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Chapter 3

Seldon was not at all sure he would meet the Emperor. At best, he would meet some official in the fourth or fifth echelon who would claim to speak for the Emperor.
How many people ever did see the Emperor? In person, rather than on holovision? How many people saw the real, tangible Emperor, an Emperor who never left the Imperial grounds that he, Seldon, was now rolling over. The number was vanishingly small. Twenty-five million inhabited worlds, each with its cargo of a billion human beings or more--and among all those quadrillions of human beings, how many had, or would ever, lay eyes on the living Emperor. A thousand?
And did anyone care? The Emperor was no more than a symbol of Empire, like the Spaceship-and-Sun but far less pervasive, far less real. It was his soldiers and his officials, crawling everywhere, that now represented an Empire that had become a dead weight upon its people--not the Emperor.
So it was that when Seldon was ushered into a moderately sized, lavishly furnished room and found a young-looking man sitting on the edge of a table in a windowed alcove, one foot on the ground and one swinging over the edge, he found himself wondering that any official should be looking at him in so blandly good-natured a way. He had already experienced the fact, over and over, that government officials--and particularly those in the Imperial service--looked grave at all times, as though bearing the weight of the entire Galaxy on their shoulders. And it seemed the lower in importance they were, the graver and more threatening their expression.
This, then, might be an official so high in the scale, with the sun of power so bright upon him, that he felt no need of countering it with clouds of frowning. Seldon wasnt sure how impressed he ought to be, but he felt that it would be best to remain silent and let the other speak first. The official said, "You are Hari Seldon, I believe. The mathematician."
Seldon responded with a minimal "Yes, sir," and waited again.
The young man waved an arm. "It should be Sire, but I hate ceremony. Its all I get and I weary of it. We are alone, so I will pamper myself and eschew ceremony. Sit down, professor."
Halfway through the speech, Seldon realized that he was speaking to the Emperor Cleon, First of that Name, and he felt the wind go out of him. There was a faint resemblance (now that he looked) to the official holograph that appeared constantly in the news, but in that holograph, Cleon was always dressed imposingly, seemed taller, nobler, frozen-faced. And here he was, the original of the holograph, and somehow he appeared to be quite ordinary.
Seldon did not budge.
The Emperor frowned slightly and, with the habit of command present even in the attempt to abolish it, at least temporarily, said peremptorily, "I said, Sit down, man. That chair. Quickly."
Seldon sat down, quite speechless. He could not even bring himself to say, "Yes, Sire."
Cleon smiled. "Thats better. Now we can talk like two fellow human beings, which, after all, is what we are once ceremony is removed. Eh, my man?"
Seldon said cautiously, "If Your Imperial Majesty is content to say so, then it is so."
"Oh, come, why are you so cautious? I want to talk to you on equal terms. It is my pleasure to do so. Humor me."
"Yes, Sire."
"A simple Yes, man. Is there no way I can reach you?"
Cleon stared at Seldon and Seldon thought it was a lively and interested stare.
Finally the Emperor said, "You dont look like a mathematician."
At last, Seldon found himself able to smile. "I dont know what a mathematician is suppose to look like, Your Imp--"
Cleon raised a cautioning hand and Seldon choked off the honorific. Cleon said, "White-haired, I suppose. Bearded, perhaps. Old, certainly."
"Yet even mathematicians must be young to begin with."
"But they are then without reputation. By the time they obtrude themselves on the notice of the Galaxy, they are as I have described."
"I am without reputation, Im afraid."
"Yet you spoke at this convention they held here."
"A great many of us did. Some were younger than myself. Few of us were granted any attention whatever."
"Your talk apparently attracted the attention of some of my officials. I am given to understand that you believe it possible to predict the future."
Seldon suddenly felt weary. It seemed as though this misinterpretation of his theory was constantly going to occur. Perhaps he should not have presented his paper.
He said, "Not quite, actually. What I have done is much more limited than that. In many systems, the situation is such that under some conditions chaotic events take place. That means that, given a particular starting point, it is impossible to predict outcomes. This is true even in some quite simple systems, but the more complex a system, the more likely it is to become chaotic. It has always been assumed that anything as complicated as human society would quickly become chaotic and, therefore, unpredictable. What I have done, however, is to show that, in studying human society, it is possible to choose a starting point and to make appropriate assumptions that will suppress the chaos. That will make it possible to predict the future, not in full detail, of course, but in broad sweeps; not with certainty, but with calculable probabilities."
The Emperor, who had listened carefully, said, "But doesnt that mean that you have shown how to predict the future?"
"Again, not quite. I have showed that it is theoretically possible, but no more. To do more, we would actually have to choose a correct starting point, make correct assumptions, and then find ways of carrying through calculations in a finite time. Nothing in my mathematical argument tells us how to do any of this. And even if we could do it all, we would, at best, only assess probabilities. That is not the same as predicting the future; it is merely a guess at what is likely to happen. Every successful politician, businessman, or human being of any calling must make these estimates of the future and do it fairly well or he or she would not be successful."
"They do it without mathematics."
"True. They do it by intuition."
"With the proper mathematics, anyone would be able to assess the probabilities. It wouldnt take the rare human being who is successful because of a remarkable intuitive sense."
"True again, but I have merely shown that mathematical analysis is possible; I have not shown it to be practical."
"How can something be possible, yet not practical?"
"It is theoretically possible for me to visit each world of the Galaxy and greet each person on each world. However, it would take far longer to do this than I have years to live and, even if I was immortal, the rate at which new human beings are being born is greater than the rate at which I could interview the old and, even more to the point, old human beings would die in great numbers before I could ever get to them."
"And is this sort of thing true of your mathematics of the future?" Seldon hesitated, then went on. "It might be that the mathematics would take too long to work out, even if one had a computer the size of the Universe working at hyperspatial velocities. By the time any answer had been received, enough years would have elapsed to alter the situation so grossly as to make the answer meaningless."
"Why cannot the process be simplified?" Cleon asked sharply.
"Your Imperial Majesty,"--Seldon felt the Emperor growing more formal as the answers grew less to his liking and responded with greater formality of his own, "consider the manner in which scientists have dealt with subatomic particles. There are enormous numbers of these, each moving or vibrating in random and unpredictable manner, but this chaos turns out to have an underlying order, so that we can work out a quantum mechanics that answers all the questions we know how to ask. In studying society, we place human beings in the place of subatomic particles, but now there is the added factor of the human mind. Particles move mindlessly; human beings do not. To take into account the various attitudes and impulses of mind adds so much complexity that there lacks time to take care of all of it."
"Could not mind, as well as mindless motion, have an underlying order?"
"Perhaps. My mathematical analysis implies that order must underlie everything, however disorderly it may appear to be, but it does not give any hint as to how this underlying order may be found. Consider--Twenty-five million worlds, each with its overall characteristics and culture, each being significantly different from all the rest, each containing a billion or more human beings who each have an individual mind, and all the worlds interacting in innumerable ways and combinations! However theoretically possible a psychohistorical analysis may be, it is not likely that it can be done in any practical sense."
"What do you mean psychohistorical?"
"I refer to the theoretical assessment of probabilities concerning the future as psychohistory. "
The Emperor rose to his feet suddenly, strode to the other end of the room, turned, strode back, and stopped before the still-sitting Seldon. "Stand up!" he commanded.
Seldon rose and looked up at the somewhat taller Emperor. He strove to keep his gaze steady.
Cleon finally said, "This psychohistory of yours ... if it could be made practical, it would be of great use, would it not?"
"Of enormous use, obviously. To know what the future holds, in even the most general and probabilistic way, would serve as a new and marvelous guide for our actions, one that humanity has never before had. But, of course--" He paused.
"Well?" said Cleon impatiently.
"Well, it would seem that, except for a few decision-makers, the results of psychohistorical analysis would have to remain unknown to the public."
"Unknown!" exclaimed Cleon with surprise.
"Its clear. Let me try to explain. If a psychohistorical analysis is made and the results are then given to the public, the various emotions and reactions of humanity would at once be distorted. The psychohistorical analysis, based on emotions and reactions that take place without knowledge of the future, become meaningless. Do you understand?"
The Emperors eyes brightened and he laughed aloud. "Wonderful!" He clapped his hand on Seldons shoulder and Seldon staggered slightly under the blow.
"Dont you see, man?" said Cleon. "Dont you see? Theres your use. You dont need to predict the future. Just choose a future--a good future, a useful future--and make the kind of prediction that will alter human emotions and reactions in such a way that the future you predicted will be brought about. Better to make a good future than predict a bad one."
Seldon frowned. "I see what you mean, Sire, but that is equally impossible."
"Well, at any rate, impractical. Dont you see? If you cant start with human emotions and reactions and predict the future they will bring about, you cant do the reverse either. You cant start with a future and predict the human emotions and reactions that will bring it about."
Cleon looked frustrated. His lips tightened. "And your paper, then? ... Is that what you call it, a paper? ... Of what use is it?"
"It was merely a mathematical demonstration. It made a point of interest to mathematicians, but there was no thought in my mind of its being useful in any way."
"I find that disgusting," said Cleon angrily.
Seldon shrugged slightly. More than ever, he knew he should never have given the paper. What would become of him if the Emperor took it into his head that he had been made to play the fool?
And indeed, Cleon did not look as though he was very far from believing that. "Nevertheless," he said, "what if you were to make predictions of the future, mathematically justified or not; predictions that government officials, human beings whose expertise it is to know what the public is likely to do, will judge to be the kind that will bring about useful reactions?"
"Why would you need me to do that? The government officials could make those predictions themselves and spare the middleman."
"The government officials could not do so as effectively. Government officials do make statements of the sort now and then. They are not necessarily believed."
"Why would I be?"
"You are a mathematician. You would have calculated the future, not ... not intuited it--if that is a word."
"But I would not have done so."
"Who would know that?" Cleon watched him out of narrowed eyes. There was a pause.
Seldon felt trapped. If given a direct order by the Emperor, would it be safe to refuse? If he refused, he might be imprisoned or executed. Not without trial, of course, but it is only with great difficulty that a trial can be made to go against the wishes of a heavy-handed officialdom, particularly one under the command of the Emperor of the vast Galactic Empire. He said finally, "It wouldnt work."
"Why not?"
"If I were asked to predict vague generalities that could not possibly come to pass until long after this generation and, perhaps, the next were dead, we might get away with it, but, on the other hand, the public would pay little attention. They would not care about a glowing eventuality a century or two in the future.
"To attain results," Seldon went on, "I would have to predict matters of sharper consequence, more immediate eventualities. Only to these would the public respond. Sooner or later, though--and probably sooner--one of the eventualities would not come to pass and my usefulness would be ended at once. With that, your popularity might be gone, too, and, worst of all, there would be no further support for the development of psychohistory so that there would be no chance for any good to come of it if future improvements in mathematical insights help to make it move closer to the realm of practicality."
Cleon threw himself into a chair and frowned at Seldon. "Is that all you mathematicians can do? Insist on impossibilities?"
Seldon said with desperate softness, "It is you, Sire, who insist on impossibilities."
"Let me test you, man. Suppose I asked you to use your mathematics to tell me whether I would some day be assassinated? What would you say?"
"My mathematical system would not give an answer to so specific a question, even if psychohistory worked at its best. All the quantum mechanics in the world cannot make it possible to predict the behavior of one lone electron, only the average behavior of many."
"You know your mathematics better than I do. Make an educated guess based on it. Will I someday be assassinated?"
Seldon said softly, "You lay a trap for me, Sire. Either tell me what answer you wish and I will give it to you or else give me free right to make what answer I wish without punishment."
"Speak as you will."
"Your word of honor?"
"Do you want it an writing?" Cleon was sarcastic.
"Your spoken word of honor will be sufficient," said Seldon, his heart sinking, for he was not certain it would be.
"You have my word of honor."
"Then I can tell you that in the past four centuries nearly half the Emperors have been assassinated, from which I conclude that the chances of your assassination are roughly one in two."
"Any fool can give that answer," said Cleon with contempt. "It takes no mathematician."
"Yet I have told you several times that my mathematics is useless for practical problems."
"Cant you even suppose that I learn the lessons that have been given me by my unfortunate predecessors?"
Seldon took a deep breath and plunged in. "No, Sire. All history shows that we do not learn from the lessons of the past. For instance, you have allowed me here in a private audience. What if it were in my mind to assassinate you? Which it isnt, Sire," he added hastily.
Cleon smiled without humor. "My man, you dont take into account our thoroughness--or advances in technology. We have studied your history, your complete record. When you arrived, you were scanned. Your expression and voiceprints were analyzed. We knew your emotional state in detail; we practically knew your thoughts. Had there been the slightest doubt of your harmlessness, you would not have been allowed near me. In fact, you would not now be alive."
A wave of nausea swept through Seldon, but he continued. "Outsiders have always found it difficult to get at Emperors, even with technology less advanced. However, almost every assassination has been a palace coup. It is those nearest the Emperor who are the greatest danger to him. Against that danger, the careful screening of outsiders is irrelevant. And as for your own officials, your own Guardsmen, your own intimates, you cannot treat them as you treat me."
Cleon said, "I know that, too, and at least as well as you do. The answer is that I treat those about me fairly and I give them no cause for resentment."
"A foolish--" began Seldon, who then stopped in confusion.
"Go on," said Cleon angrily. "I have given you permission to speak freely. How am I foolish?"
"The word slipped out, Sire. I meant irrelevant. Your treatment of your intimates is irrelevant. You must be suspicious; it would be inhuman not to be. A careless word, such as the one I used, a careless gesture, a doubtful expression and you must withdraw a bit with narrowed eyes. And any touch of suspicion sets in motion a vicious cycle. The intimate will sense and resent the suspicion and will develop a changed behavior, try as he might to avoid it. You sense that and grow more suspicious and, in the end, either he is executed or you are assassinated. It is a process that has proved unavoidable for the Emperors of the past four centuries and it is but one sign of the increasing difficulty of conducting the affairs of the Empire."
"Then nothing I can do will avoid assassination."
"No, Sire," said Seldon, "but, on the other hand, you may prove fortunate."
Cleons fingers were drumming on the arm of his chair. He said harshly, "You are useless, man, and so is your psychohistory. Leave me." And with those words, the Emperor looked away, suddenly seeming much older than his thirty-two years.
"I have said my mathematics would be useless to you, Sire. My profound apologies." Seldon tried to bow but at some signal he did not see, two guards entered and took him away.
Cleons voice came after him from the royal chamber. "Return that man to the place from which he was brought earlier."


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