Ah, yeah, this is it. This is the part of the Foundation series that sticks in my memory. This is “the good one” – the one that makes it worthy of the “best sci-fi series of all time” appellation. The first two Foundation novels are but preludes to “Second Foundation.”
What is the S.F.? Well, back when Hari Seldon set up the Foundation, which becomes the technological successor to the old Empire, he also set up a Second Foundation “at the other end of the galaxy” which focuses on the psychological sciences and is tasked with making sure the Seldon Plan of re-establishing galactic law and order is always on track.
First off we have the Mule, no longer disguising his identity nor his megalomania, hunting the galaxy for the Second Foundation – the last remnant of real opposition to his dominion. Han Prichett, now Converted, has been searching for years for the location of the Second Foundation. The Mule enlists a young (unConverted) upstart, Bail Channis, to assist in the search. His logic is that Han’s Conversion is interfering with his ability to find the Second Foundation. And they do find it! No wait, they don’t! A couple of plot twists later, the Mule is neutralized by via the psychic equivalent of Prozac. He lives out his life in peace, without a care as regards the Second Foundation.
However, the Mule’s obsession with the S.F. has made a serious disruption in the Seldon Plan. A few individuals from the (first) Foundation now know that the S.F. is real, and they have detected some of it’s meddling in the brain wave patterns of select influential leaders. Being at the mercy of some mysterious psychic power is not a pleasant feeling. And so the Foundationers strive to find the S.F. themselves. The S.F. knows they are no match for the physically stronger first Foundation should they eventually be found; also the Seldon Plan relies on the free and natural response of the Foundation society, which is naturally degraded when they are paranoid about the S.F. or think that the S.F. will always step in to miraculously save them no matter what trouble they find themselves in. The S.F. knows that the only way out is to convincingly allow the Foundation to “destroy” them, then lay low for a generation or so while the psychic panic passes away. I won’t delve into the details of the story very much (many synopses/spoilers available online) but it is very good. There are so many plot twists that come to fruition in the final chapter that it’s almost comical.
Rereading this novel this time through made me ponder the whole free will vs determinism idea. How would you act if you knew that, no matter what you did or what went wrong, an all-powerful (at least to you) entity would bail you out (the Great 2008 Bailout, anyone?) and make sure you would “win” in the end? I think 99% of people would say “lucky me!”, get lazy, become 50+ pounds overweight and play World of Warcraft for 18 hours a day. Ok maybe that’s just me. Why work hard for something if it’s going to be given to you anyway?
In the context of the Foundation story, the whole point of the Foundation is to evolve into the next Galactic Empire. But by knowing the S.F. is always there to save them, the Foundation would never innovate and progress along that path. The other response, that taken by the Foundation “conspirators,” is to question the control of the S.F. and to fight against it – fight for freedom. Free will is more important than a free ride.
Unless we’re unknowingly getting the free ride but think we have free will… ahh, the mind games are too much for me!