Isaac Asimov: Quotes


● I write for the same reason I breathe — because if I didn’t, I would die.
(Isaac Asimov, Stanley Asimov (ed.), Yours, Isaac Asimov: a Lifetime of Letters, 1995)

● I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them.
(In Jan Goldberg, Careers for Puzzle Solvers & Other Methodical Thinkers, 2002)

● If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them.
(Asimov's New Guide to Science, 1984)

● It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety. (Foundation, 1951)

● Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s transition that’s troublesome.
(Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, 1987)

● [Learning is] the actual process of broadening yourself, of knowing there’s a little extra facet of the universe you know about and can think about and can understand. It seems to me that when it’s time to die, and that will come to all of us, there’ll be a certain pleasure in thinking that you had utilized your life well, that you had learned as much as you could, gathered in as much as possible of the universe, and enjoyed it. I mean, there’s only this universe and only this one lifetime to try to grasp it. And, while it is inconceivable that anyone can grasp more than a tiny portion of it, at least do that much. What a tragedy to just pass through and get nothing out of it. (Isaac Asimov Speaks with Bill Moyers in The Humanist, Jan/Feb 1989)

● Part of the inhumanity of the computer is that, once it is competently programmed and working smoothly, it is completely honest. (Change! (1983), Quoted in Reader’s Digest, 1987)

● Science can be introduced to children well or poorly. If poorly, children can be turned away from science; they can develop a lifelong antipathy; they will be in a far worse condition than if they had never been introduced to science at all.

● You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success — but only if you persist.

● 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...

● There is no belief, however foolish, that will not gather its faithful adherents who will defend it to the death. (The Stars in Their Courses, 1971)

● 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. (The Roving Mind, 1983)

● In life, unlike chess, the game continues after checkmate. (Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, 1987)

● 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! (Past, Present, and Future, 1987)

● It is not equal time the creationists want. ... Don’t kid yourself. They want all the time there is. (The Roving Mind, 1983)

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● To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today. (The Roving Mind, 1983)

● Old people think young people haven’t learned about love. Young people think old people have forgotten about love.

● 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. (The Roving Mind, 1983)

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

● A subtle thought that is in error may yet give rise to fruitful inquiry that can establish truths of great value. (In Steven D. Price, 1001 Smartest Things Ever Said, 2005)

● 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.

● 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.

● Creationists make it sound as though a “theory” is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night. (Remark to the National Center Against Censorship (NCAC), 1980. In Norman A. Johnson, Darwinian Detectives: Revealing the Natural History of Genes and Genomes, Oxford University Press, 2007)

● 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. (Gold: The Final Science Fiction Collection, 2003).

● He had read much, if one considers his long life; but his contemplation was much more than his reading. He was wont to say that if he had read as much as other men he should have known no more than other men.

● 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. (In John Altson, Patti Rae Miliotis, What Happened to Grandpa?, 2009)

● 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.

● I’m gradually managing to cram my mind more and more full of things. I’ve got this beautiful mind and it’s going to die, and it’ll all be gone. And then I say, not in my case. Every idea I’ve ever had I’ve written down, and it’s all there on paper. And I won’t be gone; it’ll be there. (Isaac Asimov Speaks with Bill Moyers in The Humanist (Jan/Feb 1989)

● Humanity has the stars in its future, and that future is too important to be lost under the burden of juvenile folly and ignorant superstition.

● I am not a speed reader. I am a speed understander.
(In Cris Tovani, Do I Really Have to Teach Reading?, 2004)
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● 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 has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.

● 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. (In Anu Garg, Another Word a Day, 2005 )

● Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.

● Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable, and although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not. (“How Easy to See the Future”, Asimov on Science Fiction, 1981)

● Self–education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is. (In Science Past, Science Future, 1975 )

● 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. It is better to know — even if the knowledge endures only for the moment that comes before destruction — than to gain eternal life at the price of a dull and swinish lack of comprehension of a universe that swirls unseen before us in all its wonder. That was the choice of Achilles, and it is mine, too.

● The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “That’s funny...” (In Ashton Applewhite, William R. Evans and Andrew Frothingham, And I Quote, 2003)

● Intelligence is a valuable thing, but it is not usually the key to survival. Sheer fecundity ... usually counts. The intelligent gorilla doesn’t do as well as the less intelligent but more–fecund rat, which doesn’t do as well as the still–less-intelligent but still–more–fecund cockroach, which doesn’t do as well as the minimally–intelligent but maximally–fecund bacterium. (“Fifty Million Big Brothers”, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1978)

● 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. (In Irv Broughton (ed.), The Writer's Mind: Interviews with American Authors, 1990)

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● The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom. (Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations, 1988)

● The true delight is in the finding out rather than in the knowing. (In David Michael Harland, The Big Bang: A View from the 21st century, 2003)

● There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere. (In Erin Gruwell and Frank McCourt: The Gigantic Book of Teachers’ Wisdom, 2007)

● To insult someone we call him “bestial.” For deliberate cruelty and nature, “human” might be the greater insult.

● Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. (Salvor Hardin in “Foundation”, 1951 )

● While he lives, he must think; while he thinks, he must dream.

● 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. (I. Asimov: A Memoir, 1994)

● Thinking is the activity I love best, and writing to me is simply thinking through my fingers. I can write up to 18 hours a day. Typing 90 words a minute, I’ve done better than 50 pages a day. Nothing interferes with my concentration. You could put an orgy in my office and I wouldn’t look up — well, maybe once. (In Joseph Barbato, Writing for a Good Cause, 2000)

● The young specialist in English Lit, having quoted me, went on to lecture me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the Universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern “knowledge” is that it is wrong.
The young man then quoted with approval what Socrates had said on learning that the Delphic oracle had proclaimed him the wisest man in Greece. “If I am the wisest man,” said Socrates, “it is because I alone know that I know nothing.” The implication was that I was very foolish because I was under the impression I knew a great deal.
Alas, none of this was new to me. (There is very little that is new to me; I wish my correspondents would realize this.) This particular theme was addressed to me a quarter of a century ago by John Campbell, who specialized in irritating me. He also told me that all theories are proven wrong in time.
My answer to him was, “John, when people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.” (The Relativity of Wrong, 1989)

● Science is uncertain. Theories are subject to revision; observations are open to a variety of interpretations, and scientists quarrel amongst themselves. This is disillusioning for those untrained in the scientific method, who thus turn to the rigid certainty of the Bible instead. There is something comfortable about a view that allows for no deviation and that spares you the painful necessity of having to think.
(The “Threat” of Creationism. In Ashley Montagu (ed.), Science and Creationism, 1984)

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● Anti–intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

● 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.

● 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. (It’s Been a Good Life, 2002)

● 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. (The Roving Mind, 1983)

● It is the obvious which is so difficult to see most of the time. People say “It’s as plain as the nose on your face.” But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you? (I, Robot, 1950)

● One, a robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm;
Two, a robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law;
Three, a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws. (Laws of Robotics, I, Robot, 1950)

● They won’t listen. Do you know why? Because they have certain fixed notions about the past. Any change would be blasphemy in their eyes, even if it were the truth. They don’t want the truth; they want their traditions. (Pebble in the Sky, 1950)

● Once, when a religionist denounced me in unmeasured terms, I sent him a card saying, “I am sure you believe that I will go to hell when I die, and that once there I will suffer all the pains and tortures the sadistic ingenuity of your deity can devise and that this torture will continue forever. Isn’t that enough for you? Do you have to call me bad names in addition?” (I, Asimov: A Memoir, 1994)

● There are no nations! There is only humanity. And if we don’t come to understand that right soon, there will be no nations, because there will be no humanity. ” (I, Asimov: A Memoir, 1994)

● 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.
(In David S. Bradford, In the Beginning: Building the Temple of Zion, 2008)

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● The human mind works at low efficiency. Twenty percent is the figure usually given. When, momentarily, there is a flash of greater power, it is termed a hunch, or insight, or intuition.” (Foundation and Empire, 1952)

● In Hamilton’s The Universe Wreckers... it was in that novel that, for the first time, I learned Neptune had a satellite named Triton... It was from The Drums of Tapajos that I first learned there was a Mato Grosso area in the Amazon basin. It was from The Black Star Passes and other stories by John W. Campbell that I first heard of relativity.
The pleasure of reading about such things in the dramatic and fascinating form of science fiction gave me a push toward science that was irresistible. It was science fiction that made me want to be a scientist strongly enough to eventually make me one.
That is not to say that science fiction stories can be completely trusted as a source of specific knowledge... However, the misguidings of science fiction can be unlearned. Sometimes the unlearning process is not easy, but it is a low price to pay for the gift of fascination over science. (Before the Golden Age: A science Fiction Anthology of the 1930s, 1974)

● Isn’t it sad that you can tell people that the ozone layer is being depleted, the forests are being cut down, the deserts are advancing steadily, that the greenhouse effect will raise the sea level 200 feet, that overpopulation is choking us, that pollution is killing us, that nuclear war may destroy us — and they yawn and settle back for a comfortable nap. But tell them that the Martians are landing, and they scream and run. (The Secret of the Universe, 1991)

● Whenever I have endured or accomplished some difficult task — such as watching television, going out socially or sleeping — I always look forward to rewarding myself with the small pleasure of getting back to my typewriter and writing something.

● But life is glorious when it is happy; days are carefree when they are happy; the interplay of thought and imagination is far and superior to that of muscle and sinew. Let me tell you, if you don’t know it from your own experience, that reading a good book, losing yourself in the interest of words and thoughts, is for some people (me, for instance) an incredible intensity of happiness. (I, Asimov: A Memoir, 1994)

● 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.

● My feeling is, quite simply, that if there is a God, He has done such a bad job that he
isn’t worth discussing.

● Unfortunately, in many cases, people who write science fiction violate the laws of nature, not because they want to make a point, but because they don't know what the laws of nature are. (In Carl Howard Freedman (ed.), Conversations with Isaac Asimov, 2005)

● The easiest way to solve a problem is to deny it exists.

● I have never, in all my life, not for one moment, been tempted toward religion of any kind. The fact is that I feel no spiritual void. I have my philosophy of life, which does not include any aspect of the supernatural and which I find totally satisfying. I am, in short, a rationalist and believe only that which reason tells me is so. (I, Asimov: A Memoir, 1994)

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● A subtle thought that is in error may yet give rise to fruitful inquiry that can establish truths of great value.

● Science is complex and chilling. The mathematical language of science is understood by very few. The vistas it presents are scary — an enormous universe ruled by chance and impersonal rules, empty and uncaring, ungraspable and vertiginous. How comfortable to turn instead to a small world, only a few thousand years old, and under God’s personal; and immediate care; a world in which you are His peculiar concern. (The “Threat” of Creationism. In Ashley Montagu (ed.), Science and Creationism, 1984)

● Someone once asked me if I had a fixed routine before I start, like setting up exercises, sharpening pencils, or having a drink of orange juice. I said, “No, the only thing I do before I start writing is to make sure that I’m close enough to the typewriter to reach the keys.”

● I type ninety words per minute on the typewriter; I type one–hundred words per minute on the word processor. But, of course, I don’t keep that up indefinitely — every once in a while I do have to think a few seconds.

● Over a space of 40 years, I published an average of 1,700 words a day.

● Where any answer is possible, all answers are meaningless.
(Referring to speculations on “Not as We Know It” alien lifeforms made in the total absence of evidence) (“Fifty Million Big Brothers”, The Magazine of Sience and Fiction, November 1978)

● Everyone around me was going through the horrifying ritual of lying in the sun and volleyballing and hiking and doing whatever other forms of refined torture that are supposed to be fun. (Isaac Asimov’s Treasury of Humor, 1991)

● It’s terrible when you have to choose between the virtues of honesty and of modesty. (Isaac Asimov, John Ciardi: Limericks: In a War of Words, 2000)

● We are forever teetering on the brink of the unknowable, and trying to understand what cannot be understood. It is what makes us men.

● The law of conservation of energy tells us we can ‘t get something for nothing, but we refuse to believe it. (Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations, 1988)

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● The whole world might know you and acclaim you, but someone in the past, forever unreachable, forever unknowing, spoils it all. (I, Asimov: A Memoir, 1994)

● There is no right to deny freedom to any object with a mind advanced enough to grasp the concept and desire the state. (The Bicentennial Man, 1976)

● Jokes of the proper kind, properly told, can do more to enlighten questions of politics, philosophy, and literature than any number of dull arguments.

● I believe there’s enough evidence for us to think that a big bang took place. But there is no evidence whatsoever to suppose that a superhuman being said, “Let it be.” However, neither is there any evidence against it; so, if a person feels comfortable believing that, I am willing to have him believe it... as an article of faith. I have articles of faith, too.
I have an article of faith that says the universe makes sense. Now there’s no way you can prove that the universe makes sense, but there’s just no fun in living in the universe if it doesn’t make sense... my belief is that no matter how far we go we will always find that the universe makes sense. We will never get to the point where it suddenly stops making sense. But that is just an assumption on my part...

I don’t feel that people who believe in God will automatically be noble, but neither do I think they will automatically be wicked. I don’t think those who don’t believe in God will be automatically noble or automatically wicked either. I think this is a choice for every human being, and frankly I think that perhaps if you don’t believe in God this puts a greater strain on you, in the sense that you have to live up to your own feelings of ethics. But, if you do believe in God, you also believe in forgiveness. There is no one to forgive me. (Isaac Asimov on Science and the Bible, interview with Paul Kurtz, published in Free Inquiry, Spring 1982)

● 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. (In the same interview, responding to the question, “Isaac, how would you describe your own position? Agnostic, atheist, rationalist, humanist?” )

● 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. (In Rosemarie Jarski, Words from the Wise, 2007)

● I don’t believe in personal immortality; the only way I expect to have some version of such a thing is through my books.

● If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster. (Life, January1984)

● 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.

● Having reached 451 books as of now doesn’t help the situation. If I were to be dying now, I would be murmuring, “Too bad! Only four hundred fifty–one.”
(Those would be my next–to–last words. The last ones will be: “I love you, Janet.” ) [They were. — Janet]
(I, Asimov: A Memoir, 1994)
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