Prelude to Foundation Chapter 3 University

Prelude to Foundation Chapter 3 University

STREELING UNIVERSITY-… An institution of higher learning in the Streeling Sector of ancient Trantor… Despite all these claims to fame in the fields of the humanities and sciences alike, it is not for those that the University looms large in today’s consciousness. It would probably have come as a total surprise to the generations of scholars at the University to know that in later times Streeling University would be most remembered because a certain Hari Seldon, during the period of The Flight, had been in residence there for a short time.

Encyclopedia Galactica


Hari Seldon remained uncomfortably silent for a while after Hummin’s quiet statement. He shrank within himself in sudden recognition of his own deficiencies.

He had invented a new science: psychohistory. He had extended the laws of probability in a very subtle manner to take into account new complexities and uncertainties and had ended up with elegant equations in innumerable unknowns.

Possibly an infinite number; he couldn’t tell.

But it was a mathematical game and nothing more. He had psychohistory-or at least the basis of psychohistory but only as a mathematical curiosity. Where was the historical knowledge that could perhaps give some meaning to the empty equations?

He had none. He had never been interested in history. He knew the outline of Heliconian history. Courses in that small fragment of the human story had, of course, been compulsory in the Heliconian schools. But what was there beyond that? Surely what else he had picked up was merely the bare skeletons that everyone gathered-half legend, the other half surely distorted. Still, how could one say that the Galactic Empire was dying? It had existed for ten thousand years as an accepted Empire and even before that, Trantor, as the capital of the dominating kingdom, had held what was a virtual empire for two thousand years. The Empire had survived the early centuries when whole sections of the Galaxy would now and then refuse to accept the end of their local independence. It had survived the vicissitudes that went with the occasional rebellions, the dynastic wars, some serious periods of breakdown. Most worlds had scarcely been troubled by such things and Trantor itself had grown steadily until it was the worldwide human habitation that now called itself the Eternal World.

To be sure, in the last four centuries, turmoil had increased somehow and there had been a rash of Imperial assassinations and takeovers. But even that was calming down and right now the Galaxy was as quiet as it had ever been. Under Cleon I and before him under his father, Stanel VI, the worlds were prosperous-and Cleon himself was not considered a tyrant. Even those who disliked the Imperium as an institution rarely had anything truly bad to say about Cleon, much as they might inveigh against Eto Demerzel. Why, then, should Hummin say that the Galactic Empire was dying-and with such conviction?

Hummin was a journalist. He probably knew Galactic history in some detail and he had to understand the current situation in great detail. Was it this that supplied him with the knowledge that lay behind his statement? In that case, just what was the knowledge?

Several times Seldon was on the point of asking, of demanding an answer, but there was something in Hummin’s solemn face that stopped him. And there was something in his own ingrained belief that the Galactic Empire was a given, an axiom, the foundation stone on which all argument rested that prevented him too. After all, if that was wrong, he didn’t want to know. No, he couldn’t believe that he was wrong. The Galactic Empire could no more come to an end than the Universe itself could. Or, if the Universe did end, then-and only then-would the Empire end.

Seldon closed his eyes, attempting to sleep but, of course, he could not. Would he have to study the history of the Universe in order to advance his theory of psychohistory?

How could he? Twenty-five million worlds existed, each with its own endlessly complex history. How could he study all that? There were book-films in many volumes, he knew, that dealt with Galactic history. He had even skimmed one once for some now-forgotten reason and had found it too dull to view even halfway through.

The book-films had dealt with important worlds. With some, it dealt through all or almost all their history; with others, only as they gained importance for a time and only till they faded away. He remembered having looked up Helicon in the index and having found only one citation. He had punched the keys that would turn up that citation and found Helicon included in a listing of worlds which, on one occasion, had temporarily lined up behind a certain claimant to the Imperial throne who had failed to make good his claim. Helicon had escaped retribution on that occasion, probably because it was not even sufficiently important to be punished.

What good was such a history? Surely, psychohistory would have to take into account the actions and reactions and interactions of each world-each and every world. How could one study the history of twenty-five million worlds and consider all their possible interactions? It would surely be an impossible task and this was just one more reinforcement of the general conclusion that psychohistory was of theoretical interest but could never be put to any practical use. Seldon felt a gentle push forward and decided that the air-taxi must be decelerating.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“I think we’ve come far enough,” said Hummin, “to risk a small stopover for a bite to eat, a glass of something or other, and a visit to a washroom.”

And, in the course of the next fifteen minutes, during which the air-taxi slowed steadily, they came to a lighted recess. The taxi swerved inward and found a parking spot among five or six other vehicles.


Hummin’s practiced eye seemed to take in the recess, the other taxis, the diner, the walkways, and the men and women all at a glance. Seldon, trying to look inconspicuous and again not knowing how, watched him, trying not to do so too intently.

When they sat down at a small table and punched in their orders, Seldon, attempting to sound indifferent, said, “Everything okay?”

“Seems so,” said Hummin.

“How can you tell?”

Hummin let his dark eyes rest on Seldon for a moment. “Instinct,” he said. “Years of news gathering. You look and know, ‘No news here.’ “

Seldon nodded and felt relieved. Hummin might have said it sardonically, but there must be a certain amount of truth to it. His satisfaction did not last through the first bite of his sandwich. He looked up at Hummin with his mouth full and with a look of hurt surprise on his face.

Hummin said, “This is a wayside diner, my friend. Cheap, fast, and not very good. The food’s homegrown and has an infusion of rather sharp yeast. Trantorian palates are used to it.”

Seldon swallowed with difficulty. “But back in the hotel-“

“You were in the Imperial Sector, Seldon. Food is imported there and where microfood is used it is high-quality. It is also expensive.”

Seldon wondered whether to take another bite. “You mean that as long as I stay on Trantor-“

Hummin made a hushing motion with his lips. “Don’t give anyone the impression that you’re used to better. There are places on Trantor where to be identified as an aristocrat is worse than being identified as an Outworlder. The food won’t be so bad everywhere, I assure you. These wayside places have a reputation for low quality. If you can stomach that sandwich, you’ll be able to eat anywhere on Trantor. And it won’t hurt you. It’s not decayed or bad or anything like that. It just has a harsh, strong taste and, honestly, you may grow accustomed to it. I’ve met Trantorians who spit out honest food and say it lacks that homegrown tang.”

“Do they grow much food on Trantor?” asked Seldon. A quick side glance showed him there was no one seated in the immediate vicinity and he spoke quietly. “I’ve always heard it takes twenty surrounding worlds to supply the hundreds of freight ships required to feed Trantor every day.”

“I know. And hundreds to carry off the load of wastes. And if you want to make the story really good, you say that the same freight ships carry food one way and waste the other. It’s true that we import considerable quantities of food, but that’s mostly luxury items. And we export considerable waste, carefully treated into inoffensiveness, as important organic fertilizer-every bit as important to other worlds as the food is to us. But that’s only a small fraction of the whole.”

“It is?”

“Yes. In addition to fish in the sea, there are gardens and truck farms everywhere. And fruit trees and poultry and rabbits and vast microorganism farms-usually called yeast farms, though the yeast makes up a minority of the growths. And our wastes are mostly used right here at home to maintain all that growth. In fact, in many ways Trantor is very much like an enormous and overgrown space settlement. Have you ever visited one of those?”

“Indeed I have.”

“Space settlements are essentially enclosed cities, with everything artificially cycled, with artificial ventilation, artificial day and night, and so on. Trantor is different only in that even the largest space settlement has a population of only ten million and Trantor has four thousand times that. Of course, we have real gravity. And no space settlement can match us in our microfoods. We have yeast vats, fungal vats, and algae ponds vast beyond the imagination. And we are strong on artificial flavoring, added with no light hand. That’s what gives the taste to what you’re eating.”

Seldon had gotten through most of his sandwich and found it not as offensive as the first bite had been. “And it won’t affect me?”

“It does hit the intestinal flora and every once in a while it afflicts some poor Outworlder with diarrhea, but that’s rare, and you harden even to that quickly. Still, drink your milkshake, which you probably won’t like. It contains an antidiarrhetic that should keep you safe, even if you tend to be sensitive to such things.”

Seldon said querulously, “Don’t talk about it, Hummin. A person can be suggestible to such things.”

“Finish the milkshake and forget the suggestibility.”

They finished the rest of their meal in silence and soon were on their way again.


They were now racing rapidly through the tunnel once more. Seldon decided to give voice to the question that had been nagging at him for the last hour or so.

“Why do you say the Galactic Empire is dying?”

Hummin turned to look at Seldon again. “As a journalist, I have statistics poured into me from all sides till they’re squeezing out of my ears. And I’m allowed to publish very little of it. Trantor’s population is decreasing. Twenty-five years ago, it stood at almost forty-five billion. “Partly, this decrease is because of a decline in the birthrate. To be sure, Trantor never has had a high birthrate. If you’ll look about you when you’re traveling on Trantor, you won’t encounter very many children, considering the enormous population. But just the same it’s declining. Then too there is emigration. People are leaving Trantor in greater numbers than are arriving.”

“Considering its large population,” said Seldon, “that’s not surprising.”

“But it’s unusual just the same because it hasn’t happened before. Again, all over the Galaxy trade is stagnating. People think that because there are no rebellions at the moment and because things are quiet that all is well and that the difficulties of the past few centuries are over. However, political infighting, rebellions, and unrest are all signs of a certain vitality too. But now there’s a general weariness. It’s quiet, not because people are satisfied and prosperous, but because they’re tired and have given up.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Seldon dubiously.

“I do. And the antigrav phenomenon we’ve talked about is another case in point. We have a few gravitic lifts in operation, but new ones aren’t being constructed. It’s an unprofitable venture and there seems no interest in trying to make it profitable. The rate of technological advance has been slowing for centuries and is down to a crawl now. In some cases, it has stopped altogether. Isn’t this something you’ve noticed? After all, you’re a mathematician.”

“I can’t say I’ve given the matter any thought.”

“No one does. It’s accepted. Scientists are very good these days at saying that things are impossible, impractical, useless. They condemn any speculation at once. You, for instance-What do you think of psychohistory? It is theoretically interesting, but it is useless in any practical sense. Am I right?”

“Yes and no,” said Seldon, annoyed. “It is useless in any practical sense, but not because my sense of adventure has decayed, I assure you. It really it useless.”

“That, at least,” said Hummin with a trace of sarcasm, “is your impression in this atmosphere of decay in which all the Empire lives.”

“This atmosphere of decay,” said Seldon angrily, “is your impression. Is it possible that you are wrong?”

Hummin stopped and for a moment appeared thoughtful. Then he said, “Yes, I might be wrong. I am speaking only from intuition, from guesses. What I need is a working technique of psychohistory.”

Seldon shrugged and did not take the bait. He said, “I don’t have such a technique to give you.-But suppose you’re right. Suppose the Empire it running down and will eventually stop and fall apart. The human species will still exist.”

“Under what conditions, man? For nearly twelve thousand years, Trantor, under strong rulers, has largely kept the peace. There’ve been interruptions to that-rebellions, localized civil wars, tragedy in plenty-but, on the whole and over large areas, there has been peace. Why is Helicon so pro-Imperium? Your world, I mean. Because it is small and would be devoured by its neighbors were it not that the Empire keeps it secure.”

“Are you predicting universal war and anarchy if the Empire fails?”

“Of course. I’m not fond of the Emperor or of the Imperial institutions in general, but I don’t have any substitute for it. I don’t know what else will keep the peace and I’m not ready to let go until I have something else in hand.”

Seldon said, “You talk as though you are in control of the Galaxy. You are not ready to let go? You must have something else in hand? Who are you to talk so?”

“I’m speaking generally, figuratively,” said Hummin. “I’m not worried about Chetter Hummin personally. It might be said that the Empire will last my time; it might even show signs of improvement in my time. Declines don’t follow a straight-line path. It may be a thousand years before the final crash and you might well imagine I would be dead then and, certainly, I will leave no descendants. As far as women are concerned, I have nothing but the occasional casual attachment and I have no children and intend to have none. I have given no hostages to fortune.-I looked you up after your talk, Seldon. You have no children either.”

“I have parents and two brothers, but no children.” He smiled rather weakly. “I was very attached to a woman at one time, but it seemed to her that I was attached more to my mathematics.”

“Were you?”

“It didn’t seem so to me, but it seemed so to her. So she left.”

“And you have had no one since?”

“No. I remember the pain too clearly as yet.”

“Well then, it might seem we could both wait out the matter and leave it to other people, well after our time, to suffer. I might have been willing to accept that earlier, but no longer. For now I have a tool; I am in command.”

“What’s your tool?” asked Seldon, already knowing the answer.

“You!” said Hummin.

And because Seldon had known what Hummin would say, he wasted no time in being shocked or astonished. He simply shook his head and said, “You are quite wrong. I am no tool fit for use.”

“Why not?”

Seldon sighed. “How often must I repeat it? Psychohistory is not a practical study. The difficulty is fundamental. All the space and time of the Universe would not suffice to work out the necessary problems.”

“Are you certain of that?”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“There’s no question of your working out the entire future of the Galactic Empire, you know. You needn’t trace out in detail the workings of every human being or even of every world. There are merely terrain questions you must answer: Will the Galactic Empire crash and, if so, when? What will be the condition of humanity afterward? Can anything be done to prevent the crash or to ameliorate conditions afterward? These are comparatively simple questions, it seems to me.”

Seldon shook his head and smiled sadly. “The history of mathematics is full of simple questions that had only the most complicated of answers-or none at all.”

“Is there nothing to be done? I can see that the Empire is falling, but I can’t prove it. All my conclusions are subjective and I cannot show that I am not mistaken. Because the view is a seriously unsettling one, people would prefer not to believe my subjective conclusion and nothing will be done to prevent the Fall or even to cushion it. You could prove the coming Fall or, for that matter, disprove it.”

“But that is exactly what I cannot do. I can’t find you proof where none exists. I can’t make a mathematical system practical when it isn’t. I can’t find you two even numbers that will yield an odd number as a sum, no matter how vitally your all the Galaxy-may need that odd number.”

Hummin said, “Well then, you’re part of the decay. You’re ready to accept failure.”

“What choice have I?”

“Can’t you try? However useless the effort may seem to you to be, have you anything better to do with your life? Have you some worthier goal? Have you a purpose that will justify you in your own eyes to some greater extent?” Seldon’s eyes blinked rapidly. “Millions of worlds. Billions of cultures. Quadrillions of people. Decillions of interrelationships.-And you want me to reduce it to order.”

“No, I want you to try. For the sake of those millions of worlds, billions of cultures, and quadrillions of people. Not for the Emperor. Not for Demerzel. For humanity.”

“I will fail,” said Seldon.

“Then we will be no worse off. Will you try?”

And against his will and not knowing why, Seldon heard himself say, “I will try.”

And the course of his life was set.


The journey came to its end and the air-taxi moved into a much larger lot than the one at which they had eaten. (Seldon still remembered the taste of the sandwich and made a wry face.)

Hummin turned in his taxi and came back, placing his credit slip in a small pocket on the inner surface of his shirt. He said, “You’re completely safe here from anything outright and open. This is the Streeling Sector.”


“It’s named for someone who first opened up the area to settlement, I imagine. Most of the sectors are named for someone or other, which means that most of the names are ugly and some are hard to pronounce. Just the same, if you try to have the inhabitants here change Streeling to Sweetsmell or something like that, you’ll have a fight on your hands.”

“Of course,” said Seldon, sniffing loudly, “it isn’t exactly Sweetsmell.”

“Hardly anywhere in Trantor is, but you’ll get used to it.”

“I’m glad we’re here,” said Seldon. “Not that I like it, but I got quite tired sitting in the taxi. Getting around Trantor must be a horror. Back on Helicon, we can get from any one place to any other by air, in far less time than it took us to travel less than two thousand kilometers here.”

“We have air-jets too.”

“But in that case-“

“I could arrange an air-taxi ride more or less anonymously. It would have been much more difficult with an air-jet. And regardless of how safe it is here, I’d feel better if Demerzel didn’t know exactly where you were.-As a matter of fact, we’re not done yet. We’re going to take the Expressway for the final stage.”

Seldon knew the expression. “One of those open monorails moving on an electromagnetic field, right?”


“We don’t have them on Helicon. Actually, we don’t need them there. I rode on an Expressway the first day I was on Trantor. It took me from the airport to the hotel. It was rather a novelty, but if I were to use it all the time, I imagine the noise and crowds would become overpowering.”

Hummin looked amused. “Did you get lost?”

“No, the signs were useful. There was trouble getting on and off, but I was helped. Everyone could tell I was an Outworlder by my clothes, I now realize. They seemed eager to help, though; I guess because it was amusing to watching me hesitate and stumble.”

“As an expert in Expressway travel by now, you will neither hesitate nor stumble.” Hummin said it pleasantly enough, though there was a slight twitch to the corners of his mouth. “Come on, then.”

They sauntered leisurely along the walkway, which was lit to the extent one might expect of an overcast day and that brightened now and then as though the sun occasionally broke through the clouds. Automatically, Seldon looked upward to see if that were indeed the case, but the “sky” above was blankly luminous. Hummin saw this and said, “This change in brightness seems too suit the human psyche. There are days when the street seems to be in bright sunlight and days when it is rather darker than it is now.”

“But no rain or snow?”

“Or hail or sleet. No. Nor high humidity nor bitter cold. Trantor has its points, Seldon, even now.”

There were people walking in both directions and there were a considerable number of young people and also some children accompanying the adults, despite what Hummin had said about the birthrate. All seemed reasonably prosperous and reputable. The two sexes were equally represented and the clothing was distinctly more subdued than it had been in the Imperial Sector. His own costume, as chosen by Hummin, fit right in. Very few were wearing hats and Seldon thankfully removed his own and swung it at his side. There was no deep abyss separating the two sides of the walkway and as Hummin had predicted in the Imperial Sector, they were walking at what seemed to be ground level. There were no vehicles either and Seldon pointed this out to Hummin.

Hummin said, “There are quite a number of them in the Imperial Sector because they’re used by officials. Elsewhere, private vehicles are rare and those that are used have separate tunnels reserved for them. Their use is not really necessary, since we have Expressways and, for shorter distances, moving corridors. For still shorter distances, we have walkways and we can use our legs.”

Seldon heard occasional muted sighs and creaks and saw, some distance off, the endless passing of Expressway cars.

“There it is,” he said, pointing.

“I know, but let us move on to a boarding station. There are more cars there and it is easier to get on.”

Once they were safely ensconced in an Expressway car, Seldon turned to Hummin and said, “What amazes me is how quiet the Expressways are. I realize that they are mass-propelled by an electromagnetic field, but it seems quiet even for that.” He listened to the occasional metallic groan as the car they were on shifted against its neighbors.

“Yes, it’s a marvelous network,” said Hummin, “but you don’t see it at its peak. When I was younger, it was quieter than it is now and there are those who say that there wasn’t as much as a whisper fifty years ago-though I suppose we might make allowance for the idealization of nostalgia.”

“Why isn’t it that way now?”

“Because it isn’t maintained properly. I told you about decay.”

Seldon frowned. “Surely, people don’t sit around and say, ‘We’re decaying. Let’s let the Expressways fall apart.’ “

“No, they don’t. It’s not a purposeful thing. Bad spots are patched, decrepit coaches refurbished, magnets replaced. However, it’s done in more slapdash fashion, more carelessly, and at greater intervals. There just aren’t enough credits available.”

“Where have the credits gone?”

“Into other things. We’ve had centuries of unrest. The navy is much larger and many times more expensive than it once was. The armed forces are much better-paid, in order to keep them quiet. Unrest, revolts, and minor blazes of civil war all take their toll.”

“But it’s been quiet under Cleon. And we’ve had fifty years of peace.”

“Yes, but soldiers who are well-paid would resent having that pay reduced just because there is peace. Admirals resist mothballing ships and having themselves reduced in rank simply because there is less for them to do. So the credits still go-unproductively-to the armed forces and vital areas of the social good are allowed to deteriorate. That’s what I call decay. Don’t you? Don’t you think that eventually you would fit that sort of view into your psychohistorical notions?”

Seldon stirred uneasily. Then he said, “Where are we going, by the way?”

“Streeling University.”

“Ah, that’s why the sector’s name was familiar. I’ve heard of the University.”

“I’m not surprised. Trantor has nearly a hundred thousand institutions of higher learning and Streeling is one of the thousand or so at the top of the heap.”

“Will I be staying there?”

“For a while. University campuses are unbreathable sanctuaries, by and large. You will be safe there.”

“But will I be welcome there?”

“Why not? It’s hard to find a good mathematician these days. They might be able to use you. And you might be able to use them too-and for more than just a hiding place.”

“You mean, it will be a place where I can develop my notions.”

“You have promised,” said Hummin gravely.

“I have promised to try, ” said Seldon and thought to himself that it was about like promising to try to make a rope out of sand.


Conversation had run out after that and Seldon watched the structures of the Streeling Sector as they passed. Some were quite low, while some seemed to brush the “sky.” Wide crosspassages broke the progression and frequent alleys could be seen.

At one point, it struck him that though the buildings rose upward they also swept downward and that perhaps they were deeper than they were high. As soon as the thought occurred to him, he was convinced it was true. Occasionally, he saw patches of green in the background, farther back from the Expressway, and even small trees.

He watched for quite a while and then became aware that the light was growing dimmer. He squinted about and turned to Hummin, who guessed the question.

“The afternoon is waning,” he said, “and night is coming on.”

Seldon’s eyebrows raised and the corners of his mouth turned downward. “That’s impressive. I have a picture of the entire planet darkening and then, some hours from now, lighting up again.”

Hummin smiled his small, careful smile. “Not quite, Seldon. The planet is never turned off altogether-or turned on either. The shadow of twilight sweeps across the planet gradually, followed half a day later by the slow brightening of dawn. In fact, the effect follows the actual day and night above the domes quite closely, so that in higher altitudes day and night change length with the seasons.”

Seldon shook his head, “But why close in the planet and then mimic what would be in the open?”

“I presume because people like it better that way. Trantorians like the advantages of being enclosed, but they don’t like to be reminded of it unduly, just the same. You know very little about Trantorian psychology, Seldon.”

Seldon flushed slightly. He was only a Heliconian and he knew very little about the millions of worlds outside Helicon. His ignorance was not confined to Trantor. How, then, could he hope to come up with any practical applications for his theory of psychohistory?

How could any number of people-all together-know enough? It reminded Seldon of a puzzle that had been presented to him when he was young: Can you have a relatively small piece of platinum, with handholds affixed, that could not be lifted by the bare, unaided strength of any number of people, no matter how many?

The answer was yes. A cubic meter of platinum weighs 22,420 kilograms under standard gravitational pull. If it is assumed that each person could heave 120 kilograms up from the ground, then 188 people would suffice to lift the platinum.-But you could not squeeze 188 people around the cubic meter so that each one could get a grip on it. You could perhaps not squeeze more than 9 people around it. And levers or other such devices were not allowed. It had to be “bare, unaided strength.”

In the same way, it could be that there was no way of getting enough people to handle the total amount of knowledge required for psychohistory, even if the facts were stored in computers rather than in individual human brains. Only so many people could gather round the knowledge, so to speak, and communicate it.

Hummin said, “You seem to be in a brown study, Seldon.”

“I’m considering my own ignorance.”

“A useful task. Quadrillions could profitably join you.-But it’s time to get off.”

Seldon looked up. “How can you tell?”

“Just as you could tell when you were on the Expressway your first day on Trantor. I go by the signs.”

Seldon caught one just as it went by: STREELING UNIVERSITY-3 MINUTES.

“We get off at the next boarding station. Watch your step.”

Seldon followed Hummin off the coach, noting that the sky was deep purple now and that the walkways and corridors and buildings were all lighting up, suffused with a yellow glow.

It might have been the gathering of a Heliconian night. Had he been placed here blindfolded and had the blindfold been removed, he might have been convinced that he was in some particularly well-built-up inner region of one of Helicon’s larger cities.

“How long do you suppose I will remain at Streeling University, Hummin?” he asked.

Hummin said in his usual calm fashion, “That would be hard to say, Seldon. Perhaps your whole life.”


“Perhaps not. But your life stopped being your own once you gave that paper on psychohistory. The Emperor and Demerzel recognized your importance at once. So did I. For all I know, so did many others. You see, that means you don’t belong to yourself anymore.”