Born in Russia in 1920, Isaac Asimov is widely considered to be one of the greatest sci-fi writers of all time. He’s often grouped with Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke as the “Big Three” of the genre.
Today, he’s best remembered for his Hugo Award-winning Foundation series and his Robot series, in which he created the famous Three Laws of Robotics. Although originally published in a short story in 1942, they were made popular in the anthology I, Robot.
Asimov was a prolific writer, and his body of work extends far beyond his sci-fi. He also wrote mysteries and penned several non-fiction works on science, history, and theology. Through his writing, Asimov routinely spoke about the importance of learning and knowledge as a tool to create a better world. Isaac Asimov died on April 6th, 1992, and left behind a body of work that remains just as stirring today.
Read on to ponder these 10 thought-provoking Isaac Asimov quotes.
“The dangers that face the world can, every one of them, be traced back to science. The salvations that may save the world will, every one of them, be traced back to science.”
Asimov penned these words in his Today and Tomorrow and..., a collection of non-fiction science essays, in 1973. Asimov believed strongly that, although he could never learn the answers to all of the universe’s questions within his lifetime, those answers would undoubtedly be found through science.
This quotation also speaks to his belief that solutions to all the world’s problems, from social inequality to nuclear proliferation, would come through science. It’s just up to us to find those solutions.
“No matter how outrageous a lie may be, it will be accepted if stated loudly enough and often enough.”
Throughout his career, Asimov spoke out against ignorance and things he considered to be pseudoscience. He did not believe in UFOs or astrology, since actual scientific research pointed to the fact that, although those things were fun to discuss, they were also not real.
In his 1968 regional history book The Near East, Asimov explains how pseudoscience and other untruths can so easily come to be seen as fact by so many.
“The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”
In an article written for Newsweek in 1980, Asimov spoke out against what he called a “cult of ignorance” in the United States that was turning people against intellectualism and turning them away from continuing to pursue knowledge themselves.
As history has shown, anti-intellectualism is always a troubling trend, and Asimov certainly had that in mind in 1980. It’s hard not to notice how relevant this quote still feels over 40 years later.
RELATED: Golden Age of Science Fiction Books
“To the rest of the Galaxy, if they are aware of us at all, Earth is but a pebble in the sky. To us it is home, and all the home we know.”
This line from Asimov’s 1950 novel Pebble in the Sky feels very emblematic of sci-fi. It brings to mind Carl Sagan’s famous reflections on the “Pale Blue Dot” photo from decades later. We are small and in some ways, ultimately insignificant in the universe, but the fact that we are alive on Earth makes our lives significant to us in the present.
“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”
In his forward to the 1978 collection Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Asimov outlines how he thinks all of us can learn something from science and science fiction.
Not only are change and science connected, but sci-fi often anticipates the way the world might change going forward. Therefore, Asimov believed that elected officials should, in a way, think like sci-fi writers.
“All you have to do is take a close look at yourself and you will understand everyone else.”
In addition to his writing, Asimov often advocated for various underrepresented groups, even when it wasn’t politically or culturally popular to do so. Years before the women’s liberation movement took hold, Asimov considered himself a feminist. He also supported rights for same-sex couples. This quote from 1982’s Foundation’s Edge advises people to look within themselves to find empathy for others.
“It seems to me that when it’s time to die, and that will come to all of us, there’ll be a certain pleasure in thinking that you had utilized your life well, that you had learned as much as you could, gathered as much as possible of the universe, and enjoyed it.”
Asimov said this in a 1988 interview with Bill Moyers. It speaks to the author’s passion for learning and for knowledge. Since he was a rationalist and an atheist, Asimov said he did not believe there was a true meaning of life, but this quote certainly makes it seem as though he had found a way to give life meaning.
“Now any dogma, based primarily on faith and emotionalism, is a dangerous weapon to use on others, since it is almost impossible to guarantee that the weapon will never be turned on the user.”
As a liberal thinker, Asimov often had criticisms for his conservative contemporaries, but he also believed in being rational above all things.
As many radical social movements sprang up in the late 1960s and early 70s, he frequently critiqued the emotional and, in his opinion, irrational decisions made by leaders, even if he agreed with them. This quote from his first Foundation novel, published in 1951, reveals that this was a long-held belief.
“The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny...’”
In 2002, 10 years after Asimov’s death, his widow Janet Asimov compiled his personal writings and his three autobiographies into one volume, It’s Been A Good Life.
Asimov championed continuing to gain knowledge and learn new things throughout life, and this belief held true for science as a whole. Science can provide many answers, but we are always learning new things about the world around us. And as Asimov observes, that’s what makes it so exciting.
“How often people speak of art and science as though they were two entirely different things, with no interconnection. An artist is emotional, they think, and uses only his intuition; he sees all at once and has no need of reason. A scientist is cold, they think, and uses only his reason; he argues carefully step by step, and needs no imagination. That is all wrong. The true artist is quite rational as well as imaginative and knows what he is doing; if he does not, his art suffers. The true scientist is quite imaginative as well as rational, and sometimes leaps to solutions where reason can follow only slowly; if he does not, his science suffers.”
As he says in this quote from his 1983 essay collection The Roving Mind, it’s easy to imagine the scientist, Asimov himself in this case, as cold and emotionless with all his rationality and robots.
But as the quote also reveals, the scientist is equal parts artist with his imagination and creativity. In this quote we see the true Isaac Asimov, a scientist and an artist who used the knowledge he gained throughout his life to write stories that envisioned the future.