Tag Archives: Arthur C. Clarke

Human: A Non-Linear Servo-Mechanism Weighing Only 150 Pounds that Can Be Produced Cheaply by Unskilled Labor

Arthur C. Clarke? Albert Scott Crossfield? George T. Hauty? S. Fred Singer?

spacewalk07Dear Quote Investigator: In the early days of the space-age researchers and administrators were considering replacing human pilots and astronauts with computers. The argument against this form of automation was presented with a single humorous sentence that emphasized the advantages of humans. Are you familiar with this quotation? Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: In May 1954 “The New York Times” published an article titled “Test Pilot Faces Robot Challenge” which reported on suggestions made by scientists within the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) alliance that test pilots should be replaced by machines. A set of pilots spoke in opposition to this proposal during a meeting of a NATO advisory group.

Albert Scott Crossfield was a prominent American test pilot who had achieved speed records while flying experimental aircraft. He delivered a compact comical summary of human uniqueness in the form of an interrogative. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1 2

“Where can you find another non-linear servo-mechanism weighing only 150 pounds and having great adaptability, that can be produced so cheaply by completely unskilled labor?” Mr. Crossfield” inquired.

The passage above was the earliest instance located by QI. Interestingly, it did not contain the word “computer”. Also, the words were spoken as a rebuttal to the idea of replacing aircraft pilots and not astronauts. Many variant expressions have evolved over time. QI believes that earlier instances may exist.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1954 May 6, New York Times, Test Pilot Faces Robot Challenge: U. S., British, French Fliers Reply in NATO Air Group to Machine Proposal by Thomas F. Brady, Quote Page 11, Column 1, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1954 May 6, Seattle Daily Times, Supersonic Pilots Resent Idea of Yielding to Robots (New York Times News Service), Quote Page 15, Column 5, Seattle, Washington. (GenealogyBank)

Who Are the People Most Opposed to Escapism? Jailors!

J. R. R. Tolkien? Arthur C. Clarke? C. S. Lewis? China Miéville? Michael Moorcock? Neil Gaiman

escape14Dear Quote Investigator: Today, the genres of science fiction and fantasy are ascendant in popular culture. But detractors have long complained that works in these domains are escapist, and critics have asserted that the literary values displayed are sharply circumscribed. The shrewdest riposte I have heard to these notions is:

Who are the people most opposed to escapism? Jailors!

Would you please explore the origin of this remark?

Quote Investigator: The exact concise formulation given above was written by the well-known science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, but he credited the fantasy writer C. S. Lewis who was best-known for creating the world of Narnia. Indeed, a similar remark was made by Lewis, but he credited the prominent fantasy author J. R. R. Tolkien who was best-known for crafting the legendarium of the Middle-earth.

In 1938 Tolkien delivered a lecture about works of fantasy to an audience at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He extended his talk to produce an essay titled “On Fairy-Stories” which was published by the Oxford University Press in 1947. The essay was reprinted in a 1965 collection called “Tree and Leaf”. Tolkien championed the value of literature deemed escapist: 1

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all.

Tolkien’s remarks were thematically related to the quotation, and he mentioned jailers, but there was no strongly matching statement within the essay. Boldface has been added to excerpts:

Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using Escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.

C. S. Lewis discussed “escape” in an essay titled “On Science Fiction” which appeared in a 1966 collection. Lewis argued that some adherents of vehement political beliefs were hostile to exercises of the imagination because they wished to “keep us wholly imprisoned in the immediate conflict”: 2

That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge of ‘escape’. I never fully understood it till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, ‘What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and most hostile to, the idea of escape?’ and gave the obvious answer: jailers. The charge of Fascism is, to be sure, mere mud-flinging. Fascists, as well as Communists, are jailers; both would assure us that the proper study of prisoners is prison. But there is perhaps this truth behind it: that those who brood much on the remote past or future, or stare long at the night sky, are less likely than others to be ardent or orthodox partisans.

So, Lewis ascribed a closely matching version of the saying to Tolkien, but the remark was not written; instead, Lewis heard it during a conversation.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1965 (Copyright 1964), Tree and Leaf by J. R. R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories, Start Page 3, Quote Page 60, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)
  2. 2002 (1966 Copyright), Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories by C. S. Lewis, Essay: On Science Fiction, Start Page 59, Quote Page 67, A Harvest Book: Harcourt Inc., New York. (Google Books Preview)

For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn

Ernest Hemingway? William R. Kane? Roy K. Moulton? Avery Hopwood? Arthur C. Clarke? Anonymous?

heminway02Dear Quote Investigator: Most people are familiar with short stories, but there is another class of works that might be called short-short stories. “Flash fiction” and “sudden fiction” are labels that are applied to this style of literature. One of the most famous examples is a tale of only six words in the format of a classified advertisement that according to legend was crafted by Ernest Hemingway as part of a bet:

For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn

The reader must cooperate in the construction of the larger narrative that is obliquely limned by these words implying miscarriage or sudden infant death. There is a popular alternative text based on another item linked with babies:

For Sale, Baby Carriage, Never Used

Did Hemingway write either of these succinct telegraphic tales?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Ernest Hemingway composed this six word story. He died in 1961. A literary agent named Peter Miller stated that he was told the anecdote about Hemingway and baby shoes by a “well-established newspaper syndicator” circa 1974. Miller published this claim in the 1991 book “Get Published! Get Produced!: A Literary Agent’s Tips on How to Sell Your Writing”: 1

Apparently, Ernest Hemingway was lunching at Luchow’s with a number of writers and claimed that he could write a short story that was only six words long. Of course, the other writers balked. Hemingway told each of them to put ten dollars in the middle of the table; if he was wrong, he said, he’d match it. If he was right, he would keep the entire pot. He quickly wrote six words down on a napkin and passed it around; Papa won the bet. The words were “FOR SALE, BABY SHOES, NEVER WORN.” A beginning, a middle and an end!

Advertisements closely matching the abbreviated text above did appear in classified sections over the decades. Here is an example published in 1906. Intriguingly, this section of short ads was labeled: Terse Tales of the Town: 2

For sale, baby carriage; never been used. Apply at this office.

In 1910 a newspaper article about a classified advertisement that was thematically similar and twelve words long was published:

Baby’s hand made trousseau and baby’s bed for sale. Never been used.

The article referred to the death of the child, and the sorrow of the parents. The unnamed journalist emphasized that within the easily overlooked quotidian advertisement was “woven a little story of the heart”. The details of this important precursor are presented further below.

In 1917 an essay by William R. Kane in a publication for literary workers discussed the composition of powerful short stories. The concise title “Little Shoes, Never Worn” was suggested for a story about “a wife who has lost her baby”. The details of this key precursor are also given further below.

In 1921 the newspaper columnist Roy K. Moulton described an ad with the words: “Baby carriage for sale, never used”. Moulton presented the reaction of his friend Jerry:

Wouldn’t that make a wonderful plot for the movies?

Details appear further below. During this ideational evolution the name Hemingway was never mentioned. QI did not find any sharp natural demarcations in this development, and hence there does not appear to be a single author for this tale.

Here are selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1991 Copyright, “Get Published! Get Produced!: A Literary Agent’s Tips on How to Sell Your Writing” by Peter Miller, Quote Page 27, Shapolsky Publishers, New York. (Google Books Preview)
  2. 1906 April 28, Ironwood News Record, Terse Tales of the Town, Quote Page 5, Column 1, Ironwood, Michigan. (NewspaperArchive)