Isaac Asimov

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Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.

Isaac Asimov (c. 1920-01-021992-04-06) was a Russian-born American author and biochemist.

Sourced

No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be ...
  • outside intelligences, exploring the Solar System with true impartiality, would be quite likely to enter the Sun in their records thus: Star X, spectral class G0, 4 planets plus debris.
    • "By Jove!" in View from a Height (1963) Often misquoted as "Jupiter plus debris".
  • What I will be remembered for are the Foundation Trilogy and the Three Laws of Robotics. What I want to be remembered for is no one book, or no dozen books. Any single thing I have written can be paralleled or even surpassed by something someone else has done. However, my total corpus for quantity, quality and variety can be duplicated by no one else. That is what I want to be remembered for.
  • Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable, and although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not.
    • "How Easy to See the Future", Natural History magazine (April 1975); later published in Asimov on Science Fiction (1981).
  • People are entirely too disbelieving of coincidence. They are far too ready to dismiss it and to build arcane structures of extremely rickety substance in order to avoid it. I, on the other hand, see coincidence everywhere as an inevitable consequence of the laws of probability, according to which having no unusual coincidence is far more unusual than any coincidence could possibly be.
  • Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today — but the core of science fiction, its essence, the concept around which it revolves, has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.
    • "My Own View" in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1978) edited by Robert Holdstock; later published in Asimov on Science Fiction (1981).
  • It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be ... This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman must take on a science fictional way of thinking.
    • "My Own View" in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1978) edited by Robert Holdstock; later published in Asimov on Science Fiction (1981).
  • I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I've been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn't have. Somehow, it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I'm a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don't have the evidence to prove that God doesn't exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn't that I don't want to waste my time.
    • Free Inquiry (Spring 1982)
  • Consider the most famous pure dystopian tale of modern times, 1984, by George Orwell (1903-1950), published in 1948 (the same year in which Walden Two was published). I consider it an abominably poor book. It made a big hit (in my opinion) only because it rode the tidal wave of cold war sentiment in the United States.
    • "Nowhere!" Asimov's Science Fiction (September 1983)
  • I was once being interviewed by Barbara Walters...In between two of the segments she asked me..."But what would you do if the doctor gave you only six months to live?" I said, "Type faster." This was widely quoted, but the "six months" was changed to "six minutes," which bothered me. It's "six months."
    • Asimov Laughs Again (1992)
  • Imagine the people who believe such things and who are not ashamed to ignore, totally, all the patient findings of thinking minds through all the centuries since the Bible was written. And it is these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes. I personally resent it bitterly.
    • Canadian Atheists Newsletter (1994)
  • Creationists make it sound as though a "theory" is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night.
    • As quoted in Like Rolling Uphill : Realizing the Honesty of Atheism (2004) by Dianna Narciso, p. 117
  • I don't believe in an afterlife, so I don't have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.
    • As quoted in Philosophy on the Go (2007) by Joey Green, p. 222
  • [In response to this question by Bill Moyers: What do you see happening to the idea of dignity to human species if this population growth continues at its present rate?] "It's going to destroy it all. I use what I call my bathroom metaphor. If two people live in an apartment, and there are two bathrooms, then both have what I call freedom of the bathroom, go to the bathroom any time you want, and stay as long as you want to for whatever you need. And this to my way is ideal. And everyone believes in the freedom of the bathroom. It should be right there in the Constitution. But if you have 20 people in the apartment and two bathrooms, no matter how much every person believes in freedom of the bathroom, there is no such thing. You have to set up, you have to set up times for each person, you have to bang at the door, aren't you through yet, and so on. And in the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people onto the world, the value of life not only declines, but it disappears. It doesn't matter if someone dies."
    • Interview by Bill Moyers on A World Of Ideas: transcript[1] (page 6); audio[2] (20:12). (Note: Sometimes it is claimed that after the last sentence, Asimov added "The more people there are, the less one person matters.", but this is untrue.)

The Foundation series

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
  • Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
    • "Foundation", Astounding Science-Fiction, May 1942 (this appears three times in "Bridle and Saddle" which is titled "The Mayors" within Foundation). It is derived from the famous phrase by Samuel Johnson: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."
  • It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety.
  • For it is the chief characteristic of the religion of science that it works, and that such curses as that of Aporat's are really deadly.
  • A fire eater must eat fire even if he has to kindle it himself.
    • "Bridle and Saddle", Astounding Science-Fiction, June 1942
  • Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.
  • There's something about a pious man such as he. He will cheerfully cut your throat if it suits him, but he will hesitate to endanger the welfare of your immaterial and problematical soul.
    • "The Big and the Little", Astounding Science-Fiction, August 1944
  • Korell is that frequent phenomenon in history: the republic whose ruler has every attribute of the absolute monarch but the name. It therefore enjoyed the usual despotism unrestrained even by those two moderating influences in the legitimate monarchies: regal 'honor' and court etiquette.
  • Now any dogma, based primarily on faith and emotionalism, is a dangerous weapon to use on others, since it is almost impossible to guarantee that the weapon will never be turned on the user.
  • An atom-blaster is a good weapon, but it can point both ways.
    • "The Wedge", Astounding Science-Fiction, October 1944
  • It's a poor blaster that doesn't point both ways.
    • "The Wedge", Astounding Science-Fiction, October 1944
  • The most hopelessly stupid man is he who is not aware that he is wise
    • "The Second Foundation"

Three Laws of Robotics

  • A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
    • "Runaround" in Astounding Science Fiction (March 1942); later published in I, Robot (1950). This statement is known as "The First Law of Robotics"
  • A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
    • "Runaround" in Astounding Science Fiction (March 1942); later published in I, Robot (1950). This statement is known as "The Second Law of Robotics"
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
    • "Runaround" in Astounding Science Fiction (March 1942); later published in I, Robot (1950). This statement is known as "The Third Law of Robotics"

Later included among these laws was "The Zeroth Law of Robotics"

  • A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
    • Robots and Empire (1985) This statement is known as "The Zeroth Law of Robotics"; a variant of it first occurred in The Evitable Conflict (1950) as: "No robot may harm humanity, or through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm."
Knowledge is indivisible. When people grow wise in one direction, they are sure to make it easier for themselves to grow wise in other directions as well.

The Roving Mind (1983)

  • Don't you believe in flying saucers, they ask me? Don't you believe in telepathy? — in ancient astronauts? — in the Bermuda triangle? — in life after death?
    No, I reply. No, no, no, no, and again no.
    One person recently, goaded into desperation by the litany of unrelieved negation, burst out "Don't you believe in anything?"
    "Yes", I said. "I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I'll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be."
    • page 43
  • Knowledge is indivisible. When people grow wise in one direction, they are sure to make it easier for themselves to grow wise in other directions as well. On the other hand, when they split up knowledge, concentrate on their own field, and scorn and ignore other fields, they grow less wise — even in their own field.
    • Ch. 25
  • How often people speak of art and science as though they were two entirely different things, with no interconnection. An artist is emotional, they think, and uses only his intuition; he sees all at once and has no need of reason. A scientist is cold, they think, and uses only his reason; he argues carefully step by step, and needs no imagination. That is all wrong. The true artist is quite rational as well as imaginative and knows what he is doing; if he does not, his art suffers. The true scientist is quite imaginative as well as rational, and sometimes leaps to solutions where reason can follow only slowly; if he does not, his science suffers.
    • Ch. 25

Unsourced

Beliefs and Religion

There is no belief, however foolish, that will not gather its faithful adherents who will defend it to the death.
  • I prefer rationalism to atheism. The question of God and other objects-of-faith are outside reason and play no part in rationalism, thus you don't have to waste your time in either attacking or defending.
  • If I am right, then (religious fundamentalists) will not go to Heaven, because there is no Heaven. If they are right, then they will not go to Heaven, because they are hypocrites.
  • It seems to me that God is a convenient invention of the human mind.
  • There is no belief, however foolish, that will not gather its faithful adherents who will defend it to the death.
  • To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today.
  • Creationists don't want equal time, ... they want all the time there is.
  • Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.
  • One would suppose that the battle for religious liberty was won in the United States two hundred years ago. However, in the time since, and right now, powerful voices are always raised in favor of bigotry and thought control.
  • If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul.

Death

  • In life, unlike chess, the game continues after checkmate.
  • Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome.
  • Although the time of death is approaching me, I am not afraid of dying and going to Hell or (what would be considerably worse) going to the popularized version of Heaven. I expect death to be nothingness and, for removing me from all possible fears of death, I am thankful to atheism.
  • There is nothing frightening about an eternal dreamless sleep. Surely it is better than eternal torment in Hell and eternal boredom in Heaven.
  • Life is a journey, but don't worry, you'll find a parking spot at the end.
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!', but 'That's funny ...

Knowledge and science

  • A subtle thought that is in error may yet give rise to fruitful inquiry that can establish truths of great value.
  • I believe that only scientists can understand the universe. It is not so much that I have confidence in scientists being right, but that I have so much in nonscientists being wrong.
There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere.
  • If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them.
  • Inspect every piece of pseudoscience and you will find a security blanket, a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold. What does the scientist have to offer in exchange? Uncertainty! Insecurity!
  • Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.
  • Suppose that we are wise enough to learn and know — and yet not wise enough to control our learning and knowledge, so that we use it to destroy ourselves? Even if that is so, knowledge remains better than ignorance.
  • The facts, gentlemen, and nothing but the facts, for careful eyes are narrowly watching.
  • The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!', but 'That's funny ...'
The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.
  • The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.
  • The true delight is in the finding out rather than in the knowing.
  • There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere.
  • Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.
  • To introduce something altogether new would mean to begin all over, to become ignorant again, and to run the old, old risk of failing to learn.
  • True literacy is becoming an arcane art and the United States is steadily dumbing down.
  • When I read about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.
  • Where any answer is possible, all answers are meaningless.
  • The Law of conservation of energy tells us we can't get something for nothing, but we refuse to believe it. — Book of Science and Nature Quotations, 1988.

Writing

  • From my close observation of writers ... they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.
  • I write for the same reason I breathe — because if I didn't, I would die.
  • Until I became a published writer, I remained completely ignorant of books on how to write and courses on the subject ... they would have spoiled my natural style; made me observe caution; would have hedged me with rules.
  • Well, I can type all day without getting tired.
    • Response to a question as to which he preferred, women or writing.
  • Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.
  • I type and think at 90 words a minute.
I am not a speed reader. I am a speed understander.

Himself

  • Early in my school career, I turned out to be an incorrigible disciplinary problem. I could understand what the teacher was saying as fast as she could say it, I found time hanging heavy, so I would occasionally talk to my neighbor. That was my great crime, I talked.
  • I am not a speed reader. I am a speed understander.
  • If I could trace my origins to Judas Maccabaeus or King David, that would not add one inch to my stature. It may well be that many East European Jews are descended from Khazars, I may be one of them. Who knows? And who cares?
  • In 1936, I first wrote science fiction. It was a long-winded attempt at writing an endless novel ... which died. I remember one sentence: 'Whole forests stood sere and brown in midsummer.' That was the first Asimovian science-fiction sentence.
  • Nothing interferes with my concentration. You could put on an orgy in my office and I wouldn't look up. Well, maybe once.

Computers

  • All sorts of computer errors are now turning up. You'd be surprised to know the number of doctors who claim they are treating pregnant men.
  • I do not fear computers. I fear lack of them.
  • Part of the inhumanity of the computer is that, once it is competently programmed and working smoothly, it is completely honest.

Other

  • And above all things, never think that you're not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you at your own reckoning.
  • How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics! (This is a mnemonic phrase: the number of letters in each word of the phrase is a decimal digit of pi)
  • It takes more than capital to swing business. You've got to have the A. I. D. degree to get by — Advertising, Initiative, and Dynamics.
  • John Dalton's records, carefully preserved for a century, were destroyed during the World War II bombing of Manchester. It is not only the living who are killed in war.
  • United Nations, New York, December 25. The peace and joy of the Christmas season was marred by a proclamation of a general strike of all the military forces of the world. Panic reigns in the hearts of all the patriots of every persuasion. Meanwhile, fears of universal disaster sank to an all-time low over the world.
  • Night was a wonderful time in Brooklyn in the 1930s. Air conditioning was unknown except in movie houses, and so was television. There was nothing to keep one in the house. Furthermore, few people owned automobiles, so there was nothing to carry one away. That left the streets and the stoops. The very fullness served as an inhibition to crime.
  • No one can possibly have lived through the Great Depression without being scarred by it. No amount of experience since the depression can convince someone who has lived through it that the world is safe economically.
  • To insult someone we call him 'bestial'. For deliberate cruelty and nature, 'human' might be the greater insult.
  • Start part three!
    • After having seen The Empire Strikes Back
  • Intelligence is an extremely subtle concept. It's a kind of understanding that flourishes if it's combined with a good memory, but exists anyway even in the absence of good memory. It's the ability to draw consequences from causes, to make correct inferences, to foresee what might be the result, to work out logical problems, to be reasonable, rational, to have the ability to understand the solution from perhaps insufficient information. You know when a person is intelligent, but you can be easily fooled if you are not yourself intelligent.

Quotes about Asimov

  • Isaac Asimov had writer's block once. It was the worst ten minutes of his life.

External links

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