It Has Yet To Be Proven That Intelligence Has Any 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 any survival value.

The references that list this statement do not provide a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: QI has been unable to find a precise match for the expression above in the writings of Arthur C. Clarke.

He did contemplate 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: 1

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.

The passage above provides a semantic match and a partial syntactic match for the target quotation. Thus, it is plausible that Clarke did employ the quotation during an interview, but researchers have not yet located it.

There is an alternative conjecture. The two sentences highlighted above may have been condensed to achieve compact quotability, and the result may have been assigned directly to Clarke.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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. 2

The 1979 collection “1,001 Logical Laws, Accurate Axioms, Profound Principles” compiled by John Peers included a slightly different version of the saying with “proven” instead of “proved”: 3

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”: 4

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

In 1992 the collection “And I Quote” also included the version with “proved”: 5

In conclusion, Arthur C. Clarke. Should receive credit for what he wrote in 1968. The meaning matches the target quotation, but the text is considerably longer. QI has not yet found a strong match.

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

Update History: On January 14, 2019 the 1972 citation was added.


  1. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. 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)
  4. 1988, The Dictionary of Outrageous Quotations, Compiled by C.R.S. Marsden, Section: Education, Quote Page 30, Salem House, Topsfield, Massachusetts. (Verified on paper)
  5. 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)