Sometimes I Think We’re Alone, and Sometimes I Think We’re Not. In Either Case, the Idea Is Quite Staggering

Arthur C. Clarke? Stanley Kubrick? Jeremy Bernstein? Porky Pine? Walt Kelly? Frank Interlandi? Jerome Agel? Buckminster Fuller? David Shepley? Lee Alvin DuBridge? Anonymous?

Quote Investigator: Astronomers have been searching for evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence for more than a century. Is humankind alone in the universe, or is humankind sharing the cosmos with undiscovered alien civilizations?

A scientist or a science fiction (SF) writer once replied to this question by saying something like: Either answer is mindboggling. Would you please explore this topic?

Dear Quote Investigator: This notion has been expressed in many different ways. Here is a sampling in chronological order:

1966: Sometimes I think we’re alone, and sometimes I think we’re not. In either case, the idea is quite staggering.

1974: Sometimes I think we’re alone in the Universe, and sometimes I think we’re not. In either case, the prospect is very frightening.

1977: Either mankind is alone in the galaxy — or he is not; either alternative is mind-boggling.

1989: Sometimes I think we are alone in the universe and sometimes I think we aren’t; in both cases the idea makes me dizzy.

1990: Either we are alone in the universe, or we are not. Either way, the thought is frightening.

1996: Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.

2000: Either there is life out there or we are the only living things in the universe, and either alternative is equally astonishing.

The earliest close match located by QI appeared within an article by physicist Jeremy Bernstein about movie director Stanley Kubrick published in “The New Yorker” magazine in 1966. Kubrick was working together with British SF author Arthur C. Clarke who wrote a short story titled “The Sentinel”. The pair spent two years expanding the story into a novel and a script for the film “2001: A Space Odyssey” which included an interplanetary voyage to Jupiter. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Extraterrestrial life may seem an odd subject for a motion picture, but at this stage in his career Kubrick is convinced that any idea he is really interested in, however unlikely it may sound, can be transferred to film. “One of the English science-fiction writers once said, ‘Sometimes I think we’re alone, and sometimes I think we’re not. In either case, the idea is quite staggering,’” Kubrick once told me. “I must say I agree with him.”

Kubrick did not precisely identify the author of the quotation. Clarke was mentioned extensively in the article; however, QI believes that Kubrick and Bernstein would have credited Clarke if he had crafted the statement. Kubrick spoke to other British SF writers such as J. G. Ballard and Michael Moorcock during the long difficult parturition of “2001”. 2 Oddly, a couple years later in 1968 Kubrick tentatively attributed the remark to a “prominent astronomer”. See the citation further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Sometimes I Think We’re Alone, and Sometimes I Think We’re Not. In Either Case, the Idea Is Quite Staggering

Notes:

  1. 1966 November 12, The New Yorker, Profiles: How About a Little Game? by Jeremy Bernstein, (Profile of Stanley Kubrick), The New Yorker Magazine, Inc., New York. (Online New Yorker archive at newyorker.com; accessed October 10, 2020) link
  2. 2016 January 5, New Statesman, Books: “Close to tears, he left at the intermission”: how Stanley Kubrick upset Arthur C Clarke by Michael Moorcock, (Article posted on website on January 8, 2017), (Accessed newstatesman.com on October 21, 2020) link

I Never Liked the Men I Loved, and Never Loved the Men I Liked

Fanny Brice? Fannie Hurst? Norman Katkov? Ray Stark? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Falling in love with someone occurs because of unconstrained desires and emotions. The decision is not based on clearsighted logic and rationality. In retrospect, an infatuation might seem foolish or destructive. An unhappy humorist once commented on this behavior. Here are two versions:

  • I never liked the men I loved, and never loved the men I liked.
  • I never liked the man I loved, and never loved the man I liked.

These statements illustrate antimetabole, the elegant repetition of clauses containing transposed words. Would you please tell me who deserves credit for this saying?

Quote Investigator: Fanny Brice was a popular comedienne, singer, and actress who died in 1951. In 1953 journalist and scriptwriter Norman Katkov published a biography titled “The Fabulous Fanny”. Brice’s three marriages ended in divorce. Her second husband was a gambler who served time in prison. The following excerpt presented her thoughts on love. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“When you’re young,” she continued, “you make pictures in your head, you have ideas. You pick the type guy you want. But if I went to a party, and there was one no-good bastard in the room, I’d go for him right away. It’s so funny: for my friends I must have admiration and I must respect them. In fact, I never liked the men I loved, and never loved the men I liked.”

The book was based on many hours of recordings made by Brice in 1951 for a future memoir. This plan was derailed by the comedienne’s death in 1953, and Katkov was commissioned to create an authorized biography. 2 The accuracy of this quotation depends on the veracity of Katkov. Several later instances of this quotation can be traced back to this book.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Never Liked the Men I Loved, and Never Loved the Men I Liked

Notes:

  1. 1953, The Fabulous Fanny: The Story of Fanny Brice by Norman Katkov, Chapter 7: Nick Arnstein, Quote Page 89, Alfred A. Knopf, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1968 September 15, The New York Times, ‘Come On, Let’s Stop a Minute To See Snooks’ by Ray Stark, Quote Page D15, New York. (ProQuest)

There Is a Hopeful Symbolism in the Fact That Flags Will Not Wave in a Vacuum

Arthur C. Clarke? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A famous science fiction (SF) author was fearful that nationalistic and jingoistic impulses were driving conflict on Earth and endangering the future of humankind. The author hoped that space exploration would redirect and lessen those passions.

A flag flapping in the breeze is a traditional signifier of allegiance, but there are no gusts of wind in outer space. Also, there is no atmosphere on the moon. The SF author said something like:

There is hopeful symbolism in the fact that flags do not wave in a vacuum.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In July 1969 emissaries from Earth were poised to land on the moon for the first time. To mark the occasion the editors of “Time” magazine requested an essay from SF author Arthur C. Clarke who described his dreams and predictions. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

There is always the fear, of course, that men will carry the curse of their animosities into space. But it is more likely that in the long run, those who go out to the stars will leave behind the barriers of nation and race that divide them now. There is a hopeful symbolism in the fact that flags will not wave in a vacuum; our present tribal conflicts cannot be sustained in the hostile environment of space.

The NASA picture above shows Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin together with the U.S. flag at Tranquility Base. A metal rod sewn inside the top edge of the flag prevented it from drooping. Perhaps Clarke underestimated the desire to retain symbols.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Is a Hopeful Symbolism in the Fact That Flags Will Not Wave in a Vacuum

Notes:

  1. 1969 July 18, Time, To the Moon: Special Supplement, Beyond the Moon: No End by Arthur C. Clarke, Start Page 31, Quote Page 31, Column 3, Time Inc., New York. (Verified with scans)

“When Was the Golden Age of Science Fiction?” “Twelve”

Peter Graham? Terry Carr? Avram Davidson? Barry N. Malzberg? Baird Searles? L. Sprague de Camp? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and H. G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” were milestones in the genesis and evolution of the science fiction (SF) genre. This imaginative category of literature built upon technological and other-worldly speculation makes a strong impression on young readers and viewers.

Adherents of the genre debate whether a Golden Age of creativity and exploration occurred during the 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s, or 1960’s. A fan who was asked to name the years of the magnificent era responded by cleverly reinterpreting the query and presenting the age of a child experiencing SF with fresh directness:

The Golden Age of science fiction is twelve.

Variant statements use the age thirteen or fourteen. Would you please explore the origin of this saying?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence located by QI appeared in editor Terry Carr’s introduction to the anthology “Universe 3”. The introduction was dated June 9, 1972, and the book was released in 1973: Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Years ago a friend of mine, Pete Graham, tersely answered the question “When was the golden age of science fiction?” by saying, “Twelve.” He didn’t have to explain further; we knew what he meant.

Carr’s comment suggested that the remark was in circulation before 1972. Shown further below is a February 1978 citation in which Carr stated that Graham made the remark circa 1960. In addition, further below is an August 1997 citation from fan Gary Farber containing the unverified claim that the saying appeared in the fanzine “VOID” circa 1957. A co-editor of the fanzine presented a dissenting viewpoint in 2020.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading “When Was the Golden Age of Science Fiction?” “Twelve”

Notes:

  1. 1973, Universe 3, Edited by Terry Carr, Section: Introduction by Terry Carr, Date of Introduction: June 9, 1972, Start Page vii, Quote Page viii, Random House, New York. (Verified with scans)

How Do You Know That the Earth Isn’t Some Other Planet’s Hell?

Aldous Huxley? George Bernard Shaw? Voltaire? Andy Capp? Reg Smythe? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A dejected literary figure apparently experienced an alarming eschatological revelation:

Maybe this world is another planet’s Hell.

This notion has been credited to English writer Aldous Huxley who penned the classic dystopian novel “Brave New World”. Credit has also been given to playwright George Bernard Shaw. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: In 1928 Aldous Huxley published the novel “Point Counter Point”. Huxley’s disillusioned intellectual character Maurice Spandrell delivered a line about hell while conversing with a barmaid. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

‘But why should two people be unhappy?’ persisted the barmaid. ‘When it isn’t necessary?’

‘Why shouldn’t they be unhappy?’ Spandrell enquired. ‘Perhaps it’s what they’re here for. How do you know that the earth isn’t some other planet’s hell?’

A positivist, the barmaid laughed. ‘What rot!’

The phrasing above differed from the most common modern version of the quotation, but QI believes that this 1928 citation is the origin of the Huxley attribution.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading How Do You Know That the Earth Isn’t Some Other Planet’s Hell?

Notes:

  1. 1954 (Copyright 1928), Point Counter Point: A Novel by Aldous Huxley, Chapter XVII, Quote Page 306 and 307, Chatto & Windus, London. (Verified with scans)

They Will Never Agree. They Argue from Different Premises

Sydney Smith? Punch? Evan Esar? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A disagreement between two people is sometimes caused by a difference in underlying assumptions. Two individuals arguing from different premises are likely to reach different conclusions.

This notion can be comically transformed via a pun on the word “premises” which can mean “assumptions” or “residences”. The famous English wit Sydney Smith has received credit for crafting this type of joke, but skepticism is justified because he is a quotation magnet. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the London humor magazine “Punch” in September 1841. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

When a person holds an argument with his neighbour on the opposite side of the street, why is there no chance of their agreeing?–Because they argue from different premises.

No attribution was specified; hence, QI conjectures that the joke was crafted by one of the “Punch” editors or a contributor:

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They Will Never Agree. They Argue from Different Premises

Notes:

  1. 1841 September 25, Punch, Or The London Charivari, Volume 1, (Untitled short item), Quote Page 123, Column 1, Published at The Punch Office, London. (Google Books Full View) link

The Trouble Ain’t That There Is Too Many Fools, But That the Lightning Ain’t Distributed Right

Mark Twain? Merle Johnson? Caroline Thomas Harnsberger? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Mark Twain once spoke about the number of fools in the world. He did not believe that there were too many fools, but he did suggest that lightning strikes were not ideally distributed. Would you please help me to find a citation for this quip which presents the precise phrasing employed by Twain?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in a slim volume titled “More Maxims of Mark” containing quotations ascribed to Twain which was privately printed as a limited edition of fifty copies in November 1927 by Merle Johnson who was a rare book collector. Johnson published the first careful bibliography of Twain’s works in 1910 shortly after the writer’s death. Twain scholars believe that the sayings compiled by Johnson in this book are genuine.

The Rubenstein Rare Book Library at Duke University holds copy 14 of 50, and a friend of QI’s was able to access it. The adage appears on page 13. Below is the saying together with the two preceding items. All the maxims in the work were presented in uppercase. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

TO BE GOOD IS NOBLE, BUT TO SHOW OTHERS HOW TO BE GOOD IS NOBLER, AND NO TROUBLE.

THE TIME TO BEGIN WRITING AN ARTICLE IS WHEN YOU HAVE FINISHED IT TO YOUR SATISFACTION.

THE TROUBLE AIN’T THAT THERE IS TOO MANY FOOLS, BUT THAT THE LIGHTNING AIN’T DISTRIBUTED RIGHT.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Trouble Ain’t That There Is Too Many Fools, But That the Lightning Ain’t Distributed Right

Notes:

  1. 1927, More Maxims of Mark by Mark Twain, Compiled by Merle Johnson, Quote Page 13, First edition privately printed November 1927; Number 14 of 50 copies. (Verified via image; thanks to the Rubenstein Library at Duke University; special thanks to Mike)

I Don’t Work on Preventing AI from Turning Evil for the Same Reason That I Don’t Work on the Problem of Overpopulation on the Planet Mars

Andrew Ng? Nick Bostrom? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A top artificial intelligence (AI) researcher was asked whether he feared the possibility of malevolent superintelligent robots wreaking havoc in the near future, and he answered “No”.

He illustrated his answer with the following analogy. Worrying about human overpopulation on Mars is fruitless. It is a distant and speculative possibility. Also, currently there are no constructive actions to perform to prevent it. Worrying about the danger of futuristic evil killer robots is similarly pointless.

Do you know the name of the AI researcher? Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In March 2015 a conference focused on GPU (graphics processing unit) technology was held in San Jose, California. The keynote was delivered by computer scientist Andrew Ng who was the former Director of the Stanford University AI Lab and the co-founder of the Google Brain project. Ng contended that discussion of “evil killer robots” was an “unnecessary distraction”. The following excerpt has been transcribed from a YouTube video of the address: 1

I don’t see a realistic path for our AI, for our neural networks, to become sentient and turn evil. I think we’re building more and more intelligent software. That’s a great thing. . . . But there’s a big difference between intelligence and sentience, and I think our machines are getting more and more intelligent. I don’t see them getting sentient.

Ng downplayed the danger of autonomous malevolent AI systems by employing an analogy referring to the futuristic possibility of overpopulation on Mars. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:

I don’t work on preventing AI from turning evil today, for the same reason, because I don’t think we can productively make progress on that. So I don’t work on preventing AI from turning evil for the same reason that I don’t work on the problem of overpopulation on the planet Mars.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading I Don’t Work on Preventing AI from Turning Evil for the Same Reason That I Don’t Work on the Problem of Overpopulation on the Planet Mars

Notes:

  1. YouTube video, Title: GPU Technology Conference 2015 day 3: What’s Next in Deep Learning, Uploaded on November 20, 2015, Uploaded by: Tech Events, (Quotation starts at 63:16 of 67:39) Description: Speech delivered by Andrew Ng at The GPU Technology Conference held at the San Jose Convention Center in California from March 17 to March 20, 2015; Andrew Ng spoke on the third day which was March 19, 2020. (Accessed on youtube.com on October 3, 2020) link

Dogs Are Our Link To Paradise. They Don’t Know Evil or Jealousy or Discontent

Milan Kundera? Anne Raver? Jan Karon? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The faithfulness and love exhibited by a pet dog can lead to an idealized perception. The Czech writer Milan Kundera has received credit for the following remark:

Dogs are our link to paradise.

I am uncertain about the accuracy of this attribution because I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match located by QI occurred in a 1994 article in “The New York Times” by gardening columnist Anne Raver. She discussing the death of her beloved dog Molly, and she referred to the novel “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera which included the depiction of a cherished dog approaching its final years. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Dogs, Mr. Kundera says, are our link to Paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring — it was peace.

It is essential to note that the opinion Raver ascribed to Kundera was not enclosed in quotation marks. QI believes that Raver was using her own words to present a summary of Kundera’s viewpoint. Later writers improperly placed the statement between quotation marks and attributed the words directly to Kundera.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Dogs Are Our Link To Paradise. They Don’t Know Evil or Jealousy or Discontent

Notes:

  1. 1994 April 28, New York Times, Garden Notebook: A Loyal Friend, a Link to Paradise by Anne Raver, Quote Page C8, Column 5, New York. (Newspapers_com)

No Truth So Sublime But It May Be Trivial Tomorrow in the Light of New Thoughts

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Tryon Edwards? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: During one’s lifetime one may discover a truth that appears deep and beautiful. Yet, one must be willing to continuously grow and change. That supposed truth may later seem trivial or misleading. Personal development demands regular reevaluations.

The transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson made a similar point about a sublime truth metamorphosing into a trivial platitude in the light of new knowledge. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1841 Ralph Waldo Emerson published a collection of essays which included a piece about “Circles”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

In nature every moment is new; the past is always swallowed and forgotten; the coming only is sacred. Nothing is secure but life, transition, the energising spirit. No love can be bound by oath or covenant, to secure it against a higher love. No truth so sublime but it may be trivial to-morrow in the light of new thoughts. People wish to be settled: only as far as they are unsettled, is there any hope for them.

Life is a series of surprises. We do not guess to-day the mood, the pleasure, the power of to-morrow, when we are building up our being.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading No Truth So Sublime But It May Be Trivial Tomorrow in the Light of New Thoughts

Notes:

  1. 1841, Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essay X: Circles, Start Page 301, Quote Page 321 and 322, James Fraser, London. (Google Books Full View) link