Those of you who have been reading my reviews of science fiction TV series here, even for just the past year, will know who Hari Seldon is. In case you don't, he's the protagonist in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, and I think his original trilogy from the 1950s is the best science fiction ever written. Seldon is able to statistically predict the future. He invents a method called "psychohistory," which comes from LaPlace's Demon in philosophy (though LaPlace is not mentioned): if you were able to know everything about human behavior, capture it and put it all in mathematical form, you could see what people will be doing tomorrow or even a century from now. Pretty head stuff, right?
[Spoilers ahead ... ]
And when I was watching today's episode 2.8 of The Mosquito Coast on Apple TV+, you can imagine how happy I was to hear Allie explain to Charlie that psychohistory (without calling it "psychohistory") was how Allie's Sandpiper program worked. (I would have been even happier had Allie -- that is, the makers of this episode -- given Asimov and Foundation a little shout-out, but ok.) It still was a sterling moment to see Allie point out a bird to Charlie in the Mexican jungle, and explain that if we knew every single thing the bird had done in the past -- every single scene of its life and behavior -- we could reliably predict what that bird would do in the future.
That's far better than recent election polling, if you think about it, which has failed many times in the past few years to give accurate predictions, because people could lie when asked whom they will be voting for, or just change their minds -- the problem being that what people say they are going to do is vastly different from their actually doing it.
And while we're at it, I also think Allie's explanation of his Sandpiper in The Mosquito Coast was at least as good as Hari Seldon's explanation of psychohistory in the Apple TV+ rendition of the Foundation series, the first season of which left a lot to be desired. But that's a story for another day. (If you're interested, see Nobel laureate Paul Krugman's disappointment with the Foundation TV series -- Krugman has long cited Asimov's Foundation trilogy and psychohistory as inspiration for Krugman's work in economics -- and also the podcast discussion I had with two lifelong fans of Asimov's Foundation stories.)
Come to think of it, The Mosquito Coast, now nearing the end of its second season, really is a kind of science fiction, and it was firing on all cylinders in this episode (2.8), including in the beat-up pick-up truck that Dina steals from her almost boyfriend in an attempt to get away. I keep thinking that Dina is going to wake up one morning and realize she really likes the partial paradise where she and her family now live, but it looks like that's not going to happen.
Here's one thing about my behavior that I can indeed accurately predict for you -- I'll be back here next week with my review of the next episode. And I doubt that I'll ever find a science fiction saga I love more than Asimov's Foundation series. It actually started as a series of short stories in Astounding Stories in the 1940s (Astounding Stories changed its name to Analog in 1960 -- 15 of my own science fiction stories have been published in Analog). But think about it. Some eighty years ago, before statistical projections came to play such a major role in our lives, Asimov wrote some riveting narratives in which those kinds of projections were center stage. Good for The Mosquito Coast for putting this into the spotlight.
About the Creator
Novels The Silk Code & The Plot To Save Socrates; LPs Twice Upon A Rhyme & Welcome Up; nonfiction The Soft Edge & Digital McLuhan, translated into 15 languages. Best-known short story: The Chronology Protection Case; Prof, Fordham Univ.