Isaac Asimov

American writer and biochemist (1920–1992)
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Isaac Asimov (c. 2 January 19206 April 1992) was a Russian-born American biochemist who was a prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction, his works include the Foundation series and I, Robot.

There is no belief, however foolish, that will not gather its faithful adherents who will defend it to the death.

Quotes

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You wait for the war to happen like vultures. If you want to help, prevent the war.
 
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.

General sources

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Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable, and although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not.
 
There are limits beyond which your folly will not carry you. I am glad of that. In fact, I am relieved.
 
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 feel that the longest and worst punishment should be reserved for those who slandered God by inventing Hell.
 
The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.

1957–1970

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  • Science fiction may be defined as that branch of literature which deals with the response of human beings to advances in science and technology. Actual change in science and technology, occurring quickly enough and striking deeply enough to affect a human being in the course of his normal lifetime, is a phenomenon peculiar to the world only since the Industrial Revolution ... The first well-known writer who responded to this new factor in human affairs by dealing regularly with science fiction, by studying the effect of additional scientific advance upon mankind ... was Jules Verne. In the English language, the early master was H. G. Wells. Between them, they laid the foundation for every theme upon which science fiction writers have been ringing variations ever since.
    • "Escape Into Reality" (1957) in The Humanist, reprinted in Is Anyone There? (1967), pp. 288–289
  • It is only afterward that a new idea seems reasonable. To begin with, it usually seems unreasonable.
    • "How Do People Get New Ideas?" (1959)
  • It is the nature of science that answers automatically pose new and more subtle questions.
    • The Wellsprings of Life (1960), p. 141
  • People who want to do so can lose weight most safely and permanently if they realize that above all they must be patient. ... It is better to eat a little less at each meal than impulse would suggest and to do that constantly. Add to this a little more exercise or activity than impulse suggests and keep that up constantly too. A few less calories taken in each day and a few more used up will decrease weight, slowly, to be sure, but without undue misery. And with better long-range results too.
    • "The Hungry People" (October 1960) in Mademoiselle, reprinted in Is Anyone There? (1967), pp. 48–49
  • The dullness of fact is the mother of fiction.
    • Fact and Fancy (1962), p. 11
  • An observer studying the Solar system dispassionately, and finding himself capable of bringing the four giant planets to his notice, could reasonably say that the Solar system consisted of one star, four planets, and some traces of debris.
    • "Worlds In Order" in The Secret of the Universe (1992), p. 63. Often misquoted as "Jupiter plus debris".
  • 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)
  • Predicting the future is a hopeless, thankless task, with ridicule to begin with and, all too often, scorn to end with.
    • "The World of 1990" in The Diners' Club Magazine, January 1965
  • Ten years on the moon could tell us more about the universe than a thousand years on the earth might be able to.
    • What Can We Expect of the Moon?" in The American Legion Magazine, March 1965
  • [B]y 1204, the only place where the entire body of Greek learning existed, still intact, was Constantinople. As a result of the crusaders' conquest, however, Constantinople was ruthlessly pillaged and destroyed and almost all the great treasures of ancient Greek learning were lost forever. It is because of that sack, for instance, that we have only seven plays left out of the better than one hundred written by Sophocles.
    The tragedy of 1204 can never be undone and for all of time, only bits and pieces of the marvelous Greek world can be known to us.
    • The Greeks: A Great Adventure (1965), p. 291
  • History is a story without an end.
    • The Greeks: A Great Adventure (1965), p. 307
  • Private profit is often hidden under a careful coating of great patriotism.
    • The Roman Republic (1966), p. 128
  • I don't believe in flying saucers... The energy requirements of interstellar travel are so great that it is inconceivable to me that any creatures piloting their ships across the vast depths of space would do so only in order to play games with us over a period of decades.
    • "On Flying Saucers" in Is Anyone There? (1967), pp. 215–216
  • Start with a planet like the earth, with a complement of simple compounds bound to exist upon it, add the energy of a nearby sun, and you are bound to end with nucleic acids. You can't avoid it.
    • "Constructing a Man" in Is Anyone There? (1967), p. 93
  • It is important to remember that the viciousness and wrongs of life stick out very plainly but that even at the worst times there is a great deal of goodness, kindness, and day-to-day decency that goes unnoticed and makes no headlines.
    • The Roman Empire (1967), p. 91
  • Indeed, it may well be argued that one reason for the decline in science, art, and literature was the increasing absorption of the better minds into a new sort of intellectual pursuit – theology.
    • The Roman Empire (1967), p. 118
  • [W]hen one plays for top prizes one must be prepared to pay top stakes.
    • The Roman Empire (1967), p. 125
  • It seems to be almost an invariable rule that as real power declines, the symbols of power multiply and intensify in compensation.
    • The Roman Empire (1967), p. 176
  • There is a kind of selective memory that afflicts men when they view the past. They see the good and overlook the evil.
    • The Roman Empire (1967), p. 191
  • 476 ... is usually taken as the date of the "fall of the Roman Empire." The date, however, is a false one. No one at this period of time considered that the Roman Empire had "fallen." Indeed, it still existed and was the most powerful realm in Europe. Its capital was at Constantinople and the Emperor was Zeno. It is only because we ourselves are culturally descended from the Roman west, that we tend to ignore the continued existence of the Roman Empire in the east.
    • The Roman Empire (1967), p. 248
  • Often, writers on historical events tend to consider ... a loss of willingness to fight as a sign of "decadence," as though there were something despicable about not being a bully and not being willing to engage in mass murder. Perhaps we ought to feel instead that to cease to be warlike means to begin to be civilized and decent.
    • The Egyptians (1967), p. 68
  • Generals are usually a conservative force who can be relied on to oppose social change.
    • The Egyptians (1967), p. 93
  • In the world of today can there be peace anywhere until there is peace everywhere?
    • The Egyptians (1967), p. 241
  • Religion is more conservative than any other aspect of human life.
    • The Near East (1968), p. 14
  • [N]o matter how outrageous a lie may be, it will be accepted if stated loudly enough and often enough.
    • The Near East (1968), p. 31
  • It is by the Imperial Capital that contemporaries (and posterity, too) judge an Empire, and its magnificence impresses them mightily and leads them to judge the Emperor a great man and hero, even though it may all be based on robbery, and though the provinces of the Empire may be sunk in misery.
    • The Near East (1968), p. 33
  • We can hope that the ways of peace will attract the Arabic nations, for their territory and opportunities are broad enough for immeasurable advance, if the energies vented in spleen, are turned instead to a modernisation of the technology, a restoration of the soil, and a renovation of the economic, social, and political structure of those great and venerable lands.
    • The Near East (1968), p. 260
  • It is an odd fact that anyone who wishes to start a war must always make it appear that he is fighting in a just cause even if the real motive is naked aggression. Fortunately for the would-be aggressor, a "just cause" is very easy to find.
    • The Dark Ages (1968), p. 69
  • Probably, the most-often-repeated lesson in history is that foreigners who are called in to help one side in a civil war take over for themselves. It is a lesson that seems never to be learned despite endless repetition.
    • The Dark Ages (1968), p. 188
  • There has never been any custom, however useless it may become with changing conditions, that isn't clung to desperately simply because it is something old and familiar.
    • The Dark Ages (1968), p. 193
  • It is all too easy to forget that there are emotional motivations in history, as well as economic ones.
    • The Shaping of England (1969), p. 15
  • It seemed to him [Euphemius] it would be a brilliant notion to call in an outside force to fight on his behalf. This same brilliant notion has occurred to participants in civil wars uncounted times in history and it has ended in catastrophe just about every time, since those called in invariably take over for themselves. Of all history's lessons, this seems to be the plainest, and the most frequently ignored.
    • Constantinople: The Forgotten Empire (1970), p. 153

1971–1980

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  • Had Hannibal had a government behind him that knew how to exploit victories – had he been born a Roman, for instance – he might have conquered the world.
    • The Land of Canaan (1971), p. 218
  • Throughout history there have been peasant rebellions which have followed always the same course. Blindly, the peasants sacked and destroyed, and when members of the "upper classes" fell into their hands, they killed ruthlessly and cruelly, for never in their lives had they been taught gentleness and mercy by those now in their power.
    • The Shaping of France (1972), pp. 163–4
  • I consider one of the most important duties of any scientist the teaching of science to students and to the general public.
    • "Academe and I" (May 1972), in The Tragedy of the Moon (1973), p. 224
  • I recognize the necessity of animal experiments with my mind but not with my heart.
    • "Doctor, Doctor, Cut My Throat" (August 1972), in The Tragedy of the Moon (1973), p. 153
  • 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!
    • Asimov's Guide to Science (1972), p. 15
  • For man to become successful, for man to establish himself as the ruler of the planet, it was necessary for him to use his brain as something more than a device to make the daily routine of getting food and evading enemies a little more efficient. Man had to learn to control his environment."
    • "The Tragedy of the Moon," The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (July 1972)
  • Can the word ‘best’ mean anything at all, except to some particular person in some particular mood? Perhaps not — so if we allow the word to stand as an absolute, you, or you, or perhaps you, may be appalled at omissions or inclusions or, never having read me before, may even be impelled to cry out, ‘Good heavens, are those his best?’
    • "Introduction" in The Best of Isaac Asimov (1973)
  • Hypocrisy is a universal phenomenon. It ends with death, but not before.
    • "By the Numbers" (May 1973), in The Tragedy of the Moon (1973), p. 188
  • Science is a systematic method for studying and working out those generalizations that seem to describe the behavior of the universe. It could exist as a purely intellectual game that would never affect the practical life of human beings either for good or evil, and that was very nearly the case in ancient Greece, for instance. Technology is the application of scientific findings to the tools of everyday life, and that application can be wise or unwise, useful or harmful. Very often, those who govern technological decisions are not scientists and know little about science.
    • "By the Numbers" (May 1973), in The Tragedy of the Moon (1973), p. 190
  • 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.
    • Yours, Isaac Asimov (20 September 1973)
  • The true discovery of America by mankind came when those first hunting bands crossed over from Siberia 25,000 years ago. This, however, never seems to count. When people speak of the "discovery of America" they invariably mean its discovery by Europeans.
    • The Shaping of North America (1973), p. 6
  • 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 (1974), p. 36
  • If, as I maintain and firmly believe, there is no objective definition of intelligence, and what we call intelligence is only a creation of cultural fashion and subjective prejudice, what the devil is it we test when we make use of an intelligence test?
    • "Thinking About Thinking" in Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January 1975
  • My parents, both of whom spoke Russian fluently, made no effort to teach me Russian, but insisted on my learning English as rapidly and as well as possible. They even set about learning English themselves, with reasonable, but limited, success.
    In a way, I am sorry. It would have been good to know the language of Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Dostoevski. On the other hand, I would not have been willing to let anything get in the way of the complete mastery of English. Allow me my prejudice: surely there is no language more majestic than that of Shakespeare, Milton, and the King James Bible, and if I am to have one language that I know as only a native can know it, I consider myself unbelievably fortunate that it is English.
    • Before the Golden Age, Book 1 (1975), p. 19 of the Fawcett Crest paperback edition (2nd printing)
  • 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);
  • Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.
    • "Science Past, Science Future" (1975) p. 208
  • Straightforward preaching spoils the effectiveness of a story. If you can't resist the impulse to improve your fellow human beings, do it subtly.
    • Buy Jupiter and Other Stories (1975), p. 21
  • There is no way of being almost funny or mildly funny or fairly funny or tolerably funny. You are either funny or not funny and there is nothing in between. And usually it is the writer who thinks he is funny and the reader who thinks he isn't.
    • Buy Jupiter and Other Stories (1975), p. 33
  • [S]cientific writing is abhorrently stylized and places a premium on poor quality.
    • Buy Jupiter and Other Stories (1975), p. 82
  • If you're going to write a story, avoid contemporary references. They date a story and they have no staying power.
    • Buy Jupiter and Other Stories (1975), p. 134
  • Generals are, as a matter of course, allowed to be far more idiotic than ordinary human beings are permitted to be.
    • Our Federal Union (1975), p. 248
  • 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.
  • The history of science is full of revolutionary advances that required small insights that anyone might have had, but that, in fact, only one person did.
    • "The Three Numbers" in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (September 1974); reprinted in More Tales of the Black Widowers (1976)
  • We cannot afford enemies any more... Within a generation or two human society will be in total destructive disarray. Heaven knows how bad it will be. The most optimistic view I can take is this: Things will get so bad within a dozen years that it will become obvious ... that we must, whether were like each other or not, work together. We have no choice in the matter. ... Technologically, we can stop overpopulation, but we have to persuade people to accept the technology. ... Babies are the enemies of the human race ... Let's consider it this way: by the time the world doubles its population, the amount of energy we will be using will be increased sevenfold which means probably the amount of pollution that we are producing will also be increased sevenfold. If we are now threatened by pollution at the present rate, how will we be threatened with sevenfold pollution by, say, 2010 A.D., distributed among twice the population? We'll be having to grow twice the food out of soil that is being poisoned at seven times the rate.
  • What, then, of human activities? Is humankind itself hastening its own end? Man has, for instance, been burning carbon-containing fuel — wood, coal, oil, gas — at a steadily accelerating rate. All these fuels form carbon dioxide. Some is absorbed by plants and the oceans but not as fast as it is produced. This means the carbon dioxide content of the air is going up — slightly but nevertheless up. Carbon dioxide retains heat, and even a small rise means a warming of the Earth's atmosphere. This may result in the melting of the polar ice caps with unusual speed, flooding the world before we have learned climate control. In reverse, our industrial civilization is making our atmosphere dustier so that it reflects more sunlight away and cools the Earth slightly — thus making possible a glacial advance in a few centuries, also before we have learned climate control.
    • "20 Ways the World Could End" in Popular Mechanics (March 1977)
  • 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.
    • Quasar, Quasar, Burning Bright (1978), p. 235
  • 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)
  • Science Digest asked me to see the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind and write an article for them on the science it contained. I saw the picture and was appalled. I remained appalled even after a doctor's examination had assured me that no internal organs had been shaken loose by its ridiculous soundwaves. (If you can't be good, be loud, some say, and Close Encounters was very loud.) ... Hollywood must deal with large audiences, most of whom are utterly unfamiliar with good science fiction. It has to bend to them, meet them at least half-way. Fully appreciating that, I could enjoy Planet of the Apes and Star Wars. Star Wars was entertainment for the masses and did not try to be anything more. Leave your sophistication at the door, get into the spirit, and you can have a fun ride. ... Seeing a rotten picture for the special effects is like eating a tough steak for the smothered onions, or reading a bad book for the dirty parts. Optical wizardry is something a movie can do that a book can't but it is no substitute for a story, for logic, for meaning. It is ornamentation, not substance. In fact, whenever a science fiction picture is praised overeffusively for its special effects, I know it's a bad picture. Is that all they can find to talk about?
  • Where any answer is possible, all answers are meaningless.
    • The Road to Infinity (1979), p. 170
  • I simply don't think it is reasonable to use IQ tests to produce results of questionable value, which may then serve to justify racists in their own minds and to help bring about the kinds of tragedies we have already witnessed earlier in this century.
    • "Alas, All Human" in Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, June 1979
  • In memory yet green, in joy still felt,
    The scenes of life rise sharply into view.
    We triumph; Life’s disasters are undealt,
    And while all else is old, the world is new.
    • Poem credited to "Anon" within his autobiography In Memory Yet Green (1979), but which Asimov himself had written to provide titles to two volumes of his autobiography, after his publisher suggested he use dramatic lines from some obscure poem for a title, rather than his initial suggestion of "As I Remember".
  • I wouldn't give an astrologer the time of day.
    • In Memory Yet Green (Avon Books, 1979), p. 18
  • It is surely better to be wronged than to do wrong.
    • In Memory Yet Green (1979), p. 175
  • The purpose of aphorisms is to keep fools who have memorised them from having nothing to say.
    • In Memory Yet Green (1979), p. 188
  • There is less trouble and trauma involved in writing a new piece than in trying to salvage an unsatisfactory old one.
    • In Memory Yet Green (1979), p. 200
  • The undramatic fact is that I just think and think and think until I have something [for a story], and there is nothing marvelous or artistic about the phenomenon.
    • In Memory Yet Green (1979), pp. 301–302
  • Certain success evicts one from the paradise of winning against the odds.
    • In Memory Yet Green (1979), p. 420
  • The military mind remains unparalleled as a vehicle of creative stupidity.
    • In Memory Yet Green (1979), p. 461
  • It is very likely that there are many, many planets carrying life, even intelligent life, throughout the universe, because there are so many stars. By sheer chance, even if those chances are small, a great many life forms and a great many intelligences may exist.
    • Interview in Southwest Airlines Magazine 1979)
  • I believe that every human being with a physically normal brain can learn a great deal and can be surprisingly intellectual. I believe that what we badly need is social approval of learning and social rewards for learning.
    We can all be members of the intellectual elite and then, and only then, will a phrase like "America's right to know" and, indeed, any true concept of democracy, have any meaning.
    • "A Cult of Ignorance", Newsweek (21 January 1980)
  • [Creationists] make it sound as though a "theory" is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night.
  • It is my own experience ... that commentators are far more ingenious at finding meaning than authors are at inserting it.
    • The Annotated Gulliver's Travels (1980), p. 16
  • Weisinger, a couple of years ago, made up the following story: "Isaac Asimov was asked how Superman could fly faster than the speed of light, which was supposed to be an absolute limit. To this Asimov replied, 'That the speed of light is a limit is a theory; that Superman can travel faster than light is a fact.'"
I assure you it never happened and I never said it, but it will be repeated, I am quite certain, indefinitely, and it will probably be found in Bartlett's quotations a century from now, attributed to me, after all my writings have been forgotten.
  • "Science Fiction, 1938" Nebula Winners 14 (1980) edited by Frederick J. Pohl, p. 97
  • When you write a short story ... you had better know the ending first. The end of a story is only the end to the reader. To the writer, it's the beginning. If you don't know exactly where you're going every minute you're writing, you'll never get there — or anywhere.
    • The Casebook of the Black Widowers (1980), p. 177
  • Necessity makes a joke of civilization.
    • In Joy Still Felt (1980), p. 124
  • I make no secret about being Jewish ... I just think it's more important to be human and to have a human heritage; and I think it is wrong for anyone to feel that there is anything special about any one heritage of whatever kind. It is delightful to have the human heritage exist in a thousand varieties, for it makes for greater interest, but as soon as one variety is thought to be more important than another, the groundwork is laid for destroying them all.
    • In Joy Still Felt (1980), p. 147
  • I am not a visual person. I have spent so many bounded years in my childhood that I have grown used to having books as my window on reality.
    • In Joy Still Felt (1980), p. 217
  • Writing is hard work. The fact that I love doing it doesn't make it less hard work. People who love tennis will sweat themselves to exhaustion playing it, and the love of the game doesn't stop the sweating. The casual assumption that writers are unemployed bums because they don't go to the office and don't have a boss is something every writer has to live with. I have never known a writer who hasn't suffered as a result of this, hasn't resented it, and hasn't dreamed of murdering the next person who says "Boy, you've sure got it made. You just sit there and toss off a story or something whenever you feel like it."
    • In Joy Still Felt (1980), pp. 229-230
  • The fact is that I've never called myself a genius, and I think the term has been cheapened by overuse into meaninglessness. If other people want to call me that, that's their problem.
    • In Joy Still Felt (1980), p. 255
  • I joke sometimes to the effect that when I approach a part of a book where I must explain something I don't understand, I just type faster and faster and faster. Then, when I get to the part I don't understand, sheer inertia pushes me through. That's not literally true, of course, but there's something to it psychologically.
    • In Joy Still Felt (1980), p. 281
  • No matter how various the subject matter I write on, I was a science-fiction writer first and it is as a science-fiction writer that I want to be identified.
    • In Joy Still Felt (1980), pp. 286-287
  • Of all the books I have ever worked on, I think Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare gave me the most pleasure, day in, day out. For months and months I lived and thought Shakespeare, and I don't see how there can be any greater pleasure in the world—any pleasure, that is, that one can indulge in for as much as ten hours without pause, day after day indefinitely.
    • In Joy Still Felt (1980), pp. 464–465
  • The best way to describe anyone is to give an example of the kind of thing he would do.
    • In Joy Still Felt (1980), p. 499

1981–1992

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  • People don't stop things they enjoy doing just because they reach a certain age. They don't stop playing tennis just because they turn 40, they don't stop with sex just because they turn 40; they keep it up as long as they can if they enjoy it, and learning will be the same thing.
  • There are many aspects of the universe that still cannot be explained satisfactorily by science; but ignorance only implies ignorance that may someday be conquered. To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today.
  • The Bible and science agree in being unable to say anything certain about what happened before the beginning. There is this difference. The Bible will never be able to tell us. It has reached its final form, and it simply doesn't say. Science, on the other hand, is still developing, and the time may come when it can answer questions that, at present, it cannot.
    • In the Beginning (1981), chapter 1
  • To be sure, the Bible contains the direct words of God. How do we know? The Moral Majority says so. How do they know? They say they know and to doubt it makes you an agent of the Devil or, worse, a Lbr-l Dm-cr-t. And what does the Bible textbook say? Well, among other things it says the earth was created in 4004 BC. (Not actually, but a Moral Majority type figured that out three and a half centuries ago, and his word is also accepted as inspired.) The sun was created three days later. The first male was molded out of dirt, and the first female was molded, some time later, out of his rib. As far as the end of the universe is concerned, the Book of Revelation (6:13-14) says: "And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind." ... 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 in order to tell us what books to read and what not, what thoughts to think and what not, what conclusions to accept and what not. And what does the Bible say? "If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch" (Matthew 15:14).
    • "The Blind Who Would Lead", in Maclean's 2 February 1981, reprinted in Opus 300 (1984)
  • But suppose we were to teach creationism. What would be the content of the teaching? Merely that a creator formed the universe and all species of life ready-made? Nothing more? No details?
    • "The Dangerous Myth of Creationism" in Penthouse (January 1982); reprinted as Ch. 2 : "Creationism and the Schools" in The Roving Mind (1983), p. 16
  • 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)
  • Earth is a ball that is over 12,000 kilometres in diameter, and if it were modelled into an object the size of a billiard ball, with all its surface unevenness reproduced exactly to scale, the model would be smoother than an ordinary billiard ball—and the ocean would be an all but unnoticeable mist of dampness over 70 percent of its surface.
    • Exploring the Earth and the Cosmos (1982), p. 85
  • An optimistic view of the future would indicate that before long, the clear necessity of expanding humanity's horizons would cause ... space settlements to be built. The construction would also serve as a great project that not only would be clearly of great benefit, but might induce human cooperation in something large enough to fire the heart and mind, and make people forget the petty quarrels that have engaged them for thousands of years in wars over insignificant scraps of earthly territory.
    • Exploring the Earth and the Cosmos (1982), p. 153
  • [S]cientists have pushed back the horizon of time from the biblical 6,000 years to 4,600,000,000 years for the age of Earth—a 760,000-fold increase.
    • Exploring the Earth and the Cosmos (1982), p. 209
  • I get a certain pleasure in knowing that I live not merely in a city but in Manhattan, the center of New York City, a region so unique in many ways that I honestly believe that Earth is divided into halves: Manhattan and non-Manhattan.
    • Science: Dead Center, in F&SF (April 1983), p. 130
  • 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)
  • Miniaturization doesn't actually make sense unless you miniaturize the very atoms of which matter is composed. Otherwise a tiny brain in a man the size of an insect, composed of normal atoms, is composed of too few atoms for the miniaturized man to be any more intelligent than the ant. Also, miniaturizing atoms is impossible according to the rules of quantum mechanics.
    • As quoted in Omni's Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies (1984) edited by Danny Peary, p. 5
  • Titles are an important part of a story and I take considerable care in choosing one. In fact, I cannot start a story until I have chosen a title.
    • Banquets of the Black Widowers (1984), p. 27
  • Once you've dissected a joke, you're about where you are when you've dissected a frog. It's dead.
    • Banquets of the Black Widowers (1984), p. 49; comparable to "Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind." — E. B. White, in "Some Remarks on Humor," preface to A Subtreasury of American Humor (1941)
  • In my fiction I am careful to make everything probable and to tie up all loose ends. Real life is not hampered by such considerations.
    • Puzzles of the Black Widowers (1984), p. 132
  • Science fiction offers its writers chances of embarrassment that no other form of fiction does.
    • Robot Dreams (1986), introduction
  • There is more to a science fiction story than the science it contains. There is also the story.
    • Robot Dreams (1986), introduction
  • There are limits beyond which your folly will not carry you. I am glad of that. In fact, I am relieved.
    • Doctor Susan Calvin in "Robot Dreams" in Robot Dreams (1986)
  • The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!', but 'That's funny ...'
  • All life is nucleic acid; the rest is commentary
    • "Beginning with Bone" (May 1987), reprinted in The Relativity of Wrong (1988)
  • I suppose he's entitled to his opinion, but I don't suppose it very hard.
    • “Seven Steps to Grand Master” in Nebula Awards 22 (1988), edited by George Zebrowski
  • [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.
  • Science doesn't purvey absolute truth. Science is a mechanism. It's a way of trying to improve your knowledge of nature. It's a system for testing your thoughts against the universe and seeing whether they match. And this works, not just for the ordinary aspects of science, but for all of life. I should think people would want to know that what they know is truly what the universe is like, or at least as close as they can get to it.
  • 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)
  • 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), edited with Jason A. Shulman, p. 281
  • All mankind, right down to those you most despise, are your neighbors.
    • "Lost in Non-Translation" (1989), in Magic (Voyager, 1997) p. 270
  • We are meant to know, or we are amoebae.
    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 endured 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.
  • I made up my mind long ago to follow one cardinal rule in all my writing — to be clear. I have given up all thought of writing poetically or symbolically or experimentally, or in any of the other modes that might (if I were good enough) get me a Pulitzer prize. I would write merely clearly and in this way establish a warm relationship between myself and my readers, and the professional critics — Well, they can do whatever they wish.
  • [Writing] is an addiction more powerful than alcohol, than nicotine, than crack. I could not conceive of not writing.
    • Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, April 1990, p.6
  • Radiation, unlike smoking, drinking, and overeating, gives no pleasure, so the possible victims object.
    • As quoted in The Journal of NIH Research (1990), 2, 30
  • Books ... hold within them the gathered wisdom of humanity, the collected knowledge of the world's thinkers, the amusement and excitement built up by the imaginations of brilliant people. Books contain humor, beauty, wit, emotion, thought, and, indeed, all of life. Life without books is empty.
    • Puzzles of the Black Widowers (1990), pp. 74-75
  • The foundation of all technology is fire.
    • Asimov's Chronology of the World (1991), p. 11
  • If anyone can be considered the greatest writer who ever lived, it is Shakespeare.
    • Asimov's Chronology of the World (1991), p. 226
  • Scientific theories can always be improved and are improved. That is one of the glories of science. It is the authoritarian view of the Universe that is frozen in stone and cannot be changed, so that once it is wrong, it is wrong forever.
    • "The Nearest Star" (1989) (reprinted in The Secret of the Universe (1992), p. 82)
  • It's my belief that the Universe possesses, in its essence, fractal properties of a very complex sort and that the pursuit of science shares those properties. It follows that any part of the Universe that remains un-understood, and any part of scientific investigation that remains unresolved, however small that might be in comparison to what is understood and resolved, contains within it all the complexity of the original. Therefore, we'll never finish. No matter how far we go, the road ahead will be as long as it was at the start, and that's the secret of the Universe.
    • "The Secrets of the Universe" (1989) (essay reprinted in The Secret of the Universe (1992), p. 167)
  • The job of science will never be done, it will just sink deeper and deeper into never-ending complexity.
    • "The Secrets of the Universe" (1989) (essay reprinted in The Secret of the Universe (1992), p. 168)
  • Ideas are cheap. It's only what you do with them that counts.
    • "The Secrets of the Universe" (1989) (essay reprinted in The Secret of the Universe (1992), p. 167)
  • Someone once asked me, "If you had your choice, Dr. Asimov, would it be women or writing?" My answer was, "Well, I can write for twelve hours at a time without getting tired."
    • "Just Say 'No!'" (1989) (reprinted in The Secret of the Universe (1992), p. 235)
  • In the course of my fight with the school, I couldn't help but notice that I became a pariah. [...] Once, however, a fellow faculty member, making sure we were unobserved, said to me, "Isaac, the faculty is proud of you for your courage in fighting the administration for academic freedom."
    I said, "There's no courage involved in it. Don't you know my definition of academic freedom?"
    "No. What's your definition of academic freedom?"
    I said, "Independent income."
  • 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."
    • No. 255, Asimov Laughs Again (1992)

Undated

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  • If you suspect that my interest in the Bible is going to inspire me with sudden enthusiasm for Judaism and make me a convert of mountain‐moving fervor and that I shall suddenly grow long earlocks and learn Hebrew and go about denouncing the heathen — you little know the effect of the Bible on me. Properly read, it is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.
    • As quoted in Notes for a Memoir : On Isaac Asimov, Life, and Writing (2006) by Janet Jeppson Asimov, p. 58
  • 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
 
A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
The First Law 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)
The Second 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)
The Third 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)
The Zeroth Law of Robotics
Later included among these laws as a more fundamental directive
  • A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

Short fiction

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Page numbers from the mass market paperback edition, published by Fawcett Crest in June 1974
See Isaac Asimov's Internet Science Fiction Database page for original publication details
  • If the love of money is the root of all evil, the need of money is most certainly the root of all despair.
    • Half-Breed (p. 160)
  • Earth governments in moments of stress are not famous for being reasonable.
    • History (p. 297)
Page numbers from the mass market paperback edition, published by Fawcett Crest in December 1974 (second printing)
See Isaac Asimov's Internet Science Fiction Database page for original publication details
  • “But you really are, you know.” This was said with intense earnestness. “I mean good, really good. I think it is wonderful to be an author like you. It must be almost like being God.”
    Graham stared blankly. “Not to editors, sister.”
    Sister didn’t get the whisper. She continued, “To be able to create living characters out of nothing; to unfold souls to all the world; to put thoughts into words; to build pictures and create worlds. I have often thought that an author was the most gloriously gifted person in all creation. Better an inspired author starving in a garret than a king upon his throne. Don’t you think so?”
    “Definitely,” lied Graham.
    • Author! Author! (p. 130)
  • “Things in the past always seem greater.” Brand condescended with a smile. “There is a theorem to that effect which you’ll find in any elementary text. Freshmen invariably call it the ‘GOD Theorem.’ Stands for ‘Good-Old-Days,’ you know. But go on.”
    Theor frowned at the digression. He hid the beginning of a sneer. “You can always dismiss an uncomfortable fact by pinning a dowdy label to it.”
    • Death Sentence (p. 158)
  • Modesty is an unnatural attitude, and one which is only with difficulty taught to children.
    • Mother Earth (p. 265)
  • Self-preservation has frequently knuckled under to that tremendous yearning to ‘get even.’
    • Mother Earth (p. 293)
Page numbers from the trade paperback edition, published by Broadway Books in 2001, ISBN 0-385-41627-X, (11th printing)
See Isaac Asimov's Internet Science Fiction Database page for original publication details
  • He could almost wish he were superstitious. He could then console himself with the thought that the casual meaningless meeting had really been directed by a knowing and purposeful Fate.
    • The Dead Past (p. 7)
  • “Surely you believe in God?”
    “Well, said R.E., “I believed a lot of things about Him that would probably startle you.”
    • The Last Trump (p. 114)
  • We face eternity now. We have no universe left, no outside phenomena, no emotions, no passions. Nothing but ourselves and thought. We face an eternity of introspection, when all through history we have never known what to do with ourselves on a rainy Sunday.
    • The Last Trump (p. 118; perhaps echoing Susan Ertz in Anger in the Sky (1943): Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.)
  • The Dantean conceptions of Inferno were childish and unworthy of the Divine imagination: fire and torture. Boredom is much more subtle. The inner torture of a mind unable to escape itself in any way, condemned to fester in its own exuding mental pus for all time, is much more fitting. Oh, yes, my friend, we have been judged, and condemned, too, and this is not Heaven, but hell.
    • The Last Trump (p. 118)
  • “Why didn’t people just use a computer?”
    “That was before they had computers,” cried Paul.
    “Before?”
    “Sure. Do you think people always had computers? Didn’t you ever hear of cavemen?”
    • Someday (p. 142)
  • Printing will tell you such useful things and such interesting things that not being able to read would be as bad as not being able to see.
    • Profession (p. 170)
  • I don’t say it was deliberate fraud. He was probably madly sincere, and sincerely mad.
    • The Dying Night (p. 225)
  • “If you can see the future –”
    “Why am I not the richest man on earth? Is that it? But I am rich—in all I want. You want recognition and I want to be left alone. I do my work. No one bothers me. That makes me a billionaire.”
    • Spell My Name with an S (pp. 279-280)
  • The newsmen were writing down sentences busily as Hoskins spoke to them. They did not understand and they were sure their readers would not, but it sounded scientific and that was what counted.
    • The Ugly Little Boy (pp. 313-314)
  • “You are an important man–”
    Ralston snorted.
    “You do not consider that to be so?” asked Blaustein.
    “No, I don’t. There are no important men, any more than there are important individual bacteria.”
    “I don’t understand.”
    “I don’t expect you to.”
    • “Breeds There a Man…?” (p. 416)
  • Psychiatry is becoming too popular. Everybody talks of complexes and neuroses and psychoses and compulsions and whatnot. One man’s guilt complex is another man’s good night’s sleep.
    • “Breeds There a Man…?” (p. 419)
  • Look around you. Look at the planet, Earth. What kind of a ridiculous animal are we to be lords of the world after the dinosaurs had failed? Sure, we’re intelligent, but what’s intelligence? We think it is important because we have it. If the Tyrannosaurus could have picked out the one quality that he thought would ensure species domination, it would be size and strength. And he would make a better case for it. He lasted longer than we are likely to.
    • “Breeds There a Man…?” (pp. 420-421)
  • It is no one’s privilege to despise another. It is only a hard-won right after long experience.
    • C-Chute (p. 465)
  • It’s funny the respectable names you can give to superstition.
    • Flies (p. 519)
Page numbers from the hardcover edition, published by Doubleday and the Science Fiction Book Club
See Isaac Asimov's Internet Science Fiction Database page for original publication details
  • “That’s The Goose,” he said. The way he said it, I could hear the capitals.
    I stared at it. It looked like any other goose, fat, self-satisfied and short-tempered.
    • Pâté de Foie Gras (p. 266)
  • “Curing diabetes is just a detail and it will merely mean that the death rate will go down slightly and produce just a bit more pressure in the direction of population increase. I’m not interested in achieving that.”
    “You don’t value human life?”
    “Not infinitely. There are too many people on earth.”
    “I know that some think so.”
    “You’re one of them, Mr. Secretary. You have written articles saying so. And it’s obvious to any thinking man—to you more than anyone—what it’s doing. Overpopulation means discomfort, and to reduce the discomfort private choice must disappear. Crowd enough people into a field and the only way they can all sit down is for all to sit down at the same time. Make a mob dense enough and they can move from one point to another quickly only by marching in formation. That is what men are becoming; a blindly marching mob knowing nothing about where it is going or why.”
    • The Greatest Asset (p. 467)
  • It built itself up endlessly, like a chess game, and the telemetrists began to use a computer to program the computer that designed the program for the computer that programmed the robot-controlling computer.
    • Stranger in Paradise (p. 516)
  • “Nobody in the government,” said Edwards stubbornly, “seems to care whether we reach the bottom of the matter or not.”
    “I’ve already explained that there have been no consequences but good ones. Why stir the mud at the bottom, when the water above is clear?”
    • The Tercentenary Incident (p. 625)

Robot series (1950-1985)

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All page numbers from the 1983 Del Rey mass market paperback edition, ISBN 0-345-31482-4
  • “Fifty years,” I hackneyed, “is a long time.”
    “Not when you’re looking back at them,” she said. “You wonder how they vanished so quickly.”
    • “Introduction”, p. 8
  • “Nonsense,” Weston denied, with an involuntary nervous shiver. “That’s completely ridiculous. We had a long discussion at the time we bought Robbie about the First Law of Robotics. You know that it is impossible for a robot to harm a human being; that long before enough can go wrong to alter that First Law, a robot would be completely inoperable. It’s a mathematical impossibility. Besides I have an engineer from U.S. Robots here twice a year to give the poor gadget a complete overhaul. Why, there’s no more chance of anything at all going wrong with Robbie than there is of you or I suddenly going looney—considerably less, in fact.”
    • “Robbie”, p. 17
  • There's nothing like deduction. We've determined everything about our problem but the solution.
    • “Runaround”, p. 41; see above for the Three Laws of Robotics, also drawn from this story
  • I accept nothing on authority. A hypothesis must be backed by reason, or else it is worthless.
    • “Reason”, p. 52
  • You can prove anything you want by coldly logical reason—if you pick the proper postulates. We have ours and Cutie [robot QT-1] has his.”
    “Then let’s get at those postulates in a hurry. The storm’s due tomorrow.”
    Powell sighed wearily. “That’s where everything falls down. Postulates are based on assumptions and adhered to by faith. Nothing in the Universe can shake them. I’m going to bed.”
    • “Reason”, p. 63
  • The unwritten motto of United States Robot and Mechanical Men Corp. was well-known: “No employee makes the same mistake twice. He is fired the first time.”
    • “Catch That Rabbit”, p. 65
  • Just you think first, and don't bother to speak afterward, either.
    • “Catch That Rabbit”, p. 71
  • Milton Ashe is not the type to marry a head of hair and a pair of eyes.
    • “Liar!”, p. 89
  • “You’re the U. S. Robot’s psychologist, aren’t you?”
    “Robopsychologist, please.”
    “Oh, are robots so different from men, mentally?”
    “Worlds different.” She allowed herself a frosty smile, “Robots are essentially decent.”
    • “Evidence”, p. 151
  • The machine is only a tool after all, which can help humanity progress faster by taking some of the burdens of calculations and interpretations off its back. The task of the human brain remains what it has always been; that of discovering new data to be analyzed, and of devising new concepts to be tested.
    • “The Evitable Conflict”, p. 187
  • There is nothing so eternally adhesive as the memory of power.
    • “The Evitable Conflict”, p. 189
  • "Why, Stephen, if I am right, it means that the Machine is conducting our future for us not only simply in direct answer to our direct questions, but in general answer to the world situation and to human psychology as a whole. And to know that may make us unhappy and may hurt our pride. The Machine cannot, must not, make us unhappy.
    "Stephen, how do we know what the ultimate good of Humanity will entail? We haven't at our disposal the infinite factors that the Machine has at its! Perhaps, to give you a not unfamiliar example, our entire technical civilization has created more unhappiness and misery than it has removed. Perhaps an agrarian or pastoral civilization, with less culture and less people would be better. If so, the Machines must move in that direction, preferably without telling us, since in our ignorant prejudices we only know that what we are used to, is good—and we would then fight change. Or perhaps a complete urbanization, or a completely caste-ridden society, or complete anarchy, is the answer. We don't know. Only the Machines know, and they are going there and taking us with them."
    "But you are telling me, Susan, that the 'Society for Humanity' is right; and that Mankind has lost its own say in its future."
    "It never had any, really. It was always at the mercy of economic and sociological forces it did not understand—at the whims of climate, and the fortunes of war. Now the Machines understand them; and no one can stop them, since the Machines will deal with them as they are dealing with the Society,—having, as they do, the greatest of weapons at their disposal, the absolute control of our economy."
    "How horrible!"
    "Perhaps how wonderful! Think, that for all time, all conflicts are finally evitable. Only the Machines, from now on, are inevitable!"
    • “The Evitable Conflict”, p. 192
Numerous editions. All page numbers here are from the omnibus hardcover book club edition published by Doubleday
  • Men grew desperate and the border between bitter frustration and wild destruction is sometimes easily crossed.
    • Chapter 2, “Round Trip on an Expressway” (p. 22)
  • The division between human and robot is perhaps not as significant as that between intelligence and nonintelligence.
    • Chapter 3, “Incident at a Shoe Counter” (pp. 29-30)
  • It was the addition of status that brought the little things: a more comfortable seat here, a better cut of meat there, a shorter wait in line at the other place. To the philosophical mind, these items might seem scarcely worth any great trouble to acquire.
    Yet no one, however philosophical, could give up those privileges, once acquired, without a pang. That was the point.
    • Chapter 9, “Elucidation by a Spacer” (p. 85)
  • “How does it concern you people? It’s our problem. We’ll solve it. If not, it’s our own particular road to hell.”
    “Better your own road to hell than another’s road to heaven, eh?”
    • Chapter 9, “Elucidation by a Spacer” (p. 90)
  • “Logically, developing children are carefully screened for physical and mental defects before being allowed to mature.”
    Baley interrupted. “You mean you kill them if they don’t—”
    “If they don’t measure up. Quite painlessly, I assure you. The notion shocks you, just as the Earthman’s uncontrolled breeding shocks us.”
    • Chapter 9, “Elucidation by a Spacer” (p. 91)
  • I tell you I know the type of people that become Medievalists. They’re soft, dreamy people who find life too hard for them here and get lost in an ideal world of the past that never really existed.
    • Chapter 13, “Shift to a Machine” (p. 141)
  • Remember, you once said, Lije, that people sometimes mistake their own shortcomings for those of society and want to fix the Cities because they don’t know how to fix themselves.
    • Chapter 14, “Power of a Name” (p. 148)
  • There are degrees of justice, Elijah. When the lesser is incompatible with the greater, the lesser must give way.
    • Chapter 17, “Conclusion of a Project” (p. 184)
  • I have been trying, friend Julius, to understand some remarks Elijah made to me earlier. Perhaps I am beginning to, for it suddenly seems to me that the destruction of what should not be, that is, the destruction of what you people call evil, is less just and desirable than the conversion of this evil into what you call good.
    He hesitated, then, almost as though he were surprised at his own words, he said, “Go, and sin no more!”
    • Chapter 18, “End of an Investigation” (p. 202)
Numerous editions. All page numbers here are from the omnibus hardcover book club edition published by Doubleday
  • A robot, the man had said, is logical but not reasonable.
    • Chapter 6, “A Theory is Refuted” (p. 265)
  • Civilizations have always been pyramidal in structure. As one climbs toward the apex of the social edifice, there is increased leisure and increasing opportunity to pursue happiness. As one climbs, one finds also fewer and fewer people to enjoy this more and more. Invariably, there is a preponderance of the dispossessed. And remember this, no matter how well off the bottom layers of the pyramid might be on an absolute scale, they are always dispossessed in comparison with the apex.
    So there is always social friction in ordinary human societies. The action of social revolution and the reaction of guarding against such revolution or combating it once it has begun are the causes of a great deal of the human misery with which history is permeated.
    • Chapter 10, “A Culture is Traced” (p. 312)
  • There isn’t an instinct around that can’t give way to a good, persistent education. Not in human beings, where instincts are weak anyway. In fact, if you go about it right, education gets easier with each generation.
    • Chapter 12, “A Target is Missed” (p. 331)
  • “Ah, the future good!” Leebig’s eyes glowed with passion and he seemed to grow less conscious of his listener and correspondingly more talkative. “A simple concept, you think. How many human beings are willing to accept a trifling inconvenience for the sake of a large future good? How long does it take to train a child that what tastes good now means a stomach-ache later, and what tastes bad now will correct the stomach-ache later? Yet you want a robot to be able to understand?”
    • Chapter 13, “A Roboticist is Confronted” (p. 346)
  • “Is that important?”
    “Everything is important till proven otherwise.”
    • Chapter 14, “A Motive is Revealed” (p. 356)
  • Genes aren’t everything. Environment counts too, and environment can bend into actual psychosis where genes indicate only a potentiality for a particular psychosis.
    • Chapter 16, “A Solution is Offered” (p. 373)
  • Without the interplay of human against human, the chief interest in life is gone; most of the intellectual values are gone; most of the reason for living is gone.
    • Chapter 18, “A Question is Answered” (p. 398)
  • Anything could be found in figures if the search were long enough and hard enough and if the proper pieces of information were ignored or overlooked.
    • Chapter 18, “A Question is Answered” (p. 399)
  • Victories over ingrained patterns of thought are not won in a day or a year.
    • Chapter 18, “A Question is Answered” (p. 402)
  • Goodbye, friend Elijiah, and remember that, although people apply the phrase to Aurora, it is, from this point on, Earth itself that is the true World of the Dawn.
    • Chapter 19 "Again Baley", part 5 (p. 423), R. Giskard Reventlov
  • The work of each individual contributes to a totality and so becomes an undying part of the totality. That totality of human lives - past and present and to come - forms a tapestry that has been in existence now for many thousands of years and has been growing more elaborate and, on the whole, more beautiful in all that time. Even the Spacers are an offshoot of the tapestry and they, too, add to the elaborateness and beauty of the pattern. An individual life is one thread in the tapestry and what is one thread compared to the whole?
    • Chapter 10 "After the Speech", part 1 (p. 213), Elijiah Baley to R. Daneel Olivaw, the roots of the Zeroth Law
  • Daneel rose. He was alone - and with a Galaxy to care for.
    • Chapter 19 "Alone" part 1 (p. 436)

Empire novels (1950–1952)

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All page numbers from the 1964 Bantam Pathfinder mass market paperback edition, 6th printing
  • The same man who could not find it in his conscience to curb his curiosity into the nuclear studies that might someday kill half of Earth would risk his life to save that of an unimportant fellow man.
    • Chapter 1 "Between One Footsep and the Next" (p. 6)
  • To the rest of the Galaxy, if they are aware of us at all, Earth is but a pebble in the sky. To us it is home, and all the home we know.
    • Chapter 4 “The Royal Road” (p. 33)
  • It is because you yourself fear the propaganda created, after all, only by the stupidity of your own bigots.
    • Chapter 4 “The Royal Road” (p. 33)
  • There can never be a man so lost as one who is lost in the vast and intricate corrdiors of his own lonely mind, where none may reach and none may save. There never was a man so helpless as one who cannot remember.
    • Chapter 5 "The Involuntary Volunteer" (p. 57)
  • There was no denying that he would always be conscious of the fact that an Earthman was an Earthman. He couldn’t help that. That was the result of a childhood immersed in an atmosphere of bigotry so complete that it was almost invisible, so entire that you accepted its axioms as second nature. Then you left it and saw it for what it was when you looked back.
    • Chapter 7 “Conversation with Madmen?” (p. 58)
  • That is the most stupid thing yet. I tell you that I could despair of human intelligence when I see what can exist in men’s minds.
    • Chapter 15 “The Odds That Vanished” (p. 136)
All page numbers from the June 1972 Fawcett Crest mass market paperback edition (Catalogue number Q2780)
  • The stars, like dust, encircle me
    In living mists of light;
    And all of space I seem to see
    In one vast burst of sight.
    • Chapter 3 “Chance and the Wrist Watch” (p. 30)
  • Nonsense. You are a military man and should know better. If there is one science into which man has probed continuously and successfully, it is that of military technology. No potential weapon would remain unrealized for ten thousand years.
    • Chapter 4 “Free?” (p. 33)
  • “That’s an amusing thought, if you’ll consider it.”
    “Do you find everything amusing?”
    “Why not? As an attitude toward life, it’s an amusing one. It’s the only adjective that will fit. Observe the universe, young man. If you can’t force amusement out of it, you might as well cut your throat, since there’s damn little good in it.”
    • Chapter 6 “That Wears a Crown” (p. 51)
  • The Autarch maintained his indifferent calm, but a certain lack of certainty was gathering, and he did not like to experience a lack of certainty. He liked nothing which made him aware of limitations. An Autarch should have no limitations, and on Lingane he had none that natural law did not impose.
    • Chapter 12 “The Autarch Comes” (p. 104)
  • Gillbret said, “Statistics show that one out of three stars has a planetary system.”
    Biron nodded. It was a well-worn statistic. Every child was taught that in elementary Galactography.
    • Chapter 17 “And Hares!” (p. 142)
  • I see your vile implication. My only explanation for it is that you are criminally insane.
    • Chapter 18 “Out of the Jaws of Defeat!” (p. 156)
  • “At least try to see my motives. Granted that I was foolish—criminally foolish—can’t you understand? Can’t you try not to hate me?”
    She said softly, “I have tried not to love you and, as you see, I have failed.”
    • Chapter 19 “Defeat!” (p. 163)
  • Well, it was healthy to miss once in a while. It kept self-confidence balanced at a point safely short of arrogance.
    • Chapter 20 “Where?” (p. 166)
All page numbers from the Fawcett Crest mass market paperback edition (Catalogue number T1541)
  • How then to enforce peace? Not by reason, certainly, nor by education. If a man could not look at the fact of peace and the fact of war and choose the former in preference to the latter, what additional argument could persuade him? What could be more eloquent as a condemnation of war than war itself? What tremendous feat of dialectic could carry with it a tenth the power of a single gutted ship with its ghastly cargo?
    • Chapter 6 “The Ambassador” (p. 61)
  • An unpleasant nest of nasty, materialistic and aggressive people, careless of the rights of others, imperfectly democratic at home though quick to see the minor slaveries of others, and greedy without end.
    • Chapter 6 “The Ambassador” (p. 62)
  • Trantor could win even such a war, but perhaps not without paying a price that would make victory only a pleasanter name for defeat.
    • Chapter 6 “The Ambassador” (pp. 62-63)
  • First, there must be an end to war and national rivalry and only then could one turn to the internal miseries that, after all, had external conflict as their chief cause.
    • Chapter 6 “The Ambassador” (p. 63)
  • Truth is a discredited commodity among diplomats.
    • Chapter 6 “The Ambassador” (p. 64)
  • No one is so modest as not to believe himself a competent amateur sleuth.
    • Chapter 11 “The Captain” (p. 114)
  • “You make interstellar politics sound a very dirty game.”
    “It is, but disapproving of dirt doesn’t remove it.”
    • Chapter 14 “The Renegade” (p. 141)
  • “Then why did you run? A man who runs needs no other accusation.”
    “Is that so? Really?” cried Steen. “Well, I would run out of a burning building even if I had not set the fire myself.”
    • Chapter 16 “The Accused” (p. 163)
  • Junz found revulsion growing strong within him. A planet full of people meant nothing against the dictates of economic necessity!
    • Chapter 18 “The Victors” (p. 184)
  • Economics is on the side of humanity now.
    • Chapter 18 “The Victors” (p. 185)
The earliest eight Foundation short stories were published between May 1942 and January 1950, but these began to be reworked into the novels of the overall series in 1951.
 
Violence … is the last refuge of the incompetent.
Four of the stories in this work were originally published with different titles in Astounding Magazine between 1942 and 1944, and the fifth was added when they first appeared in book form in 1951.
 
An atom-blaster is a good weapon, but it can point both ways.
 
It's a poor blaster that doesn't point both ways.
  • Q. You do not consider your statement a disloyal one?
    A. No, sir. Scientific truth is beyond loyalty and disloyalty.
    Q. You are sure that your statement represents scientific truth?
    A. I am.
    • Part I, The Psychohistorians, section 6
  • The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity — a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.
    • Part I, The Psychohistorians, section 6
  • “That insufferable, dull-witted donkey! That—”
    Hardin broke in: “Not at all. He’s merely the product of his environment. He doesn’t understand much except that ‘I got a gun and you ain’t.’
    • Part II, The Encyclopedists, section 2 (originally published as “Foundation” in Astounding (May 1942)
  • "It seems an uncommonly woundabout and hopelessly wigmawolish method of getting anywheahs."
    • Part II, The Encyclopedists, section 4
  • “Such unsubtle escapism! Really, Dr. Fara, such folly smacks of genius. A lesser mind would be incapable of it."
    • Part II, The Encyclopedists, section 5
  • Violence,” came the retort, “is the last refuge of the incompetent.”
    • Part II, The Encyclopedists, section 5; This also 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" and from the words of Lady Anne Bellamy in H. Rider Haggard's Dawn, “I do not believe in violence; it is the last resource of fools.” Asimov is usually quoted simply with "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."
  • "First, you refused to admit that there was a menace at all! Then you reposed an absolutely blind faith in the Emperor! Now you've shifted it to Hari Seldon. Throughout you have invariably relied on authority or on the past – never on yourselves. It amounts to a diseased attitude – a conditioned reflex that shunts aside the independence of your minds whenever it is a question of opposing authority. There seems no doubt ever in your minds that the Emperor is more powerful than you are, or Hari Seldon wiser. And that's wrong, don't you see? It isn't just you. It's the whole Galaxy. Pirenne heard Lord Dorwin's idea of scientific research. Lord Dorwin thought the way to be a good archaeologist was to read all the books on the subject – written by men who were dead for centuries. He thought that the way to solve archaeological puzzles was to weigh the opposing authorities. And Pirenne listened and made no objections. Don't you see that there's something wrong with that? And you men and half of Terminus as well are just as bad. We sit here,considering the Encyclopedia the all-in-all. We consider the greatest end of science is the classification of past data. It is important, but is there no further work to be done? We're receding and forgetting, don't you see? Here in the Periphery they've lost nuclear power. In Gamma Andromeda, a power plant has undergone meltdown because of poor repairs, and the Chancellor of the Empire complains that nuclear technicians are scarce. And the solution? To train new ones? Never! Instead they're to restrict nuclear power. Don't you see? It's Galaxy wide. It's a worship of the past. It's a deterioration – a stagnation!"
    • Part II, The Encyclopedists, section 5
  • Well, then, arrest him. You can accuse him of something or other afterward.
    • Part III, The Mayors, section 1; originally published as “Bridle and Saddle” in Astounding (June 1942)
  • “That was the time to begin all-out preparations for war.”
    “On the contrary. That was the time to begin all-out prevention of war.”
    • Part III, The Mayors, section 1
  • It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety.
    • Part III, The Mayors, section 2
  • Courtiers don't take wagers against the king's skill. There is the deadly danger of winning.
    • Part III, The Mayors, section 3
  • He believes in that mummery a good deal less than I do, and I don't believe in it at all.
    • Part III, The Mayors, section 3
  • 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.
    • Part III, The Mayors, section 7
  • A fire eater must eat fire even if he has to kindle it himself.
    • Part III, The Mayors, section 9
  • Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.
    • Part IV, The Traders, section 1; originally published as “The Wedge” in Astounding (October 1944)
  • “Ponyets! They sent you?”
    “Pure chance,” said Ponyets, bitterly, “or the work of my own personal malevolent demon.”
    • Part IV, The Traders, section 3
  • 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.
    • Part IV, The Traders, section 3
  • The whole business is the crudest sort of stratagem, since we have no way of foreseeing it to the end. It is a mere paying out of rope on the chance that somewhere along the length of it will be a noose.
    • Part V, The Merchant Princes, section 2; originally published as “The Big and the Little” in Astounding (August 1944)
  • He is energetic only in evading responsibility.
    • Part V, The Merchant Princes, section 2
  • To succeed, planning alone is insufficient. One must improvise as well.
    • Part V, The Merchant Princes, section 3
  • 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.
    • Part V, The Merchant Princes, section 4
  • 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.
    • Part V, The Merchant Princes, section 13
  • An atom blaster is a good weapon, but it can point both ways.
    • Part V, The Merchant Princes, section 13
  • It's a poor atom blaster that won't point both ways.
    • Part V, The Merchant Princes, section 18
 
Inertia! Our ruling class knows one law; no change. Despotism! They know one rule; force. Maldistribution! They know one desire; to hold what is theirs.
  • He is a dreamer of ancient times, or rather, of the myths of what ancient times used to be. Such men are harmless in themselves, but their queer lack of realism makes them fools for others.
    • Chapter 4 “The Emperor; in part I, “The General” originally published as “Dead Hand” in Astounding (April 1945)
  • You are a valuable subject, Brodrig. You always suspect far more than is necessary, and I have but to take half your suggested precautions to be utterly safe.
    • Chapter 4 “The Emperor”
  • Inertia! Our ruling class knows one law; no change. Despotism! They know one rule; force. Maldistribution! They know one desire; to hold what is theirs.
    • Chapter 11 “Bride and Groom”; in part II, “The Mule” originally published under the same title in Astounding (November-December 1945)
  • To him, a stilted geometric love of arrangement was “system,” an indefatigable and feverish interest in the pettiest facets of day-to-day bureaucracy was “industry,” indecision when right was “caution,” and blind stubbornness when wrong, “determination.”
    • Chapter 12 “Captain and Mayor”
  • It is the invariable lesson to humanity that distance in time, and in space as well, lends focus. It is not recorded, incidentally, that the lesson has ever been permanently learned.
    • Chapter 13 “Lieutenant and Clown”
  • “Were I to use the wits the good Spirits gave me,” he said, “then I would say this lady can not exist — for what sane man would hold a dream to be reality. Yet rather would I not be sane and lend belief to charmed, enchanted eyes.”
    • Chapter 13 “Lieutenant and Clown”
  • When the twenty-seven independent Trading Worlds, united only by their distrust of mother planet of the Foundation, concert an assembly among themselves, and each is big with a pride grown of its smallness, hardened by its own insularity and embittered by eternal danger — there are preliminary negotiations to be overcome of a pettiness sufficiently staggering to heart-sicken the most persevering.”
    • Chapter 16 “Conference”
  • It is well-known that the friend of a conqueror is but the last victim.
    • Chapter 22 “Death on Neotrantor”
  • Secrecy as deep as this is past possibility without nonexistence as well.
    • Chapter 1 “Two Men and the Mule”; in part I, “Search by the Mule” originally published as “Now You See It—” in Astounding (January 1948)
  • He never created a finished product. Finished products are for decadent minds.
    • Chapter 6 "One Man, the Mule - And Another"
  • Your emotions are, of course, only the children of your background and are not to be condemned - merely changed.
    • Chapter 6 "One Man, the Mule - And Another", the First Speaker to the Mule
  • Every human being lived behind an impenetrable wall of choking mist within which no other but he existed. Occasionally there were the dim signals from deep within the cavern in which another man was located — so that each might grope toward the other. Yet because they did not know one another, and could not understand one another, and dared not trust one another, and felt from infancy the terrors and insecurity of that ultimate isolation — there was the hunted fear of man for man, the savage rapacity of man toward man.
    • Chapter 8 “Seldon’s Plan”; in part II, “Search by the Foundation” originally published as “—And Now You Don’t” in Astounding (November and December 1949 and January 1950)
  • The most hopelessly stupid man is he who is not aware that he is wise.
    • Chapter 8 “Seldon’s Plan”
  • One should cultivate an innocence, an awareness of self, and an unselfconsciousness of self which leaves one nothing to hide.
    • Chapter 8 "Seldon's Plan"
  • The house was somehow very lonely at night and Dr. Darell found that the fate of the Galaxy made remarkably little difference while his daughter's mad little life was in danger.
    • Chapter 11 “Stowaway”
  • Remarkable what a fragile flower romance is. A gun with a nervous operator behind it can spoil the whole thing.
    • Chapter 11 “Stowaway”
  • No matter how the conomy and sociology of the neighbouring sectors of the Galaxy changes, there was always an elite; and it is always the characteristic of an elite that it possesses leisure as the great reward of its elite-hood.
    • Chapter 12 "Lord"
  • The spell of power never quite releases its hold.
    • Chapter 12 “Lord”
  • To us, all life is a series of accidents to be met with improvisations. To them, all life is purposive and should be met with precalculation.
    • Chapter 16 "Beginning of War"
 
Once you get it into your head that somebody is controlling events, you can interpret everything in that light and find no reasonable certainty anywhere.
All page numbers from the mass market edition published by Del Rey (17th printing, March 1989)
  • At odd and unpredictable times, we cling in fright to the past.
    • Chapter 1 “Councilman” section 1, p. 4
  • It seems to me, Golan, that the advance of civilization is nothing but an exercise in the limiting of privacy.
    • Chapter 6 “Earth” section 1, p. 100
  • If there is a misuse of power, it is on her part. My crime is that I have never labored to make myself popular — I admit that much — and I have paid too little attention to fools who are old enough to be senile but young enough to have power.
    • Chapter 8 “Farmwoman” section 5, p. 154
  • Pelorat sighed. “I will never understand people.”
    “There’s nothing to it. All you have to do is take a close look at yourself and you will understand everyone else. We’re in no way different ourselves... You show me someone who can’t understand people and I’ll show you someone who has built up a false image of himself.
    • Chapter 11 “Sayshell” section 3, p. 205
  • Once you get it into your head that somebody is controlling events, you can interpret everything in that light and find no reasonable certainty anywhere.
    • Chapter 12 “Agent” section 4, p. 226
  • “Is not all this an extraordinary concatenation of coincidence?”
    Pelorat said, “If you list it like that—”
    “List it any way you please,” said Trevize. “I don’t believe in extraordinary concatenations of coincidence.”
    • Chapter 14 “Forward!” section 1, p. 281
  • It's one thing to have guts; it's another to be crazy.
    • Chapter 15 “Gaia-S” section 2, p. 302
  • Stories grow by accretion. Tales accumulate — like dust. The longer the time lapse, the dustier the history — until it degenerates into fables.”
    Pelorat said, “We historians are familiar with the process, Dom. There is a certain preference for the fable. The falsely dramatic drives out the truly dull.”
    • Chapter 17 “Gaia” section 5, p. 361
  • Societies create their own history and tend to wipe out lowly beginnings, either by forgetting them or inventing totally fictitious heroic rescues.
    • Chapter 17 “Gaia” section 5, p. 363
  • It was easy to cover up ignorance by the mystical word “intuition.”
    • Chapter 18 “Collision” section 4, p. 377
  • It is better to go to defeat with free will than to live in a meaningless security as a cog in a machine.
    • Chapter 19 “Decision” section 7, p. 404
  • We abandoned the appearance of power to preserve the essence of it.
    • Chapter 20 “Conclusion” section 1, p. 408
  • If you were to insist I was a robot, you might not consider me capable of love in some mystic human sense, but you would not be able to distinguish my reactions from that which you would call love — so what difference would it make?
    • Chapter 20 “Conclusion” section 4, p. 420
  • Old memories - really old - are almost all in the mountain roots where it takes time to dig them out.
    • Part 1 "Gaia", Chapter 1 "The Search Begins" section 4, p. 19
  • Now the plan was threatend by something more serious than the Mule had ever been. It was to be diverted from a renewal of Empire to something utterly different from anything in history - Galaxia. And he himself had agreed to that. But why? Was there a flaw in the plan? a basic flaw? For one flashing moment, it seemed to Trevize that this flaw did indeed exist and that he knew what it was, that he had known what it was when he made his decision - but the knowledge...if that were what it was...vanished as fast as it came, and left him with nothing.
    • Part 2 "Comporellon", Chapter 3 "At the Entry Station" section 3, p. 59
  • The robot has wanted Fallom all along, Janov.
    • Part 7 "Earth" Chapter 21 "The Search Ends" section 2, p. 443
  • I have always dealt with economic forces, rather than philosophic forces, but you can't split history into neat little non-overlapping divisions. For instance, religions tend to accumulate wealth when successful and that eventually tends to distort the economic development of a society.
  • Seldon found himself raging at the passage of time.
    • Part 1 "Eto Demerzel", Chapter 5
  • For ten years the Galactic Empire had been without an Emperor, but there was no indication of that fact in the way the Imperial Palace grounds were operated. Millennia of custom made the absence of an Emperor meaningless.
    • Part 3 "Dors Venabili", Chapter 12
  • Riots! What do I care about riots now? - What do I care about anything now?
  • This - this - was my life's work. My past - humanity's future. Foundation. So beatiful. So alive. And nothing can...Dors!
  • Confidence is rewarded, apparently. There was a homewhen proverb that went, "Grip the nettle firmly and it will become a stick with which to beat your enemy."
 
Step by step, it must be done.
And AC said, “LET THERE BE LIGHT!”
And there was light —
"The Last Question", first published in Science Fiction Quarterly (November 1956) · Full text online at the Internet Archive
  • "The Last Question" is my personal favorite, the one story I made sure would not be omitted from this collection. Why is it my favorite? For one thing I got the idea all at once and didn't have to fiddle with it; and I wrote it in white-heat and scarcely had to change a word. This sort of thing endears any story to any writer.
    Then, too, it has had the strangest effect on my readers. Frequently someone writes to ask me if I can give them the name of a story, which they think I may have written, and tell them where to find it. They don't remember the title but when they describe the story it is invariably "The Last Question". This has reached the point where I recently received a long-distance phone call from a desperate man who began, "Dr. Asimov, there's a story I think you wrote, whose title I can't remember—" at which point I interrupted to tell him it was "The Last Question" and when I described the plot it proved to be indeed the story he was after. I left him convinced I could read minds at a distance of a thousand miles.
    No other story I have written has anything like this effect on my readers — producing at once an unshakeable memory of the plot and an unshakeable forgettery of the title and even author. I think it may be that the story fills them so frighteningly full, that they can retain none of the side-issues.
    • "Introduction" to The Best of Isaac Asimov (1973)
 
I suppose I can argue myself into believing that I have no great cause to love humanity. However, only a few people have hurt me, and if I hurt everyone in return that is unconscionable usury.
  • "Don't finish, Pete. I've heard it all before. All I have to do is decipher the thinking of a non-human intelligence."
    "A better-than-human intelligence. Those creatures from the para-Universe are trying to make themselves understood."
    "That may be," sighed Bronowski, "but they're trying to do it through my intelligence, which is better than human I sometimes think, but not much. Sometimes, in the dark of the night, I lie awake and wonder if different intelligences can communicate at all; or, if I've had a particularly bad day, whether the phrase 'different intelligences' has meaning at all."
    "It does," said Lamont savagely, his hands clearly bailing into fists within his lab coat pockets. "It means Hallam and me. It means that fool-hero, Dr. Frederick Hallam and me. We're different intelligences because when I talk to him he doesn't understand. His idiot face gets redder and his eyes bulge and his ears block. I'd say his mind stops functioning, but lack the proof of any other state from which it might stop."
    • Section 1 “Against stupidity...”, Chapter 6, p. 12
  • “It is a mistake,” he said, “to suppose that the public wants the environment protected or their lives saved and that they will be grateful to any idealist who will fight for such ends. What the public wants is their own individual comfort. We know that well enough from our experience in the environmental crisis of the twentieth century.”
    • Section 1, Chapter 7, p. 56; the book is set in the year 2100.
  • He sat in his chair, fingers aimlessly drumming, drumming. Somewhere in the Sun, protons were clinging together with just a trifling additional avidity and with each moment that avidity grew and at some moment the delicate balance would break down . . . "And no one on Earth will live to know I was right," cried out Lamont, and blinked and blinked to keep back the tears.
    • Section 1 "Against stupidity...", Chapter 10 (final line of Section 1)
  • Tritt listened placidly, clearly understanding nothing, but content to be listening; while Odeen, transmitting nothing, was as clearly content to be lecturing.
    • Section 2 “...the gods themselves...”, Chapter 1b, p. 82
  • I don't like anything that's got to be. I want to know why.
    • Section 2, Chapter 2a, p. 93
  • I know nothing of that directly; I only know what I have been told by other young ones who couldn't have known directly either. I want to find out the truth about them and the wanting has grown until there is more of curiosity in me than fear.
    • Section 2, Chapter 2b, p. 104
  • I fear my ignorance.
    • Section 3 “...contend in vain?”, Chapter 3 (p. 187)
  • The easiest way to solve a problem is to deny it exists.
    • Section 3, Chapter 10, p. 236
  • You know that prudery is only the other side of prurience. The words are even on the same page in the dictionary.
    • Section 3, Chapter 12, p. 244
  • I've lived most of my life already and I suppose I can argue myself into believing that I have no great cause to love humanity. However, only a few people have hurt me, and if I hurt everyone in return that is unconscionable usury.
    • Section 3, Chapter 12, p. 250
  • If an interaction is too weak to be detectable or to exert influence in any way, then by any operational definition, it doesn't exist.
    • Section 3, Chapter 12, p. 257
  • There are no happy endings in history, only crisis points that pass.
    • Section 3, Chapter 19, p. 287

An Interview with Isaac Asimov (1979)

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"An Interview with Isaac Asimov" by Phil Konstantin, Southwest Airlines Magazine, (1979)
  • Asimov: Well, I liked Star Wars. I thought Battlestar Galactica was such a close imitation of Star Wars, emphasizing the less attractive portions, that I was a little impatient with it.
  • Asimov: Battlestar Galactica for instance, started off with twenty to thirty minutes of space battles which looked exactly like air battles in World War I. You could swear that the space ships were surrounded by air the way the maneuvered. One felt it was unworthy.
SWA Magazine: The Vipers in Battlestar Galactica look like jets. Is this a realistic design for the future?
Asimov: It is as if people in the 1880s were writing fantasy stories about airplanes of the future and they had the pilots lean back at the wheel and yell "whoa" and the airplane came to a halt in mid-air.
  • SWA Magazine: Talking about spacecraft, what do you think about the shuttle program?
Asimov: Well, I hope it does get off the ground. And I hope they expand it, because the shuttle program is the gateway to everything else. By means of the shuttle, we will be able to build space stations and power stations, laboratory facilities and habitations, and everything else in space.
SWA Magazine: How about orbital space colonies? Do you see these facilities being built or is the government going to cut back on projects like this?
Asimov: Well, now you've put your finger right on it. In order to have all of these wonderful things in space, we don't have to wait for technology - we've got the technology, and we don't have to wait for the know-how - we've got that too. All we need is the political go-ahead and the economic willingness to spend the money that is necessary. It is a little frustrating to think that if people concentrate on how much it is going to cost they will realize the great amount of profit they will get for their investment. Although they are reluctant to spend a few billions of dollars to get back an infinite quantity of money, the world doesn't mind spending $400 billion every years on arms and armaments, never getting anything back from it except a chance to commit suicide.

Mother Earth News interview (1980)

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"Science, Technology and Space: The Isaac Asimov Interview" Pat Stone, Mother Earth News (October 1980)
  • Asimov: I don't know of any science fiction writer who really attempts to be a prophet. Such authors accomplish their tasks not by being correct in their predictions, necessarily, but merely by hammering home—in story after story—the notion that life is going to be different.
  • Asimov: Science fiction always bases its future visions on changes in the levels of science and technology. And the reason for that consistency is simply that—in reality—all other changes throughout history have been irrelevant and trivial. For example, what difference did it make to the people of the ancient world that Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire? Obviously, that event made some difference to a lot of individuals. But if you look at humanity in general, you'll see that life went on pretty much as it had before the conquest.
    On the other hand, consider the changes that were made in people's daily lives by the development of agriculture or the mariner's compass ... and by the invention of gunpowder or printing. Better yet, look at recent history and ask yourself, "What difference would it have made if Hitler had won World War II?" Of course, such a victory would have made a great difference to many people. It would have resulted in much horror, anguish, and pain. I myself would probably not have survived.
    But Hitler would have died eventually, and the effects of his victory would gradually have washed out and become insignificant—in terms of real change—when compared to such advances as the actual working out of nuclear power, the advent of television, or the invention of the jet plane.
  • Plowboy: You truly feel that all the major changes in history have been caused by science and technology?
Asimov: Those that have proved permanent—the ones that affected every facet of life and made certain that mankind could never go back again—were always brought about by science and technology. In fact, the same twin "movers" were even behind the other "solely" historical changes. Why, for instance, did Martin Luther succeed, whereas other important rebels against the medieval church—like John Huss—fail? Well, Luther was successful because printing had been developed by the time he advanced his cause. So his good earthy writings were put into pamphlets and spread so far and wide that the church officials couldn't have stopped the Protestant Reformation even if they had burned Luther at the stake.
Plowboy: Today the world is changing faster than it has at any other time in history. Do you then feel that science—and scientists—are especially important now?
Asimov: I do think so, and as a result it's my opinion that anyone who can possibly introduce science to the nonscientist should do so. After all, we don't want scientists to become a priesthood. We don't want society's technological thinkers to know something that nobody else knows—to "bring down the law from Mt. Sinai"—because such a situation would lead to public fear of science and scientists. And fear, as you know, can be dangerous.
Plowboy: But scientific knowledge is becoming so incredibly vast and specialized these days that it's difficult for any individual to keep up with it all.
Asimov: Well, I don't expect everybody to be a scientist or to understand every new development. After all, there are very few Americans who know enough about football to be a referee or to call the plays ... but many, many people understand the sport well enough to follow the game. It's not important that the average citizen understand science so completely that he or she could actually become involved in research, but it is very important that people be able to "follow the game" well enough to have some intelligent opinions on policy.
Every subject of worldwide importance—each question upon which the life and death of humanity depends—involves science, and people are not going to be able to exercise their democratic right to direct government policy in such areas if they don't understand what the decisions are all about.
  • Plowboy: In your opinion, what are mankind's prospects for the near future?
Asimov: To tell the truth, I don't think the odds are very good that we can solve our immediate problems. I think the chances that civilization will survive more than another 30 years—that it will still be flourishing in 2010—are less than 50 percent.
Plowboy: What sort of disaster do you foresee?
Asimov: I imagine that as population continues to increase—and as the available resources decrease—there will be less energy and food, so we'll all enter a stage of scrounging. The average person's only concerns will be where he or she can get the next meal, the next cigarette, the next means of transportation. In such a universal scramble, the Earth will be just plain desolated, because everyone will be striving merely to survive regardless of the cost to the environment. Put it this way: If I have to choose between saving myself and saving a tree, I'm going to choose me.
Terrorism will also become a way of life in a world marked by severe shortages. Finally, some government will be bound to decide that the only way to get what its people need is to destroy another nation and take its goods ... by pushing the nuclear button.
And this absolute chaos is going to develop—even if nobody wants nuclear war and even if everybody sincerely wants peace and social justice—if the number of mouths to feed continues to grow. Nothing will be able to stand up against the pressure of the whole of humankind simply trying to stay alive!

The Roving Mind (1983)

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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.
 
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 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.
  • 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."
    • p. 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

I. Asimov: A Memoir (1994)

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  • I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it.
    Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.
    • p. 29, ch. 8, Library
  • Happiness is doing it rotten your own way.
    • p. 277, ch. 90, Indexes
  • He always pictured himself a libertarian, which to my way of thinking means "I want the liberty to grow rich and you can have the liberty to starve". It's easy to believe that no one should depend on society for help when you yourself happen not to need such help.
  • 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.
    I would also want a God who would not allow a Hell. Infinite torture can only be a punishment for infinite evil, and I don't believe that infinite evil can be said to exist even in the case of Hitler. Besides, if most human governments are civilized enough to try to eliminate torture and outlaw cruel and unusual punishments, can we expect anything less of an all-merciful God?
    I feel that if there were an afterlife, punishment for evil would be reasonable and of a fixed term. And I feel that the longest and worst punishment should be reserved for those who slandered God by inventing Hell.
    • p. 338, ch. 108, Life After Death
  • The trouble is that I am one of that common breed of human being who finds it very easy to strew noble little homilies far and wide but considerably less easy to follow those homilies himself.
    • p. 410, ch. 130, Foreign Travel
  • When Israel was first founded in 1948 and all my Jewish friends were jubilant, I was the skeleton at the feast. I said, ‘“We are building ourselves a ghetto. We will be surrounded by tens of millions of Muslims who will never forgive, never forget, and never go away.” I was right [...]
    • p. 414, ch. 130, Foreign Travel
  • When an old person dies who has been a part of your life, it is part of your youth that dies.
    • p. 538, ch. 162, Gathering Shadows
  • We could have told you that our character paused to strap on his quonglishes before setting out on a walk of seven vorks along the main gleebish of his native znoob, and everything would have seemed ever so much more thoroughly alien. But it also would have been ever so much more difficult to make sense out of what we were saying, and that did not seem useful.
    • Foreword to Nightfall (1990 edition).

Quotes about Asimov

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Asimov was first a genius, second a prolific writer, and only thirdly a sci-fi writer. ~ Simson Garfinkel
 
Isaac was unusual, and his experience with writer's block was the worst 10 minutes of his life. ~ Jerry Pournelle
  • My history is really pretty scroungy. I'm certainly not like Asimov, who I've heard has an office full of charts.
  • A national wonder and a natural resource.
  • When I first met Asimov, I asked him if he was a professor at Boston University. He said no and ... asked me where I got my Ph.D. I said I didn't have one and he looked startled. "You mean you're in the same racket I am," he said, "you just read books by the professors and rewrite them?" That's really what I do.
    • Martin Gardner, as quoted in "Every Day" by Sally Helgeson, in Bookletter, Vol. 3, No. 8 (6 December 1976), p. 8
  • Although he spends many pages writing about his friends in the science-fiction community, the true value of Asimov's insight is his reflections on his life — and, in his mind, Asimov was first a genius, second a prolific writer, and only thirdly a sci-fi writer.
    Asimov tells the reader repeatedly that his life would have been easier if he had learned to submerge his ego and get along with others. "It really puzzles me as I look back on it that I didn't make a greater effort to placate the powers that be," he writes. Indeed, it was this inability to get along with others that forced Asimov out of academia and into the solitary life of a freelance writer.
  • I am honorary president of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great, spectacularly prolific writer and scientist, Dr. Isaac Asimov in that essentially functionless capacity. At an A.H.A. memorial service for my predecessor I said, "Isaac is up in Heaven now." That was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. It rolled them in the aisles. Mirth! Several minutes had to pass before something resembling solemnity could be restored.
  • I met Asimov once, when he visited my undergraduate university. They thought it would be fun to show him around the astronomy department, much to his bemusement (he was trained as a chemist). He used his advanced age as an excuse for shamelessly flirting with every attractive woman within leering distance. I wonder what he was like before his age was so advanced?
  • the most fruitful ways to approach the future for me are speculative fiction or utopian fiction. Isaac Asimov once said that all science fiction falls into three categories: What if, If only, and If this continues.
    • Marge Piercy "WHY SPECULATE ON THE FUTURE?" in My Life, My Body (2015)
  • He had writer's block once. It was the worst ten minutes of his life.
    • Attributed to Harlan Ellison, quoted in Page Fright : Foibles and Fetishes of Famous Writers (2009) by Harry Bruce
    • Variant: Most writers hate to write, and will grasp any excuse to do something else ... There are exceptions. Isaac Asimov actually was never happier than sitting at a keyboard — first, his old typewriter; then, the TRS-80; and later, a more conventional PC. But then, Isaac was unusual, and his experience with writer's block was the worst 10 minutes of his life.
      • Jerry Pournelle, in "Chaos Manor: Is there an Upgrade in your future?" in Dr. Dobb's Journal : Software Tools For The Professional Programmer (2005), Vol. 30, Issues 374-379, p. 9
  • Asimov was the sort of urbanophile who, if you dragged him out of New York to some backwater like Greensboro, NC, would probably crumble to dust to reform somewhere near Times Square.
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