It Has Yet To Be Proved That Intelligence Has Real Survival Value

Arthur C. Clarke? Paraphrase? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The intelligence of humanity has enabled its absolute dominance of the biosphere; however, this trait has also generated frightening existential risks such as the danger of nuclear warfare. Science fiction luminary Arthur C. Clarke has received credit for the following remark:

It has yet to be proved that intelligence has real survival value.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1972 Arthur C. Clarke published “The Lost Worlds of 2001” which contained information about his collaboration with auteur Stanley Kubrick on the film “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Clarke began to write a novel in 1964 to provide a backbone for the movie. The story was extensively modified during the joint effort with Kubrick to construct a screenplay. Clarke released his final rewritten novel in 1968 which diverged from the early novel and from the screenplay.

“The Lost Worlds of 2001” included extensive excerpts from the previously unpublished early novel. The extraterrestrial visitors in the early novel built pyramidal structures instead of the rectangular monoliths used in the 1968 film. During one scene the astronaut David Bowman spoke with an anthropologist named Anna Brailsford about the beings who had landed on the Earth and Moon roughly three million years in the past: 1

Perhaps there’s a plateau for intelligence that can’t be exceeded. They may already have reached it when they visited the Moon. After all, it has yet to be proved that intelligence has real survival value.”

“I can’t accept that!” protested Bowman. “Surely, our intelligence has made us what we are—the most successful animals on the planet!”

Thus, the quotation was spoken by a fictional anthropologist character in a work by Clarke. In addition, the citation given below reveals Clarke’s attitude of fear and ambivalence toward intelligence in species.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Clarke contemplated whether intelligence provided any survival value for humankind in a 1968 essay titled “When Earthman and Alien Meet” published in “Playboy” magazine. Clarke believed that contact with an intelligent starfaring group of beings would provide powerful evidence that the perils inherent in high-levels of cognition were surmountable, and a clever species would be able to endure. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

And, above all, knowledge that other beings had safely passed their nuclear crises would give us renewed hope for our own future. It would help dispel present nagging doubts about the survival value of intelligence. We have, as yet, no definite proof that too much brain, like too much armor, is not one of those unfortunate evolutionary accidents that lead to the annihilation of its possessors.

If, however, this dangerous gift can be turned to advantage, then all over the Universe there must be races who have been gathering knowledge, and perfecting their technologies, for periods of time that may be measured in millions of years.

Clarke’s essay was reprinted in his 1972 collection “Report on Planet Three and Other Speculations” under the title “When the Aliens Come”. Thus, the passage above was further propagated. 3

Also, in 1972 “The Lost Worlds of 2001” appeared, and it included the quotation as mentioned previously.

The 1979 collection “1,001 Logical Laws, Accurate Axioms, Profound Principles” compiled by John Peers included a slightly different version of the saying with the words “proven” and “any” instead of “proved” and ‘real”: 4

Arthur C. Clarke’s Law:
It has yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value.

In 1988 “The Dictionary of Outrageous Quotations” included a version with “proved” and “any”: 5

‘It has yet to be proved that intelligence has any survival value.’

In 1992 the collection “And I Quote” also included the version above. 6

In conclusion, Arthur C. Clarke should receive credit for the quotation he crafted circa 1964 and published in 1972. He expressed a similar point of view in an essay in 1968.

(Special thanks to Rich Homa who told QI about the presence of the quotation in “The Lost Worlds of 2001”.)

Image Notes: Depiction of UFOs from Clker-Free-Vector-Imagesat Pixabay.

Update History: On January 14, 2019 the 1972 citation was added. On April 18, 2020 the citation within “The Lost Worlds of 2001” was added to the article, and some sections of the article were rewritten.


  1. 1972, The Lost Worlds of 2001 by Arthur C. Clarke, Chapter 16: Ancestral Voices, Quote Page 109, A Signet Book: New American Library, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1968 January, Playboy, Volume 15, Number 1, When Earthman and Alien Meet by Arthur C. Clarke, Start Page 118, Quote Page 126, Column 3, HMH Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1972, Report on Planet Three and Other Speculations by Arthur C. Clarke, Chapter 9: When the Aliens Come, Start Page 93, Quote Page 99 and 100, Harper & Row, New York. (Verified with hardcopy)
  4. 1979, 1,001 Logical Laws, Accurate Axioms, Profound Principles, Compiled by John Peers, Edited by Gordon Bennett, Section: Axioms for the Computer Age, and Others, Quote Page 43, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper)
  5. 1988, The Dictionary of Outrageous Quotations, Compiled by C.R.S. Marsden, Section: Education, Quote Page 30, Salem House, Topsfield, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)
  6. 1992, And I Quote: The Definitive Collection of Quotes, Sayings, and Jokes for the Contemporary Speechmaker by Ashton Applewhite, William R. Evans III, and Andrew Frothingham, Topic: Intelligence, Quote Page 159, A Thomas Dunne Book: St. Martin’s Press, New York. (Verified with scans)