Years ago I read the famous Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels. While this is not the place for a detailed exploration of the themes of those books - I plan to do a members' paper on this topic and am in fact in the process of writing it now - it is worth noting its central premise. In the books, a mathematician, Hari Seldon, invents a technique of modeling aggregate human behavior, both in the past and present, and making future predictions of aggregate behavior. He does so at a time when the galactic empire is entering decline, and some  in the corridors of power know this. Seldon calls his superlative mathematical technique "psychohistory," and with it, he models a method of shortening the "dark ages" that his science predicts will follow the period of the empire's collapse. Needless to say, the Galactic Imperial Powers that Be want to get their hands on Seldon's technique.

Well, social engineering of the sort envisioned by Asimov, writing in the 1950s and 1960s, when econophysics was first becoming a viable technique of analysis of aggregate group behavior, has taken another huge leap forward, and I am indebted to Mr. V.T. for pointing this one out to me:

This Man Could Rule the World

Note that the application of Barbasi's techniques have already, according to the article, paid dividends in market analysis, medicine, and interestingly enough, spycraft. Barbasi points out the jkey to his technique: (1) model the system, and (2) predict its behavior. Notably, it is a physicist doing this sort of analysis, and others are applying the technique. And the key, again, is coming from quantum mechanics, were the motions of individual particles cannot be predicted, but the aggregate motions can be, since they fall into statistical patterns.

A key to Barabasi's analysis is bound to be non-equilibrium conditions, as is indeed hinted in the article when cell phone companies contacted Barabasi to model customer behavior on when they were likely to switch providers, and that implies open systems (one cell company vs. another).

Barabasi, like Asimov's fictional Hari Seldon, is alive to the dangers:

"The first breakthroughs will most likely take place in medicine. By identifying control nodes in cell growth systems, scientists could return mature cells to their embryonic state, creating a new source of stem cells. 'Some diseases are all about lack of control,' Barabási says. 'If you were able to gain control over them at the cellular or neuronal level, you might be able to cure the disease.'

"Control can be used for ill as well as good, of course. Marketers could learn how to better manipulate consumers, and governments could develop new techniques to cow citizens. It’s up to us, Barabási says, to define how control should be applied and how it shouldn’t be. “What we have to realize is that control is a natural progression of understanding processes,” he says. 'But control is a question of will, and will can be controlled by laws. We have to come together as a society to figure out how far we can push it.'"

Asimov must be smiling down, for he saw decades ago the possibilities that the mathematical modeling of quantum mechanics had for other fields, including that most enigmatic of them all: human behavior.


Joseph P. Farrell

Joseph P. Farrell has a doctorate in patristics from the University of Oxford, and pursues research in physics, alternative history and science, and "strange stuff". His book The Giza DeathStar, for which the Giza Community is named, was published in the spring of 2002, and was his first venture into "alternative history and science".


  1. Tim Fonseca on December 3, 2011 at 12:09 am

    Hmm …. look carefully at that word PSYCHOHISTORY.
    How about PSYCHO – HISTORY…or how about the HISTORY of PSYCHOS
    The human race is so collectively insane that no human being, or computer, can chart it’s course into the wild blue yonder, or rather it’s spastic dance macabre into the future.
    Dump Asimov’s PSYCHOHISTORY and investigate “evolutionary attractors” instead. There is something that is pulling the evolutionary strings and it ain’t human. It has plans for us.
    No, no, that’s crazy talk… lock em up

    Yesterday it was, “I am not a number, I am a human being” …… Today it’s, “I am not a puppet I am a human bring”

    What would we do with ourselves if we collectively cut those strings.

  2. marcos anthony toledo on November 18, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    If you know the history of any state or society you can predict what they will do history does repeat itself. History and science been my favorite subjects since childhood they are deliberatily taught badly as to prevent people from thinking for themselves a way of control.

  3. paul degagne on November 18, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Articles like this aggravate me enormously. In fact I could BOIL very easily?

    There is so much hidden CODES and SLANTS IN IT. I could easily write a book on the topic and believe me hundreds have.

    (POINT 1.)

    Remember when the majority of people were so OPTIMISTIC on how SCIENCE/TECHNOLOGY WAS GOING TO CURE ALL OUR ILLS as in the Science Fiction of the fifties.

    NEED I say more. THINKING === PESSIMISM is SANITY? (or what new HORROR is going to be released now? Apparently we must love it or … close the DAMNED thing down and spend the money on health care for every human and ANIMAL on the planet along with a safe birth control device.?)

    (POINT 2.)

    SUPERLATIVE MATHEMATICAL TECHNIQUE CALLED PSYCHOHISTORY — Maybe PSYCHOHISTORY will advance and ALTERNATE HISTORY WIILL BE THE NORM – I would greatly like. THERE’S NO SUCH CREATURE AS ‘SUPERLATIVES! ( what is the best invention today (such as good tasting fudge) may turn out to be a disaster for usin the future. In fact we just may go back to ROCK CANDY after some catastrophe and stay there).

    Just because SOMEONE DOESN’T KNOW THEY WORSHIP math, doesn’t mean WE HAVE TO TOO!!!!!!!!!!

    (POINT 3)


    At the celluar and neuronal level —-wow! If only the BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES COULD COME TO AN AGREEMENT WITH THE PHYSICAL SCIENCES? It’s in some way similar to the RELIGION AND SCIENCE ANTAGONISM. In this DUMB CLUCKS OPINION quantum physics should stop being so BE-DAZZLED sitting at the right hand of GOD and come down a few steps to the lowly BIOLOGISTS. (THAT WOULD HELP?)

    (POINT $) … control is a question of Will and Will can be CONTROLLED by LAW. Think about this a little while and you may just see HOW DAM ABSURB IT IS! ! !

    Reifying the WORD — LAW! What planet is this PHLOSOPHER ON? PLATO’S PHILOSOPHER KINGS oh so superlative and above us dirt-scrappers! NO> NO> NO Not me VOLTAIRE’S BASTARD ENLIGHTENMENT BOZO(s) that think they can replace NATURE AND THE UNVIERSE!!!!!!

    It aint me babe,,, no, no, no it aint me baby, It aint me your looking for baby — following BOB Dylan’s song only she is SCIENCE!

    {{POINT %)


    This is much more digestible. In a way what I wrote doesn’t make any difference because WHO AM I/ IT’S JUST GOING TO CONTINUE CAUSE WE CAN DO IT POST-MODERN MENTAILTY!

    NOTICE I spell Mentality as MEN-TAIL-ITY better watch out for the crockodile’s TAIL.



    COMPUTE mathematically
    All your blessings
    And have a

  4. MattB on November 17, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Physicists Create Light From Nothingness

    In quantum physics, the vast emptiness of space isn’t actually that empty. In fact, what we think of as a “vacuum” is actually teeming with virtual particles – particles that flit in and out of existence constantly, existing for only tiny periods of time before they go back to nothingness.

    This constant cycle of creation and destruction is the consequence of the mathematics of quantum mechanics and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and creates what is known as vacuum energy – a background energy that exists throughout space, even when there is no matter present. Its existence has been indirectly observed through experimentation, such as those which demonstrate the Lamb shift – a slight fluctuation of the energy of electrons in a hydrogen atom.

    Over forty years ago, physicist Gerald Moore predicted that if you were able to spin a mirror at speeds close to the speed of light, then the mirror would convert virtual photons into actual photons (the particles that make up light and other electromagnetic radiation). Unfortunately, it’s close to physically impossible to spin a mirror at near-relativistic speeds, and so this effect had not been observed.

    Until now, that is. In a paper published in Nature, a team of physicists has demonstrated the creation of photons from vacuum fluctuations. To do this, they constructed a superconducting circuit, which they’ve dubbed the superconducting quantum interference device, or SQUID for short. SQUID is a superconductor that’s capable of oscillating at extraordinarily high frequencies – over 11 GHz. The SQUID is designed to effectively act as a mirror in order to replicate the theorized experiment.

    Once the SQUID was ready, the team then passed a magnetic field through it, causing it to rotate at a speed of about five percent of the speed of light – fast enough to see the predicted results. And those results were obtained. After rotating the SQUID at those high speeds, the team were able to detect several real photons that were essentially created from nothing. These were the virtual transformed to the real.

    The photons that were created weren’t actually visible to humans – they were in the microwave range of the EM spectrum. However, there is a possibility that a similar technique could be used to create actual visible light.

    That would be a wonder to behold.

    • Robert Barricklow on November 17, 2011 at 7:54 pm

      Now that blew my shocks off!

  5. Robert Barricklow on November 17, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    Virises have controlled cats to not fear dogs, wasps viruses have controlled various insects making them virtual zombies under controll. How they do this with so little DNA/RNA is amazing. So there appears to be not only controlling factors expressed by Asimov and others, as in viruses, but when experiments are done on humans we find we make decisions Before we are ‘conscious’ of them. Shakespear’s ‘Julius Ceasar’ has Brutus & Ceasar switching views points at the plays end on whether one controls one’s own fate, or whether fate is in total control.
    So is it fated to try and control what has already happened?

  6. Jay on November 17, 2011 at 7:34 am

    Is this already obviously being done? For example the 40 minutes between 8:43AM and 9:23AM New York time September 11th 2001. That most certainly qualifies as an engineered control point. There are other pretty obvious ones.

    Or on the scale of bacteria, there’s the point when a new mutation becomes strong enough and prevalent enough to change all bacteria of that type; this kind of thing can most certainly be engineered.

    There are chemical examples, electronic examples (hard drives only got really dense storage in about 1996) , psychological examples…

    However one of the problems with this kind of engineering is that the modeling system can just use the barest outline, or not include heretofore unknown influences, eg cosmic radiation, weather, and then the bad model results in incomplete engineering. (This is the world many ibankers have lived in for the last 35 years.)

    So it’s already being done, sometimes obviously, sometimes not; sometimes it’s executed well, sometimes not.

  7. Antoine on November 17, 2011 at 6:24 am

    Psychohistory will remain fiction “Forevaahh”.

    Particles can be statistically processed since they are all the same and do not spin off on a wild tangent by their own.

    When you’re talking about predicting the future, you have to predict everything that affects humans, and in the right sequence, and being right everytime, and excluding the genius factor, plus you also need to predict what technologies will be and how they will affect the rest. Good luck, my friend.

    Good luck.

    • Spirit Splice on November 17, 2011 at 8:01 am

      People always like to believe that humans are so different than a particle, but it really isn’t the case. Our perceived “higher level of complexity” is simply relative. All systems are functions of a limited set of variables, once enough of those variables are known (and one posseses enough processing power), the likelihood of interactions becomes less mysterious. There isn’t nearly as much free will as you would like to believe. 99% of it is illusion much as 99% of who you think you are is illusion as well. In fact, our entire self of self is largely illusory. Anyone who has spent a bit of time in meditation can tell you (and you can test this yourself) that when you try to find the self, beyond the perpetuity of thought, you find nothing but pure awareness. There is no separate self anywhere to be found.

      • LSM on November 17, 2011 at 10:47 am

        very well-stated- I couldn’t agree with you more

        • Antoine on November 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm

          So, if an earthquake (a natural one, you know, they happen too) takes down Tokyo, or perhaps just one man, which changes drastically the local economy or delays 50 years an invention, your psychobabble model is in the shitter already, because you didn’t predict that, right? Go talk to any statistician, psychosociologist, please do so, you will make their day.

          • Jay on November 18, 2011 at 6:22 am


            Where did Spirit Splice write about prediction of earthquakes or anything else?

      • HAL838 on November 17, 2011 at 9:35 pm

        Yes, I too agree as does LSM.
        Spirit and Matt are well versed in the sciences.

        However, I’ve always had a problem with that, which is;
        even if it works for a time, there will come a time when
        variables introduce themselves.

        [BTW, Spirit….your individual ‘self’ does indeed reduce
        or expand into, not a collective ‘self’ as you say ,
        but a total and pure ‘awareness’ that becomes the one total
        Self. I use the reference “reduce or expand” in a similar
        manner that one would say single cells multiply by dividing
        and divide to multiply. Anything less than both, nullifies since
        reduction / expansion become relative to subjective reasoning
        AND perspective.]

        Yeah, I’m sorry. Clear as mud right? I’m the only one that sees this
        I suppose (?)

        Back to my intro first three sentences and comment on ‘variables,’
        which always show up at the least opportune times.

        For example I can point to myself as a varible still unaccounted for
        and as yet unknown (not entirely true) that can possibly turn all that
        logistical hi-math into a perfect Chaotic System
        only completed by said varible.

        I chose my words carefully,
        but when I turn, I see no one following me……….
        the story of my life 🙁

        • paul degagne on November 18, 2011 at 1:05 pm

          Your not looking close enough Hal.

          It’s like look for your sunglasses that are on your head.

          Someone is following you? I’ll give you a hint = It’s dark and follows the outline of your body and if you turn around it’s in front of you.

          or as the TAO says — Front follow Back!

          As for what you just wrote- I have to think a little bit about it?

        • Spirit Splice on November 18, 2011 at 1:31 pm

          That simply means that “static models” are inadequate for prediction. This is the major problem with modern physics, the disregarding of time as a variable. And why make the assumption that the number of variables representing a system will remain constant?

          I did not mention a collective self, what I said was that there is only one self in reality and many apparent selves in illusion.

    • paul degagne on November 18, 2011 at 1:11 pm


      That one made me BLINK!

      Me and my wife practice our statistical skills playing MAHJONG every night!

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