Posts Tagged ‘foundation’

Collective Entity – Robustness

January 8, 2010

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Originally this post started out as an analysis of collective intelligence in Asimov‘s Foundation universe just to see if my model is applicable to fictional entities as well. By the time I finished the first draft I realized it all boiled down to a new collective consciousness property: robustness.

Following my original plan, I’m going to start by examining the two kinds of collective consciousness that form the parallel and competing alternatives for the development of the Galaxy.


Asimov’s Gaia is a planet-size autonomous collective entity formed by every living and inanimate objects connected to it. Gaia’s consciousness is so strong that for anything to become a part of it has to be ingested first through an energy-consuming process. Once an object or being becomes a part of Gaia, its own consciousness is added to the whole, and from then on contributes to the collective wisdom, memory and actions of Gaia. The ingestion process is reversible: one may leave the collective of Gaia by severing the connection either by distance or becoming a part of a non-Gaia system. Death doesn’t lead out of Gaia, only decreases its overall consciousness, which is kept in balance by the birth of new highly conscious components.

To see the Asimovian Gaia in context, I’m going to use the Lovelockian Gaia as reference in its analysis.

Quantitative analysis

Asimov’s Gaia and the Lovelockian Gaia share most of their properties in the Collective Entity Space (CES). The only obvious difference is in their level of awareness. In the Asimovian Gaia one is not only aware of the collective consciousness and his/her/its connection to it, but also actively accessing and using it for individual and global purposes.

Gaia Components Engagement Awareness Nature Technology
Lovelockian Entire planet Passive Unaware Mixed None
Asimovian Entire planet Passive Aware Mixed None

Qualitative analysis

Through Asimov’s story we get to know a lot more about Gaia than we know about the collective consciousness of the Gaia Theory. The only Consciousness Classification Criteria (CCC) property that we don’t know is control, probably because of its irrelevance to the deeply integrated Gaians.

In the Foundation universe,

  • Components communicate with Gaia through telepathy to access collective memories, or mentally influence non-Gaian individuals or groups.
  • Problem solving capabilities extend to (global and individual) self-defense.
  • Gaia consciously maintains ecological balance that best suits the needs of its habitants.
  • The mental well-being and happiness of Gaians is credited to collective consciousness.
Gaia Communication Problem solving Maturity Usefulness Control
Lovelockian ? ? Infant / mature Life ?
Asimovian Telepathy Multiple Mature Multiple ?

In a way, the Asimovian Gaia is an evolved Lovelockian Gaia.


Although it’s not explicitly referred to as a collective consciousness in the novels, the First Foundation unquestionably shows the expected characteristics. The existence of the Second Foundation is the proof: it communicates with it, controls it and uses it for a purpose (the hastened establishment of a stable second Galactic Empire).

Quantitative analysis

The First Foundation just as any collective entity, can be placed in the CES. If you’ve read the series you know about the importance of unawareness. The science of psychohistory and the control exerted by the Second Foundation don’t work if the First Foundation becomes aware that they are observed or manipulated in any way. This translates to the CES as a small nudge on the awareness axis.

Components Engagement Awareness Nature Technology
The galaxy’s human population Passive Unaware Psychical / mixed None

Qualitative analysis

The First Foundation, as a collective entity (galactic consciousness) is communicated with by the Second Foundation through their mental powers and the mathematics of psychohistory. It needs to be under constant control in order to keep it on track and have its purpose fulfilled, hence it’s reasonable to assume that it’s still in a state of infancy.

Communication Problem solving Maturity Usefulness Control
Psychohistory ? Infant Social development Second Foundation

The Mule

An analysis of the Foundation can’t be thorough without a glimpse on the Mule and his actions. The Mule is a mutant individual with unusual mental powers which he uses to manipulate the ruling class of the First Foundation and take over the Galaxy.

In terms of the CES he changes the behavioral structure of the entity’s components by altering their engagement and introducing a technology (governing by his mental influence) into the entity.

The Second Foundation

The Mule’s search for the Second Foundation during his struggle to rule the Galaxy draws the First Foundation’s attention to it, who, feeling threatened by its mere existence, wipes out the group that is believed to be its members. Only by the purposeful and delicate planning of the Second Foundation is its total destruction avoided, unawareness restored and the galactic consciousness returned to its previous state.


If we compare Asimov’s two collective consciousnesses we’ll see that there’s a fundamental difference in how they react to perturbation in the CES. While Gaia is either indifferent to it or responds by returning to (near) its original position, the Foundation could be ruined by a small shift on the awareness axis, and returned only at extreme difficulties. Gaia therefore is a robust collective entity, while the First Foundation is a fragile one.

The robustness property of a collective consciousness reflects the probability of returning to its original state in the Collective Entity Space in response to perturbation.

Let’s take a look at the examples I used in the previous posts. The following table shows the expected reaction and robustness of a collective entity to perturbation on the given axis.

Entity Engagement Nature Technology Robustness
Weak Gaia ? robust
GCP collapses communication collapses moderately fragile
Twitter collapses collapses collapses fragile

Note that components and awareness are not included in the table as all three entities are indifferent to small changes along those axes. Adding or removing a few components, as well as awareness, even when spread among components don’t have an impact on any of them.

Through robustness we are able to measure the sustainability of a collective entity. The examples from Asimov’s Foundation indirectly indicate its importance by the choice made in the story between the Foundation and a galactic Gaia, “Galaxia” in favor of the latter. Golan Trevize, the protagonist of Foundation’s Edge, unconsciously chooses the robust collective entity that ensures the long-term safety of humankind that is scattered throughout the galaxy.