neither an appearance in the narrative nor did it interfere with anything. At the beginning the location of the Second Foundation is still a mystery, only to be revealed in the end.  At the Foundation a secret cabal is formed to investigate possible influence of the Second Foundation on Terminus. Seldon founded both Foundations with a scientific ambition. The First Foundation was aimed at technological superiority and nuclear science, whilst the Second Foundation’s aim consisted mostly of mental science (Psychology). His deliberate choice to strain one side of the project of the advanced science of the other keeps a kind of hidden balance.

The investigations on Terminus allow for the discovery of many infiltrating Second Foundationer’s whose actions have been undetected thus far. To remain functioning and secret the Second Foundation effectively fakes its death yet in the end it is revealed that the Second Foundation is not only intact but located on Terminus itself. Seldon’s hint that he established two Foundations, each at one end of the Galaxy has been intentionally misleading. The Second Foundation has been the original mastermind behind most of the books key points.

About places and names

The books feature many named planets, cities, and people. I have chosen to put all place names in italics and mostly they refer to planets. Characters I didn’t put into italics. When referring to the names of the books or the organization itself I chose to put Foundation into italics as well. The same goes for organizations like Encyclopedia Galactica and alike.

About the Author – Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov, born 1920, was a Russian-American public intellectual, professor of biochemistry and additionally author of numerous books. He is best known for the Foundation-Cycle and its accompanying prequels and sequels and for a range of books that can be summed up as the “Robot” Novels. The latter includes “I, Robot” and “The Bicentennial Man” which both have been turned into major films.

He has been regarded as one of the „Big Three“, when it comes to English language writers of early science fiction, alongside Robert A. Heinlein (“Starship Troopers”) and Arthur C. Clarke (“2001: A space odyssey”). Asimov worked in both domains, fiction, and non-fiction. He aimed at popularizing a lot of scientific work through many publications. His love for science-fiction might have been motivated by his profession as a scientist.

My Own Motivation – Why Foundation?

I chose Foundation as my subject of interest out of an academic obsession with human future. Our current time has some similarities with the days of a past mid-century enthusiasm for space, technology, and possibility that has posed to be such a powerful driving force during the ‘60s up until the ‘90s. The ideas that sparked the development of computers, the internet, and not to forget the space race, reemerge now. We face similar goals with the NASA Artemis Missions[3] heading for the moon, or the far stretched ambitions of SpaceX to colonize Mars, the second planet the human population will inhabit. This time might be crucial for the success or failure of this mega-project. It is lead, in part, by no other than Elon Musk.

When looking into Musk’s biography I discovered that he claimed to have read the Foundation Cycle as a teenager[4] and said that he derived some of his core values and ambitions of it. I began to grow increasingly curious of what that might consist of. One does not simply walk to Mars or plot astronomical plans on how to move on even further from there. As we will see, Musk takes on a similar role as the fictional Hari Seldon, as the great initiator of something much broader.

But there was more to it. For quite some time now I see a subtle schism in global human society. The usual conservative and progressive stream of ideas is accompanied by something divisive. Technology has always been a tool for human advancement, yet it remains in the eye of the beholder to what end it is used. Simply put, we can build nuclear power plants or warheads with the same underlying technology. What I observe is that people who want to advance human lives envision a much larger stretch of time with their respective projects. It vastly exceeds the span of a single lifetime, whereas other things like war and international conflicts are naturally aimed at swift solution. This motivation of shaping a far future with actions in our current present is what distinguishes the progressive from the short-sighted nowadays.

Lastly, I was academically motivated because the aforementioned and relatively novel field of science-fiction was sparked by works like this. Foundation served as a literal foundation for science fiction, much like the “Lord of the Rings”did for the genre of Phantasy. I hoped to gain a deeper and more thorough understand of other works of fiction, after having read this one.


I will present my insights about the three volumes of the Foundation-Cycle, categorized by topic. I choose this to contrast various aspects with either real-world examples or academic ones. Since the novels span an immense timeline, it is crucial to view certain things through the lens of a much larger time frame. Some things only emerge over time, while others change and alter. Given the length of this essay this will only be a selection of topics and not cover the entirety.

The Timeline

“A Thousand-Year Plan”

The initial title given by Asimov has been “The Thousand-Year Plan”. This alludes to a statement by Hari Seldon, that he tries to shorten the potential and threatening dark age to a single millennium. Seldon mentions that without interference it will much likely last 30,000 years.

To compose a story spanning such a long period of time is a work of art in itself. If we view human history on Earth since ancient Rome, we observe a time span between 2000 and 3000 years (depending on the history). Even our knowledge of the Pyramids of Giza or the building of Stonehenge and Göbekli-Tepe is set in the realm of roughly 9000-10,000 years ago.

On the contrary, Seldon’s birthday is marked as 11,988 (Galactic Era), when the declining Empire is said to be roughly twelve thousand years old. And this is just the onset of the story. What follows is an array of snapshot short stories that each tell a crucial episode from the following centuries. To be honest, I could hardly understand European history from Ancient Rome onwards if it were told this way in history books, yet in the Foundation novels it works. Asimov carefully selects characters and times. The crucial marker for an event of significance is the emergence of a so called “Seldon Crisis” which we will discuss later on.

Psychohistory – An Artificial Science?

The story begins with a character that only makes a physical in person appearance in the first part to the first novel, Hari Seldon. The mathematician and founder of the (artificial) scientific field of psychohistory predicts the downfall of the galactic Empire three centuries ahead. The scientific tools he utilizes are derived from a science that the novels call “Psychohistory”. It is set to predict the mass behavior of large populations of humans. Through mathematical methodology and algorithms, it can create inferred assumptions about possible outcomes. Throughout his last years Seldon uses these methods to outline the downfall of the Galactic Empire. Psychohistory appears to be powerful when dealing with large quantities yet falls short of truthful judgment when it comes to individual people and their actions.

Developed in Streeling University in the Capital planet of Trantor Seldon uses the 40 billion population of the planet to test his theories. As he realizes that the Galactic Empire is slowly declining into a dark age, he decides to act. The downfall of the Empire is quite obviously modeled after the downfall of the Roman Empire in the real world which also took quite a while to occur.

Psychohistory appears to be an alternative name for what we today call “Big Data Science”. With computing power and storage capabilities that exceed their mid-century counterparts, we created essentially a digital equivalent of Psychohistory. There is even an A.I. algorithm named after the fictional Hari Seldon, the Seldonian Algorithm. It is used to avoid undesirable behaviors in decision making.[5]

A Seldon Crisis

Whenever the events in the story reach a dramatic climax the phrase “Seldon crisis” is mentioned. Named after the mathematician Hari Seldon this category of conflicts appears at infrequent but crucial times throughout the story. Initially it is just named “a crisis” and the classification of “Seldon crisis” is only used a century after Seldon’s death.[6]

There are two characteristics that distinguish a Seldon Crisis from any other conflict and crisis in the novel: A threat in the external environment is accompanied by a conflict in internal matters. The nature of these threats can vary, though. At times it is political, economic, or even spiritual. Each crisis also alters the course of the Foundation project towards a new direction.[7]

Various Sheldon Crises in the Novels and their Solutions

To better understand the plot of the novels, jumping from crisis to crisis, the logical consecutive structure of these crises is presented here. Each of them is solved in a unique way and leaves the initial Foundation project altered and moving towards a new direction. All time stamps refer to the Foundation Era and are abbreviated by “F.E.”.


Part 1 | The Psychohistorians: (-2 F.E.)

The Galactic Empire raises suspicions about Hari Seldon and his project of Psychohistory. He carefully manages to manipulate the court to the force him and his project to exile on his planet of choice, Terminus.

Part 2 | The Encyclopedists (50 F.E) and Part 3 | The Mayors (80 F.E.)

In this part of the story, it is made clear that the sole reason for starting a project like the Encyclopedia Galactica was to allow for the creation of the colony on Terminus. In Part 2 the political tide shifts from the initial scientists to the city’s Mayor Salvor Hardin, who tries his best to guess Seldon’s ideas on how to handle politics. He dethrones the then leading “Board of Trustees”, a group of exclusively scientists, right after Hari Seldon tells them in a video recording of their farce as a purely scientific project.

The following part of this short story (“The Mayors”) deals with Hardin’s political handling of the four surrounding planetary kingdoms. These former prefectures of the Empire declared independence and their leading party of Anacreon tries to overthrow the Foundation’s Government. The crisis is solved through the works of the artificial quasi religion Scientism, which we will discuss separately.

Part 4 | The Traders (Circa 135 F.E)

“The Traders” features a story outside the home planet of Terminus. After the events of Salvor Hardin the economic power of the Foundation expands. The story revolves around two Traders and a prison and death sentence. Master Trader Limmar Ponyets is called to aid by his friend Eskel Gorov, a secret agent of the Foundation. To free him of his death sentence he convinces the spiritual Grand Master to exchange a Nuclear Transmuter for his friend’s life. The transmuter allows to transform iron into gold and undermines the former primitive economy on planet Akone.

Not a crisis in itself, the Nuclear Transmuter becomes relevant in the solution of another crisis 200 years later. We will discuss Nuclear Power as a means to an end separately as well.

Part 5 | The Merchant Princes (155 F.E.)

In Part 5 of the novel we see a clear Seldon crisis. Master Trader and later Major Hober Mallow is presented with internal conflict and external threat. The spiritual ruling class of Terminus fears an increase of power of the Trading Party, whose head Hober Mallow is. To avoid further inquiry and also to learn more about a potential enemy, he visits the Planet of Korell. There he observes traces of the Galactic Empire and the state of the art of their nuclear capabilities. He learns that the Foundation is in a more technological advanced position, but still faces war. In an attempt to solve both problems simultaneously, he overthrows the established religion of Scientism and devotes his actions to create an economic web. Lastly, he manages to fight a war against Korell purely in economics and less in human casualties.

Foundation and Empire

Part 1 | The General

This part of the Foundation Cycle is loosely based on the Fall of the Western Roman Empire, moreover on Emperor Justian I. and his leading General Belarious[8]. The story of the war between the Foundation and the Empire is almost entirely told from an outsider’s perspective. At last, it is revealed that the war is won not by force or cleverness, but that the flaw lies within the governing body of the Galactic Empire. The emperor grows suspicious of his generals and has them investigated, only to learn about their plans to overthrow him. Analogous to the Roman Empire it is the social structure of the governing body that brings about the downfall.

Part 2 | The Mule

The Mule is an unexpected crisis. Seldon’s original plan did not account for the influence of a mutant and his actions. This disturbs the plan greatly. It is mostly due to the actions of the Second Foundation (revealed in the third volume) that the original plan can prevail. The Mule chooses to malevolently attack and undermine the Foundation with the intent to use its technological advantage to find and destroy the Second Foundation as well. He is only overthrown by a Second Foundationer at the very end of the story.

Second Foundation

It is not quite clear how to assess the events of the third volume with attributes of a Seldon Crisis in mind. The majority of the story deals with the correction of the Seldon Plan and the actions of the Second Foundation. The hardship of course-correction after the Mule’s interference might count as a meta-Seldon-crisis, but surely not as a classical one.

Additional Seldon Crises

It is worth noting that Hari Seldon foresaw a total of ten crisis points when composing the 1000-year-plan. Not all of these turning events are mentioned in the novels. The original Foundation Cycle describes merely half of them, with the interference of the Mule being the most dangerous point. As with every good story, in the end the 1000-year-plan succeeds, and a Second Galactic Empire is established as the Foundation Federation[9]

Nuclear Power

Asimov chooses to let nuclear technology serve as a cornerstone of advanced civilizations. He is subtle at first and more drastic as the story progresses. Before describing the effects of nuclear technology, it is interesting to mention the time in which the books were produced. The 1940s were the mere onset and beginning of nuclear technology with the Hiroshima bombings happening in 1945. Asimov knew very well the dramatic and devastating effects of nuclear warheads and still chooses to make this a force for good in his works.

Nuclear power is introduced as an every-day occurrence at the beginning of the story. Technology seems omnipresent and omni-capable. Yet with the decline of the Galactic Empire more and more knowledge of nuclear technology is lost. It is hardly noticeable at first and becomes relevant in the onset of conflict. During the second Part of “Foundation” it is casually mentioned that a nuclear power plant has been suffering a terrible melt-down[10] and that the governing body of that particular planet had chosen to prohibit nuclear power altogether. It is presented as a safety measure, much like the German Government after the accidents at the Fukushima Power Plant in 2011[11]. Much later in the story Hober Mallow visits a nuclear power station on Koreell only to learn about the scarcity of technological knowledge of the technicians. Most of them are only able to maintain a power plant and not repair, let alone build one. He then concludes to fight his war against Korell on economic terms and with nuclear goods, which only the Foundation can provide in high quality and quantity.

In “Foundation and Empire” the gap between nuclear and primitive technology is even wider and more noticeable. The Empire’s massive fleet runs on Hyper-Nuclear motors, but the assigned technicians are almost unable to repair them. It is all tied to the hope of them working long enough. As Lathan Devers points out at one point:

“Definitely. Ships are premium. The civil war of the last two centuries smashed up more than half of the Grand Fleet and what’s left is in pretty shaky condition. You know it isn’t as if the ships we build these days are worth anything. I don’t think there’s a man in the Galaxy today who can build a first-rate hypernuclear motor.”[12]

Nuclear Transmutation – The Alchemist

In Part 3 “The Traders” a nuclear device is used that stretches our current understanding of nuclear physics far into fictional matter, a “Nuclear Transmuter”. Master Trader Limmar Ponyets uses such a device to turn solid iron into real gold to free his friend’s life from a prison sentence. He then gifts the transmuter to the spiritual grandmaster of Askone. Nuclear transmutation is the altering of the atomic make-up of elements to form other elements, in essence it is alchemy. Ponyets serves as the Jungian archetype of “The Alchemist”[13] in this scenario and gains immense power. Although he claims that his device is of a much smaller scale than what the Foundation normally utilizes, he wins the amazement and trust of his clients.


When Hober Mallow visits the old patrician Omnu Barr in Foundation part 5 he is asked if he were a magician. This is, of course absurd, but since he carries around foreign and mysterious technology it is no wonder people assume exactly that. As the story progresses nuclear technology receives the strange attribute of being magical. The ascribed statement of John Frum and the “Cargo Cults”[14] prove to be true: Technology that is not understood is indistinguishable from magic.

What seems laughable at first is used to a straight up advantage by various parties of the Foundation. Salvor Hardin establishes the quasi religion of Scientism on the workings of nuclear technology, Hober Mallow uses it so build an economic force and Lathan Devers utilizes its obscure workings to fool certain officials in the grand war between the Foundation and the Empire.

Reference To the Real World

In our current day and age, we shift the methods of power generation slowly from fossil fuels to other forms of production. Whatever the future may hold, if it be renewable energy or nuclear power plants, or both, it will change. What is merely seeping through to the broader schemes of nations and populations is already happening in niche endeavors like space exploration. The NASA Rovers on Mars run on nuclear batteries, alongside with many other NASA probes. The reason why we don’t exploit this immense power in e.g. Cars and Trucks is simply the safety measure and the consumed space. Cars are small compared to Mars-Rovers. But all that might change in a not so distant future[15] and then it is crucial to preserve the technology to generate efficient and relatively clean energy.

Scientism – A Quasi Religion of Science

When first reading the passages about the constructed religion of Scientism, based on Nuclear Technology, it struck me as one of the most brilliant literary devices I ever encountered! As far as I understood Asimov’s motivation it serves as a precaution and preservation. Religious items, thoughts and texts are per definition sacred. This gives them the advantage of being untouchable, unquestionable, and largely exclusive. In the part 2 of Foundation Salvor Hardin establishes this religion to gain control over the surrounding kingdoms. It is curial for his defeat over the Anacreonian General Wienes much later in the text. During the climax of the story the Anacreaonian fleet is permanently disabled due to a “religious curse”. This is accomplished by installing certain machinery that is remotely operated by the religious priests. Asimov describes is as:

“ ‘Let its lights, which are his soul, shrivel into nothing. In the name of the Galactic Spirit, I so curse this ship.’
And with his last word, at the stroke of midnight, a hand, light-years distant in the Argolid Temple, opened an ultrawave relay, which at the instantaneous speed of the ultrawave, opened another on the flagship Wienis.

And the ship died!

For it is the chief characteristic of the religion of science that it works, and that such curses as that of Aporat’s are really deadly.”[16]

Even though this quasi religion fades into the background as the years progress, it’s magnificent use as a tool to preserve science is immeasurable. What would’ve happened to continental Europe if the church had chosen to build the Christian doctrine on ancient works of science instead of taking the opposite route?

In his books “DAEMON”[17] and “DARKNET” the author Daniel Suarez uses a similar stage-trick as he has his characters utilize network technology to gain power and influence. The notion of his character is science is just magic that works[18] and I cannot think other that he received his inspiration from Asimov, along with probably a lot of other writers.

A Decline into Dark Age

When reading the Foundation Cycle and subsequently the development of a decline into a dark age I thought of a scientific concept that would provide an analogy to the real world, namely the Fermi-Paradox.

The Fermi-Paradox is a scientific concept and theory that tries to explain the absence and/or presence of advanced alien civilization in space.[19] The paradox runs roughly as follows:

If there are billions of stars and planets in the galaxy, how high is the probability that life emerges on one of them? If the probability is even slightly higher than 1%, then the sky should be overflowing with life. If there is life, how much of it is advanced enough to build technology, communication and even space-travel? If this is probable, why haven’t they contacted us, yet?[20]

Fermi answers with some possibilities. Either life is unlikely, and we are alone, or it is likely and there are other constrictions on how it forms. We could be the first to advance, but that would be unreasonable. Humanity is relatively young, compared to earth, the solar system and let alone, the universe. So maybe the others have already existed and something destroyed them. Their planet became unhabitable, they killed each other in wars or were wiped out by disease and death. The last possibility receives a name, though, which is called a “Great Filter-Event”.

It is the line of argumentation for people like Elon Musk and has been for Enrico Fermi, Carl Sagan and various other space enthusiasts. Maybe a civilization can only advance to a certain degree, before it rapidly declines, only to rise anew? Maybe the current stage of advancement on earth is such an event, maybe we are far from it… 

In Foundation the decline of the Empire marks a similar point in time. It does not completely wipe out human life, but it knocks it back to much more primitive times. The sole ambition of Hari Seldon’s Foundation was to shorten the potential dark age from 30,000 years to a mere millennium.

A Long Fall Down

The prologue of “Foundation and Empire” sets the tone for this event and recaps the events of the previous novel:

“The Galactic Empire Was Falling.

It was a colossal Empire, stretching across millions of worlds form arm-end to arm-end of the mighty multi-spiral that was the Milky Way. Its fall was colossal, too – and a long one, for it had a long way to go.

It has been falling for centuries before one man became really aware of that fall. That man was Hari Seldon, the man who represented the one spark of creative effort left among the gathering decay”[21]

That surely raises the question if there is a natural boundary to human technological advancement and if it is bound by the creeping forces of greed, power, and individual gains. Neither Earth’s history, nor the Foundation Novels answer that question thoroughly.

A Human Civilization in Space

Ever since mankind woke up on this planet it had looked outwards to the stars. It took us a fair while to figure out what we were looking at and subsequently put together our understanding of the universe so far. In 1969 we visited he moon and ever since the beginning of the 20th century we dreamt of outer space.

This seems to be a very human thing to dream of. The question remains if there exists a possible and sustainable future outside of earth for us collectively? In this day and age there are more and more people, companies and movements directed towards outer space. But it all comes down to human beings telling each other of their ideas. Most of what we currently use as technological gadgets has its roots in some science-fiction tale. The most cliché is probably Star Trek’s communicator as a precursor to mobile phones. Creativity is boundless there and we have no real idea of what we are capable of building.

The ideas of fictional works like the Foundation Cycle might have had a similar effect on space travel and technology alike. Some ideas manifest early on in fiction and then are realized in actual reality later on.

Carl Sagan, Elon Musk, and SpaceX

In 1994 the American astronomer Carl Sagan published “A pale blue dot: A vision for humans in space[22], a book in which he outlines his ideas of how a human civilization could advance into colonizing the solar system. Sagan choose the title after a photograph he and his team took. When overseeing the Voyager Mission in 1990, he suggested to have the spacecraft take a picture of Earth[23] from the then most distant vantage point so far, the rings of Saturn. Earth appears as a tiny pale blue dot in this picture. It underscores the unimportance of most human affairs when viewed on a cosmic scale and frankly it’s chilling. Sagan then set out to educate more and more people about the importance to “preserve and cherish the pale blue dot. The only home, we’ve ever known”[24]

What seemed to be more fictional than real at the time of publication is slowly moving into graspable distance. Mega projects like SpaceX[25] and the NASA Artemis Mission[26] prove that the motivation for outer space is still in us.

As mentioned earlier Elon Musk claims to have read the Foundation Cycle as a teenager.[27] It might be on the list of what inspired him to start SpaceX and his other companies and projects. I am not quite sure if I can put him into the same position as the fictional Hari Seldon, and I have no way of knowing if he does that himself.

His claim that Foundation and Zeroth Law[28] (another Asimov reference) are fundamental to SpaceX is a good indicator. Maybe he wishes to be remembered as somebody who initiates a broader and more expansive episode of mankind.

Musk also mentions various possible filter events in his interviews, which I will glance over. He also fears the devasting demise of a nuclear war and the following nuclear winter, similar to Seldon’s fear of a long and dreadful dark age. One of Musk’s claims is the imminent and seldom talked about danger of population collapse[29] in the not so far future.

My take-way from comparing Musk’s ambitions with the narration in the Foundation Cycle is a more overarching effect. It appears that the individual actions of people seem to elevate to a more altruistic and far-sighted level after having head stories like this one.

That may be due to the length of the Seldon plan in the story which spans a millennium. If history on earth retained such far sightedness from ancient Rome or ancient Greek onwards, there would not have been a medieval dark age or any other form of technological decline. Most of the latter cause by individual actions aimed at imminent gain. In Carl Sagan’s words “So they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot”[30] (“dot” referring to planet Earth).



To conclude this essay, we shall go back to the idea of a vast timeline and individual stories. After having read the Foundation-Cycle I could clearly see its influence on other works of fiction and science-fiction. Sometimes these manifested in ideas and concepts like a Galactic Empire and Hyperspace-Travel and sometimes in names and descriptions (e.g. Outer Rim, just as in Star Wars).

Most of the mentioned concepts didn’t seem so different from the ideas of other works of science-fiction that I have read, nor does this differ so much from our actual technological advancement since the 50s. The mere fact that our collective creativity didn’t evolve to a point of absolute novelty in the last seventy years and that we still only grasp for the moon despite more far-fetched ambitions is stifling. I once heard somebody call the internet “just a telegraph with pictures” and I see the analogy in science fiction. I cannot think other than that there must exist a sort of glass ceiling to what we can currently envision and that maybe one day we will think of more advanced things when having breached this barrier.

My Perception – What Did I Learn Specifically?

The Foundation novels sparked my interest in distant human future (again). The whole story works along the lines of an immense project, that spans hundreds of years and many human lifetimes. This is new to me, since we live in a society that focuses so much on the individual and the achievements of a singular lifetime.

I thought immediately of certain endeavors that span more than a lifetime. Surely SpaceX and the ambition of colonizing Mars came to mind, but it’s much more. We speak of climate change, global markets, population collapse and various other concepts that truly span more than a lifetime. Foundation has helped me to regain perspective in all of that and to view human progress through this lens of steady and consecutive improvement. Astronauts speak of the famous Overview Effect, upon coming back to earth. It describes a different perspective on human affairs once they have been viewed from a (literal) distance. Some conflicts are just miniscule compared to the magnitude of our collective project in technological advancement and interstellar survival.

I also learned to view myself a little bit more as a working part of whole. The science of psychohistory might only allow for the study of large quantities, but it is the individual who makes up the whole. There is hope and motivation to do some good in this world that will have a benevolent effect on some small slice of a human future.

In A Broader Scheme

I can easily put two great works of literature side by side in my mind, even though they were published more than forty years apart. It is the subject of this essay, the Foundation Cycle and additionally Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot[31]. They both deal with the possibilities of a human future in space, one of through a fictional story and the other through a scientific lens.

In my mind the question will become relevant, if not crucial in the next decades. We had the time of the 20th century to get our values straight and discuss the speaking terms of how we go about space exploration and colonization in the upcoming century. Since Foundation also taught me to put single projects into the linear progression of a much larger whole, I can effortlessly do that with NASA and SpaceX, alongside many more.

In my perception Foundation is truly a timeless classic since it addresses many problems and possible solutions of conflicts that may arise in the onset of intersolar or interstellar colonization. Nuclear power and its use probably being one of the more prominent and more imminent ones. We cannot know what the future may hold, but society always derived a lot of its motivation from its dreamers aka. writers, so Foundation will surely be a work of fiction we will refer to, before heading to the stars. With all of us being a tiny part in the grand scheme of things, a plan outside our understanding and a steady progression towards a shared goal.


Primary Literature

  • [FOUND-1] – Asimov, Isaac, Foundation. 1951, Doubleday,
    ISBN: 978-0553293357
  • [FOUND-EMP] – Asimov, Isaac, Foundation and Empire. 1952, Doubleday,
    ISBN: 978-0553293371
  • [2ND-FOUND] – Asimov, Isaac, Second Foundation. 1953, Doubleday,
    ISBN: 978-0553293364

Secondary Literature and Resources

  • [3-LAWS] – Wikipedia: “The Three Laws of Robotics”, last checked: 21.08.22 – 16:35
  • [DARKNET] – Suarez, Daniel, Darknet, 2010 (German Edition), Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, ISBN: 978-3-499-25244-0
  • [DAEMON] – Suarez, Daniel, Darknet, 2010 (German Edition), Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, ISBN: 978-3-499-25245-7
  • [FOUND-EDGE] – Asimov, Isaac, 2004. Foundation’s Edge. New York: Del Rey. Foundation Series , bk. 6. ISBN 978-0-553-90093-4
  • [JUNG-PSY] – Jung, C.G. und R.F.C. Hull, 2014. Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 12: Psychology and Alchemy. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-1-4008-5087-7
  • [PALE-DOT] – Sagan, Carl, 1994. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. New York: Random House
  • [SOMNIUM] – Kepler Johannes, Somnium, 1634. For a list of Editions see: and
  • [WIKI-ASIMOV] – Wikipedia “Isaac Asimov”,  last checked: 21.08.22 – 16:40
  • [WIKI-FERMI] – Wikipedia “Fermi Paradox”, last checked: 20.08.22 – 9:15

[1] After his book title: Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (see: [PALE-DOT])

[2] See: [SOMNIUM]

[3]   NASA Artemis Mission: (last checked 21.08.22 17:05)

[4]Elon Musk shares the science fiction book series that inspired him to start SpaceX“ – (CNBC)-

[5] As an example of Seldonian Algorithms see:

[6] [FOUND] p.210 ff.

[7] [FOUND-EMP] p. 156 f.

[8] Justian I. (527-565) and his general Belisarius (500-565) both played crucial roles in the re-conquest of the Western Roman Empire, not long before its inevitable demise.

[9] Most of this is told in “Foundation’s Edge” and the accompanying sequel novels. See e.g. [FOUND-EDGE]

[10] [FOUND] p.62f.

[11] Fukushima Nuclear Disaster see: The Guardian Japan upgrades nuclear crisis to same level as Chernobyl”

[12] [FOUND-EMP] p.43

[13] [JUNG-PSY]

[14] Ref. Wikipedia “Cargo Cults”:

[15] The UK based company Arkenlight works on solutions with long-lasting batteries. See:

[16] [FOUND] p. 158

[17] See: [DAEMON]

[18] [DARKNET] p. 201 A character utilizes a magic ring to gain access to a computer-network.


[20] This line of Argumentation is also found in the famous “Drake-Equation”, which sets out to predict this probability in mathematical terms. Coherently explained by the YouTube-Channel Astrum. See: “Why the Solution to the Drake Equation is Scary No Matter the Answer“ (Source: last checked: 19.8.22 10:42)

[21] [FOUND-EMP] p.1

[22] [PALE-DOT]

[23] Taken on February 14, 1990 by the Voyager 1 space probe. (Source:

[24] Audio version narrated by Carl Sagan. See: “Pale Blue Dot – You Are Here (Carl Sagan)“ at 3:26 (Source: , last checked: 21.08.22 13:15)

[25] SpaceX: (last checked 21.08.22 17:05)

[26] NASA Artemis Mission: (last checked 21.08.22 17:05)

[27] Elon Musk’s book recommendation on Twitter: (last checked 16.08.22 16:45)

[28] Referring to the three laws of Robotics, established in “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov. See also: [3-LAWS].

[29] Elon Musk on underpopulation:

[30] Audio version narrated by Carl Sagan. See: “Pale Blue Dot – You Are Here (Carl Sagan)“ (Source: , last checked: 21.08.22 13:15)

[31] [PALE-DOT]

low angle photography of tunnel

Diese Website verwendet Cookies um die Performance zu verbessern. Mit der Nutzung der Seite stimmst du den Datenschutzbestimmungen zu.  Mehr erfahren