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

We Can Never Run Out of Energy or Matter. But We Can All Too Easily Run Out of Brains

Arthur C. Clarke? Gerard K. O’Neill? Apocryphal

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke was optimistic concerning the ability of human ingenuity to transcend current limitations. He believed that future technologies would overcome raw material shortages. The only constraint he feared was a lack of engaged human brains. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Arthur C. Clarke’s 1962 collection of essays titled “Profiles of the Future” presented bold predictions about future capabilities. For example, he suggested that “translating machines” would be available by 1970. 1 Yet, the research prototypes constructed during the 1970s were severely limited and flawed. Nevertheless, Clarke’s underlying optimism has been justified. Machine translation today is still imperfect, but it is a valuable tool that is employed by millions online every day.

Also, in 1962 Clarke described a wide variety of speculative ideas including strategies for obtaining power from the sun and raw materials from the sea and asteroids. 2 He suggested that “space mining” would be possible by 2030. 3 His forward-looking approach helps to explain his exuberance: 4

This survey should be enough to indicate—though not to prove—that there need never be any permanent shortage of raw materials.
. . .
In this inconceivably enormous universe, we can never run out of energy or matter. But we can all too easily run out of brains.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading We Can Never Run Out of Energy or Matter. But We Can All Too Easily Run Out of Brains

Notes:

  1. 1967 (First publication 1962), Profiles of the Future by Arthur C. Clarke, Section: Chart of the Future, Quote Page 233 to 235, Bantam Books, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1967 (First publication 1962), Profiles of the Future by Arthur C. Clarke, Chapter 12: Ages of Plenty, Quote Page 141 to 155, Bantam Books, New York. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1967 (First publication 1962), Profiles of the Future by Arthur C. Clarke, Section: Chart of the Future, Quote Page 233 to 235, Bantam Books, New York. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1967 (First publication 1962), Profiles of the Future by Arthur C. Clarke, Chapter 12: Ages of Plenty, Quote Page 155, Bantam Books, New York. (Verified with scans)

Time Is What Keeps Everything From Happening At Once

Albert Einstein? Ray Cummings? Mark Twain? Arthur C. Clarke? John Archibald Wheeler? Arthur Power Dudden? Susan Sontag?

Dear Quote Investigator: Albert Einstein has received credit for a humorous remark about time:

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.

Would you please explore the provenance of this quip?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein wrote or spoke the statement above. It is listed within a section called “Probably Not By Einstein” in the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press. 1

The earliest match known to QI appeared in 1919 within a story titled “The Girl in the Golden Atom” by Ray Cummings in the magazine “All-Story Weekly”: 2

“How would you describe time?”
The Big Business Man smiled. “Time,” he said, “is what keeps everything from happening at once.”
“Very clever,” said the Chemist, laughing.

The text above is from the 1970 reprint collection “Under the Moons of Mars: A History and Anthology of ‘The Scientific Romance'”. QI has not yet verified the quotation by directly examining the 1919 issue of All-Story Weekly”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Time Is What Keeps Everything From Happening At Once

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not by Einstein, Quote Page 481, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1970, Under the Moons of Mars: A History and Anthology of “The Scientific Romance” in the Munsey Magazines: 1912-1920, Edited by Sam Moskowitz, The Girl in the Golden Atom by Ray Cummings (All-Story Weekly, March 15, 1919), Start Page 175, Quote Page 205, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York. (Verified with scans)

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.

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

Notes:

  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)

People Tend To Overestimate What Can Be Done In One Year And To Underestimate What Can Be Done In Five Or Ten Years

Bill Gates? Arthur C. Clarke? J. C. R. Licklider? Roy Amara? Alfred Mayo? George H. Heilmeier? Manfred Kochen? Raymond Kurzweil? Anonymous?

Dear Quote investigator: Predicting the technological future of mankind is enormously difficult. One recurring flaw in such projections has been identified. Here are three versions:

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the short term and underestimate the change that will occur in the long term.

People overestimate what can be done in one year, and underestimate what can be done in ten.

This notion has been attributed to software mogul Bill Gates, science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke, visionary computer scientist J. C. R. Licklider, futurist Roy Amara and others.

Quote investigator: The statements above are not identical in meaning, but grouping them together in a single family provides insight. The variety of expressions makes the tracing task quite difficult, and this article simply presents a snapshot of current research.

Arthur C. Clarke did write a partially matching statement in the 1951 book “The Exploration of Space”, but his point differed from the saying under analysis. He did not sharply distinguish the short run and long run. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Yet if we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run—and often in the short one—the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative.

This earliest match known to QI appeared in the 1965 book “Libraries of the Future” by J. C. R. Licklider. Computer memory technology was advancing quickly when the book was written, and Licklider commented on the difficulty of extrapolating trends: 2

Shortly after the text was written, “bulk core” memories, with 18 million bits per unit, and as many as four units per computer, were announced for delivery in 1966. A modern maxim says: “People tend to overestimate what can be done in one year and to underestimate what can be done in five or ten years.”

Licklider disclaimed credit for the saying; hence, this early occurrence was anonymous although some colleagues later ascribed the remark to Licklider.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading People Tend To Overestimate What Can Be Done In One Year And To Underestimate What Can Be Done In Five Or Ten Years

Notes:

  1. 1951, The Exploration of Space by Arthur C. Clarke, Chapter 11: The Lunar Base, Quote Page 111, Harper & Brothers Publishers. New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1965, Libraries of the Future by J. C. R. Licklider, Part 1: Man’s Interaction with Recorded Knowledge, Chapter 1: The Size of the Body of Recorded Information, (Text for Dagger Footnote), Quote Page 17, The MIT Press, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)

The Universe Is Not Only Queerer Than We Suppose, But Queerer Than We Can Suppose

Arthur Eddington? J. B. S. Haldane? Werner Heisenberg? Arthur C. Clarke? Stanley Kubrick? J. B. Priestly

Dear Quote Investigator: The physics of quantum mechanics, relativity theory, and string theory are mind-bending. Scientists have made remarkable strides in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries; yet, some believe that the progress will stop before the completion of an all-inclusive physical theory. The following adage suggests that the universe is beyond human comprehension. Here are five versions:

  1. Reality is not only stranger than we suppose, but stranger than we can suppose.
  2. Nature is not only odder than we think, but odder than we can think.
  3. The universe is not only stranger than we imagine; it is stranger than we can imagine.
  4. Not only is the universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think.
  5. The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.

Statements in this family have been credited to English astrophysicist Arthur Eddington, English biologist J. B. S. Haldane, and German theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match in this family of expressions known to QI was written by J. B. S. Haldane in an essay titled “Possible Worlds” published within a 1927 collection. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Now, my own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose. I have read and heard many attempts at a systematic account of it, from materialism and theosophy to the Christian system or that of Kant, and I have always felt that they were much too simple. I suspect that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of, or can be dreamed of, in any philosophy.

During the ensuing decades the phrasing and vocabulary of the statement have been altered to yield many variants. In addition, the attribution has shifted. Based on current evidence the ascriptions to Arthur Eddington and Werner Heisenberg are unsupported.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Universe Is Not Only Queerer Than We Suppose, But Queerer Than We Can Suppose

Notes:

  1. 1928 (First edition in 1927), Possible Worlds and Other Papers by J. B. S. Haldane, Essay 34: Possible Worlds, Start Page 272, Quote Page 298 and 299, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York. (Verified with scans)

When a Distinguished But Elderly Scientist States that Something Is Possible, He Is Almost Certainly Right . . .

Arthur C. Clarke? Isaac Asimov? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke believed that proclamations of impossibility were too readily dispensed by blinkered elderly scientists. Would you please help me to find a citation for Clarke’s First Law?

Quote Investigator: In 1962 Arthur C. Clarke published a forward-looking book filled with predictions titled “Profiles of the Future”. The second chapter discussed the failure of imagination that lead to some deeply flawed prognostications. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Too great a burden of knowledge can clog the wheels of imagination; I have tried to embody this fact of observation in Clarke’s Law, which may be formulated as follows:

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

Clarke further suggested that in the domains of physics, mathematics, and astronautics elderly meant over the age of thirty. In other areas of science the label of elderly may postponed into the forties. Clarke also admitted that there were glorious exceptions to his rather harsh ageism.

Continue reading When a Distinguished But Elderly Scientist States that Something Is Possible, He Is Almost Certainly Right . . .

Notes:

  1. 1972 (First publication 1962), Profiles of the Future by Arthur C. Clarke, Chapter 2: Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination, Quote Page 14, Bantam Books, New York. (Verified with scans)

The Goal of the Future Is Full Unemployment, So We Can Play

Arthur C. Clarke? Gene Youngblood? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: While reading about the economic notion of a universal basic income I came across a statement attributed to the farsighted science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke advocating the goal of “full unemployment” instead of “full employment”. Clarke felt that the computers and robots of the future would perform routine work and drudgery, so we would have more time to play. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Arthur C. Clarke co-authored the screenplay of “2001: A Space Odyssey” which was released in 1968. In April 1969 a lengthy interview with Clarke conducted by Gene Youngblood appeared in the “Los Angeles Free Press”, an alternative newspaper.

During the conversation Clarke and Youngblood mentioned the benefits humankind might be able to obtain from the development of advanced computer systems able to perform numerous tasks better and more quickly than people. Yet, the HAL 9000 computer in the movie “2001” was frightening, and Youngblood asked why a negative vision was highlighted. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

GENE: But you see the average person doesn’t see it. All he sees is that he’s going to be replaced by a computer, reduced to an IBM card and filed away.

CLARKE: The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.

GENE: Precisely. Now, we feel that if only this idea had come across in “2001,” instead of depicting machines as ominous and destructive. . .

CLARKE: But it would have been another film. Be thankful for what you’ve got. Maybe Stanley wasn’t interested in making that kind of film.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading The Goal of the Future Is Full Unemployment, So We Can Play

Notes:

  1. 1969 April 25, Los Angeles Free Press, Free Press Interview: A. C. Clarke author of ‘2001’, (Interview of Arthur C. Clarke conducted by Gene Youngblood), Start Page 42, Quote Page 43, Column 4 and 5, Los Angeles, California. (Reveal Digital Independent Voices Collection at revealdigital.com)

The Space Elevator Will Be Built About 50 Years After Everyone Stops Laughing

Arthur C. Clarke? Arthur Kantrowitz? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Science fiction luminary Arthur C. Clarke described the audacious idea of building an elevator from the surface of the Earth straight up into space and beyond geostationary orbit in his 1979 novel “The Fountains of Paradise”. The megaproject would require extremely strong lightweight material, and some engineers and scientists have questioned its feasibility. Clarke puckishly said that the space elevator would be built a few decades after people stopped laughing. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1979 Arthur C. Clarke addressed the 30th International Astronautical Congress and surveyed the concept of a “space elevator” which has also been called an “orbital tower” or “heavenly ladder”: 1

What I want to talk about today is a space transportation system so outrageous that many of you may consider it not even science-fiction, but pure fantasy. Perhaps it is; only the future will tell. Yet even if it is regarded as no more than a ‘thought-experiment’, it is one of the most fascinating and stimulating ideas in the history of astronautics.

Apparently, Clarke’s vivid quotation was modeled after an earlier remark made by Arthur Kantrowitz who was an influential proponent of an innovative idea for space transportation called laser propulsion. Clarke speculated about the time needed to develop the space elevator:

And when will we have that? I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess, so I’ll adapt the reply that Arthur Kantrowitz gave, when someone asked a similar question about his laser propulsion system:

The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing.

QI has not yet located the earlier comment by Kantrowitz about laser propulsion.

There is some evidence that Clarke later endorsed a shorter time as indicated in the selected citations in chronological order listed below. Continue reading The Space Elevator Will Be Built About 50 Years After Everyone Stops Laughing

Notes:

  1. Website: Island One Society, Reprint Article: Year: 1981, Journal: Advances in Earth Oriented Applications of Space Technology (the website incorrectly used the words “applied” and “technologies” in the journal name), Volume 1, Article Title: The Space Elevator: ‘Thought Experiment’, or Key to the Universe?, Author: Arthur C. Clarke, Note: Address to the XXXth International Astronautical Congress, Munich, 20 September 1979, Start Page 49, Quote Near Final Page, Publisher: Pergamon Press Ltd., U.K. Website description: Island One Society website operated by Dale Amon. (Accessed islandone.org on June 8, 2017; QI has not verified the article in the original journal) Page 1 link Page 3 link

I Don’t Believe in Astrology; I’m a Sagittarian and We’re Skeptical

Arthur C. Clarke? Bob Thaves? Evan Esar? Jonah Peretti? Paul Heskett? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke was once asked whether he believed in astrology, and he gave a facetious self-contradictory answer. I have not been able to find a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence linking the quip to Clarke known to QI appeared in the April 1997 issue of the U.K. magazine “Astronomy Now”. A letter from Paul Heskett of Somerset, England sympathetically suggested that astrology addressed social needs that were not treated by astronomy. Heskett stated that he heard the remark from Clarke. The variant spelling “sceptical” for “skeptical” was used in the magazine. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

This is a point that all of us would do well to bear in mind; as perhaps, is that made by Arthur Clarke when he told me “I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarian and we’re sceptical.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading I Don’t Believe in Astrology; I’m a Sagittarian and We’re Skeptical

Notes:

  1. 1997 April, Astronomy Now, Volume 11, Number 4, Section: Your Views, (Letter from Paul Heskett, Somerset, England), Quote Page 10, Column 1, Intra Press, London. (Now published by Pole Star, Tonbridge, Kent) (Verified with scans; thanks to Space Telescope Science Institute Library, Baltimore, Maryland)