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? Christiane Kubrick? Jeremy Bernstein? Porky Pine? Walt Kelly? Frank Interlandi? Carl Sagan? 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 November: Sometimes I think we’re alone, and sometimes I think we’re not. In either case, the idea is quite staggering.

1966 December: You either believe there are other forms of intelligent life in the universe, or that there aren’t. Either way, it’s a pretty staggering thought.

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 1968 citation further below. Kubrick did speak to U.S. astronomer Carl Sagan during the creation of the “2001”. 3

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
  3. Website: CNet, Article title: Kubrick, Clarke and 2001: How Space Odyssey came together, Article author: Nicholas Tufnell, Date on website: April 3, 2018, Website description: Technology news. (Accessed cnet.com on October 27, 2020) link

Education ‘To Earn a Living’ Will Become an Anachronism

Buckminster Fuller? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: In recent years the discussion of artificial intelligence and robotics replacing human workers has resurfaced. In addition, economic ideas such as universal basic income have been proposed to ameliorate societal dislocations. I am reminded of discourses from the 1960s.

The controversial pathbreaking inventor and futurist R. Buckminster Fuller believed that large-scale automation was going to render obsolete the requirement that each person ‘earn a living’. Instead, he thought individuals would engage in life-long education based on self-selected goals and desires. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1961 Southern Illinois University asked R. Buckminster Fuller to share his ideas about building an entirely new college campus. Fuller delivered a lecture which was turned into a book titled “Education Automation: Freeing the Scholar to Return to His Studies” published in 1962. Fuller touched upon the following theme several times during his career. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Much of the educational system today is aimed at answering: “How am I going to survive? How am I going to get a job? I must earn a living.” That is the priority item under which we are working all the time—the idea of having to earn a living. That problem of “how are we going to earn a living?” is going to go out the historical window, forever, in the next decade, and education is going to be disembarrassed of the unseen “practical” priority bogeyman. Education will then be concerned primarily with exploring to discover not only more about the universe and its history but about what the universe is trying to do, about why man is part of it, and about how can, and may man best function in universal evolution.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Education ‘To Earn a Living’ Will Become an Anachronism

Notes:

  1. 1962 Copyright, Education Automation: Freeing the Scholar to Return to His Studies by R. Buckminster Fuller, (Text based on a talk delivered by Fuller on April 22, 1961 to the Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville Campus Planning Committee), Quote Page 43, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, (Verified with scans)

They Which Play with the Devils Rattles, Will Be Brought by Degrees to Wield His Sword

Buckminster Fuller? Thomas Fuller? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent inventor and author Buckminster Fuller has been linked to an uncharacteristic quotation:

Those who play with the devil’s toys will be brought by degrees to wield his sword.

Would you please determine whether he wrote and said this remark?

Quote Investigator: QI has located no substantive evidence that Buckminster Fuller employed the words above. Instead, QI believes that the expression evolved from a statement written by Thomas Fuller who was an influential English historian and religious figure of the seventeenth century.

In 1642 Thomas Fuller released “The Profane State”, and it included a section about witches. Fuller stated that some individuals initially engaged in witchcraft defensively; they cast spells and charms to shield themselves against the plots and intrigues of adversaries. However, over time they began to wield power offensively and actively assaulted others. The following excerpt contained “floures” which was an alternative spelling of “flowers”. Boldface has been added: 1

She begins at first with doing tricks rather strange then hurtfull: yea some of them are pretty and pleasing. But it is dangerous to gather floures that grow on the banks of the pit of hell, for fear of falling in; yea they which play with the devils rattles, will be brought by degrees to wield his sword, and from making of sport they come to doing of mischief.

The apostrophe in the possessive phrase “devil’s rattles” was missing in the original text. Also, in the modern quotation the phrase was changed to “devil’s toys”.

During the ensuing years the words above were sometimes reprinted with the short ambiguous ascription: “Fuller”. Someone probably misunderstood this ascription and reassigned the words from Thomas Fuller to Buckminster Fuller.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading They Which Play with the Devils Rattles, Will Be Brought by Degrees to Wield His Sword

Notes:

  1. 1642, The Profane State by Thomas Fuller, The Fifth Book, Chapter 3: The Witch, Start Page 365, Quote Page 367, Printed by Roger Daniel for John Williams, Cambridge, England. (Google Books Full View) link