Your Assumptions Are Your Windows On the World. Scrub Them Off Every Once In a While, Or the Light Won’t Come In

Isaac Asimov? Alan Alda? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The assumptions we make about the world transform the way we perceive it; hence, we should periodically challenge our own assumptions. A quotation that makes this point and uses windows metaphorically was crafted by either science fiction writer Isaac Asimov or actor Alan Alda. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Alan Alda gave the Commencement Address at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut when his daughter was in the graduating class of 1980. The text of his speech is available in the Digital Commons section of the college’s website. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in. If you challenge your own, you won’t be so quick to accept the unchallenged assumptions of others. You’ll be a lot less likely to be caught up in bias or prejudice or be influenced by people who ask you to hand over your brains, your soul or your money because they have everything all figured out for you.

QI has found no substantive evidence that Isaac Asimov who died in 1992 made the remark about windows although the words were assigned to him by 2002.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Alda’s oration was recalled and praised a year later during the graduation season. A condensed version of his remarks that included the excerpt above was reprinted in the “Quad-City Times” of Davenport, Iowa 2 and “The Pittsburgh Press” of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 3

In 1994 volume three of “The Great American Bathroom Book” by Stevens W. Anderson included an excerpt from Alda’s speech which contained the target quotation. The attribution was a bit garbled: 4

Alan Alda, at his daughter’s
commencement address

In 2002 a message posted to the Usenet newsgroup php.general implausibly ascribed the quotation to Isaac Asimov: 5

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” – Isaac Asimov

In 2005 an inquiry appeared in the Usenet newsgroup alt.books.isaac-asimov requesting a source for the quotation. One helpful respondent indicated that the ascription to Asimov was flawed by pointing to the speech by Alda located on the Connecticut College website: 6

Does anyone know the source of Asimov’s quote
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come.” I need to acknowledge it in an essay.

In 2010 a columnist in “The Record” newspaper of Hackensack, New Jersey credited Alda: 7

After all, as Alan Alda once said “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.”

In 2014 a columnist in the “Messenger-Inquirer” of Owensboro, Kentucky attributed the quotation to Asimov: 8

Let’s consider celebrating the politician who changes his or her mind–not for mean advantage but for principle.

It’s time to heed the wisdom of Isaac Asimov: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

In conclusion, Alan Alda should receive credit for the words he spoke in 1980. Based on current evidence the attribution to Isaac Asimov is spurious.

Image Notes: Picture of window being cleaned from mrganso (Sebastian Ganso) at Pixabay. Image has been resized and cropped.

(Great thanks to Janne Ahlberg @hoaxeye whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Ahlberg noted the ascription to Alda when he saw a tweet crediting Asimov.)

Notes:

  1. Website: Digital Commons at Connecticut College, Speech title: 62nd Commencement Address, Speech author: Alan Alda, Speech date (on website): June 1, 1980, Website description: An electronic archive of research and publication for Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. (Accessed digitalcommons.conncoll.edu on December 27, 2018) link
  2. 1981 April 30, Quad-City Times, Oh, by the way, I love you by Alan Alda (Condensed from Connecticut College News), Quote Page 11, Column 2, Davenport, Iowa. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1981 June 7, The Pittsburgh Press, Golden Rule for a Tarnished Age by Alan Alda, Quote Page 3, Column 2, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1994, The Great American Bathroom Book by Stevens W. Anderson, Volume 3, Section: The Human Condition, Quote Page 442, Compact Classics Inc., Salt Lake City, Utah. (Verified with scans)
  5. 2002 October 20, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: php.general, From: Stephanie Sullivan @violetsky.net, Subject: Re: [PHP] Newbie NN4 help… (Google Groups Search; Accessed December 27, 2018) link
  6. 2005 April 25, Usenet discussion message, Newsgroup: alt.books.isaac-asimov, From: Hilary Moore @hilmoore.fsnet.co.uk, Subject: where from? (Google Groups Search; Accessed December 27, 2018) link
  7. 2010 February 25, The Record, Why is it terror only when Arabs are involved? by Ahmed Soliman, Quote Page A13, Column 4, Hackensack, New Jersey. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 2014 January 5, Messenger-Inquirer, Time for Congress to scrub the political windows by David Shribman (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), Quote Page E3, Column 4, Owensboro, Kentucky. (Newspapers_com)