Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov (c. 2 January 1920 – 6 April 1992) was a Russian-born American biochemist who was a prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction, perhaps best remembered for the novels The Foundation Series and I, Robot.


Step by step, it must be done.
And there was light —

General sources

Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable, and although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not.

There are limits beyond which your folly will not carry you. I am glad of that. In fact, I am relieved.

If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words.

I feel that the longest and worst punishment should be reserved for those who slandered God by inventing Hell.
A planet full of people meant nothing against the dictates of economic necessity!
The Currents of Space (1952)
Economics is on the side of humanity now.
The Currents of Space (1952)
The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a time when humanity first stepped into the light. The question came about as a result of a five dollar bet over highballs, and it happened this way…
“The Last Question” in Science Fiction Quarterly (November 1956)
How can the net amount of entropy of the universe be massively decreased?
Multivac fell dead and silent. The slow flashing of lights ceased, the distant sounds of clicking relays ended.
Then, just as the frightened technicians felt they could hold their breath no longer, there was a sudden springing to life of the teletype attached to that portion of Multivac. Five words were printed: INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER.
“The Last Question” in Science Fiction Quarterly (November 1956)
All collected data had come to a final end. Nothing was left to be collected.
But all collected data had yet to be completely correlated and put together in all possible relationships.
A timeless interval was spent in doing that.
And it came to pass that AC learned how to reverse the direction of entropy.
But there was now no man to whom AC might give the answer of the last question. No matter. The answer — by demonstration — would take care of that, too.
For another timeless interval, AC thought how best to do this. Carefully, AC organized the program.
The consciousness of AC encompassed all of what had once been a Universe and brooded over what was now Chaos. Step by step, it must be done.
And there was light —
“The Last Question” in Science Fiction Quarterly (November 1956)
You wait for the war to happen like vultures. If you want to help, prevent the war. Don’t save the remnants. Save them all.
“The Gentle Vultures” in Super-Science Fiction (December 1957)
Outside intelligences, exploring the Solar System with true impartiality, would be quite likely to enter the Sun in their records thus: Star X, spectral class G0, 4 planets plus debris.
“By Jove!” in View from a Height (1963); often misquoted as “Jupiter plus debris”.
The fact that the general incidence of leukemia has doubled in the last two decades may be due, partly, to the increasing use of x-rays for numerous purposes. The incidence of leukemia in doctors, who are likely to be so exposed, is twice that of the general public. In radiologists … the incidence is ten times greater.
(1965) as quoted in Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988), 233.
Inspect every piece of pseudoscience and you will find a security blanket, a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold. What does the scientist have to offer in exchange? Uncertainty! Insecurity!
Asimov’s Guide to Science (1972), p. 15
What I will be remembered for are the Foundation Trilogy and the Three Laws of Robotics. What I want to be remembered for is no one book, or no dozen books. Any single thing I have written can be paralleled or even surpassed by something someone else has done. However, my total corpus for quantity, quality and variety can be duplicated by no one else. That is what I want to be remembered for.
Yours, Isaac Asimov (20 September 1973)
There is no belief, however foolish, that will not gather its faithful adherents who will defend it to the death.
The Stars in Their Courses (1974), p. 36
People are entirely too disbelieving of coincidence. They are far too ready to dismiss it and to build arcane structures of extremely rickety substance in order to avoid it. I, on the other hand, see coincidence everywhere as an inevitable consequence of the laws of probability, according to which having no unusual coincidence is far more unusual than any coincidence could possibly be.
“The Planet that Wasn’t” originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (May 1975)
We cannot afford enemies any more … Within a generation or two human society will be in total destructive disarray. Heaven knows how bad it will be. The most optimistic view I can take is this: Things will get so bad within a dozen years that it will become obvious … that we must, whether were like each other or not, work together. We have no choice in the matter. … Technologically, we can stop overpopulation, but we have to persuade people to accept the technology. … Babies are the enemies of the human race … Let’s consider it this way: by the time the world doubles its population, the amount of energy we will be using will be increased sevenfold which means probably the amount of pollution that we are producing will also be increased sevenfold. If we are now threatened by pollution at the present rate, how will we be threatened with sevenfold pollution by, say, 2010 A.D., distributed among twice the population? We’ll be having to grow twice the food out of soil that is being poisoned at seven times the rate.
As quoted in Isaac Asimov (1977) by Joseph D. Olander and Martin Harry Greenberg, p. 165
I believe that only scientists can understand the universe. It is not so much that I have confidence in scientists being right, but that I have so much in nonscientists being wrong.
Quasar, Quasar, Burning Bright (1978), p. 235
Where any answer is possible, all answers are meaningless.
The Road to Infinity (1979), p. 170
SWA Magazine: Talking about spacecraft, what do you think about the shuttle program?
Asimov: Well, I hope it does get off the ground. And I hope they expand it, because the shuttle program is the gateway to everything else. By means of the shuttle, we will be able to build space stations and power stations, laboratory facilities and habitations, and everything else in space.
SWA Magazine: How about orbital space colonies? Do you see these facilities being built or is the government going to cut back on projects like this?
Asimov: Well, now you’ve put your finger right on it. In order to have all of these wonderful things in space, we don’t have to wait for technology – we’ve got the technology, and we don’t have to wait for the know-how – we’ve got that too. All we need is the political go-ahead and the economic willingness to spend the money that is necessary. It is a little frustrating to think that if people concentrate on how much it is going to cost they will realize the great amount of profit they will get for their investment. Although they are reluctant to spend a few billions of dollars to get back an infinite quantity of money, the world doesn’t mind spending $400 billion every years on arms and armaments, never getting anything back from it except a chance to commit suicide.
Southwest Airlines Magazine (1979)
There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. 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 that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
“A Cult of Ignorance”, Newsweek, (21 January 1980)
I believe that every human being with a physically normal brain can learn a great deal and can be surprisingly intellectual. I believe that what we badly need is social approval of learning and social rewards for learning.
We can all be members of the intellectual elite and then, and only then, will a phrase like “America’s right to know” and, indeed, any true concept of democracy, have any meaning.
“A Cult of Ignorance”, Newsweek (21 January 1980)
[Creationists] make it sound as though a “theory” is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night.
Often attributed as remarks to the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) (1980)
Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable, and although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not.
“How Easy to See the Future”, Natural History magazine (April 1975); later published in Asimov on Science Fiction (1981)
The history of science is full of revolutionary advances that required small insights that anyone might have had, but that, in fact, only one person did.
“The Three Numbers” in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (September 1974); reprinted in More Tales of the Black Widowers (1976)
Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today — but the core of science fiction, its essence, the concept around which it revolves, has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.
“My Own View” in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1978) edited by Robert Holdstock; later published in Asimov on Science Fiction (1981)
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 … This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman must take on a science fictional way of thinking.
“My Own View” in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1978) edited by Robert Holdstock; later published in Asimov on Science Fiction (1981)
Weisinger, a couple of years ago, made up the following story: “Isaac Asimov was asked how Superman could fly faster than the speed of light, which was supposed to be an absolute limit. To this Asimov replied, ‘That the speed of light is a limit is a theory; that Superman can travel faster than light is a fact.'”
I assure you it never happened and I never said it, but it will be repeated, I am quite certain, indefinitely, and it will probably be found in Bartlett’s quotations a century from now, attributed to me, after all my writings have been forgotten.
“Science Fiction, 1938,” Nebula Winners Fourteen, Pohl, ed., 1980 Asimov on Science Fiction, pg. 97
But suppose we were to teach creationism. What would be the content of the teaching? Merely that a creator formed the universe and all species of life ready-made? Nothing more? No details?
“The Dangerous Myth of Creationism” in Penthouse (January 1982); reprinted as Ch. 2 : “Creationism and the Schools” in The Roving Mind (1983), p. 16
Miniaturization doesn’t actually make sense unless you miniaturize the very atoms of which matter is composed. Otherwise a tiny brain in a man the size of an insect, composed of normal atoms, is composed of too few atoms for the miniaturized man to be any more intelligent than the ant. Also, miniaturizing atoms is impossible according to the rules of quantum mechanics.
As quoted in Omni’s Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies (1984) edited by Danny Peary, p. 5
I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn’t have. Somehow, it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.
Free Inquiry (Spring 1982)
Consider the most famous pure dystopian tale of modern times, 1984, by George Orwell (1903-1950), published in 1948 (the same year in which Walden Two was published). I consider it an abominably poor book. It made a big hit (in my opinion) only because it rode the tidal wave of cold war sentiment in the United States.
“Nowhere!” Asimov’s Science Fiction (September 1983)
There are many aspects of the universe that still cannot be explained satisfactorily by science; but ignorance only implies ignorance that may someday be conquered. To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature, and it remains premature today.
“The “Threat” of Creationism” in New York Times Magazine (14 June 1981) reprinted Science and Creationism (1984) edited by M. F. Ashley Montagu
There are limits beyond which your folly will not carry you. I am glad of that. In fact, I am relieved.
Doctor Susan Calvin in “Robot Dreams” in Robot Dreams (1986)
All life is nucleic acid; the rest is commentary
“The Relativity of Wrong” (1988) – “Beginning with Bone” (May 1987)
I suppose he’s entitled to his opinion, but I don’t suppose it very hard.
“Seven Steps to Grand Master” in Nebula Awards 22 (1988), edited by George Zebrowski
[In response to this question by Bill Moyers: What do you see happening to the idea of dignity to human species if this population growth continues at its present rate?] “It’s going to destroy it all. I use what I call my bathroom metaphor. If two people live in an apartment, and there are two bathrooms, then both have what I call freedom of the bathroom, go to the bathroom any time you want, and stay as long as you want to for whatever you need. And this to my way is ideal. And everyone believes in the freedom of the bathroom. It should be right there in the Constitution. But if you have 20 people in the apartment and two bathrooms, no matter how much every person believes in freedom of the bathroom, there is no such thing. You have to set up, you have to set up times for each person, you have to bang at the door, aren’t you through yet, and so on. And in the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people onto the world, the value of life not only declines, but it disappears. It doesn’t matter if someone dies.
Interview by Bill Moyers on Bill Moyers’ World Of Ideas (17 October 1988); transcript (page 6) – audio (20:12)
Science doesn’t purvey absolute truth. Science is a mechanism. It’s a way of trying to improve your knowledge of nature. It’s a system for testing your thoughts against the universe and seeing whether they match. And this works, not just for the ordinary aspects of science, but for all of life. I should think people would want to know that what they know is truly what the universe is like, or at least as close as they can get to it.
Interview by Bill Moyers on Bill Moyers’ World Of Ideas (21 October 1988); transcript (pages 5-6)
The Law of conservation of energy tells us we can’t get something for nothing, but we refuse to believe it.
Book of Science and Nature Quotations (1988)
The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.
Isaac Asimov’s Book of Science and Nature Questions (1988), edited with Jason A. Shulman, p. 281
I made up my mind long ago to follow one cardinal rule in all my writing — to be clear. I have given up all thought of writing poetically or symbolically or experimentally, or in any of the other modes that might (if I were good enough) get me a Pulitzer prize. I would write merely clearly and in this way establish a warm relationship between myself and my readers, and the professional critics — Well, they can do whatever they wish.
Introduction to Nemesis (1989)
Books … hold within them the gathered wisdom of humanity, the collected knowledge of the world’s thinkers, the amusement and excitement built up by the imaginations of brilliant people. Books contain humor, beauty, wit, emotion, thought, and, indeed, all of life. Life without books is empty.
Puzzles of the Black Widowers (1990)
I was once being interviewed by Barbara Walters…In between two of the segments she asked me…”But what would you do if the doctor gave you only six months to live?” I said, “Type faster.” This was widely quoted, but the “six months” was changed to “six minutes,” which bothered me. It’s “six months.”
Asimov Laughs Again (1992)
To be sure, the Bible contains the direct words of God. How do we know? The Moral Majority says so. How do they know? They say they know and to doubt it makes you an agent of the Devil or, worse, a Lbr-l Dm-cr-t. And what does the Bible textbook say? Well, among other things it says the earth was created in 4004 BC (Not actually, but a Moral Majority type figured that out three and a half centuries ago, and his word is also accepted as inspired.) The sun was created three days later. The first male was molded out of dirt, and the first female was molded, some time later, out of his rib. As far as the end of the universe is concerned, the Book of Revelation (6:13-14) says: “And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.” … Imagine the people who believe such things and who are not ashamed to ignore, totally, all the patient findings of thinking minds through all the centuries since the Bible was written. And it is these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes. I personally resent it bitterly.
“The Blind Who Would Lead”, essay in The Roving Mind (1983); as quoted in Canadian Atheists Newsletter (1994)
Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.
Suppose that we are wise enough to learn and know — and yet not wise enough to control our learning and knowledge, so that we use it to destroy ourselves? Even if that is so, knowledge remains better than ignorance.
The facts, gentlemen, and nothing but the facts, for careful eyes are narrowly watching.
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’, but ‘That’s funny …’
Proceedings of the … session: Volume 36 – página 22, South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission – SOPAC Technical Secetariat, 1994[disputed—see talk page]
Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.
As quoted in The Mammoth Book of Zingers, Quips, and One-Liners (2004) edited by Geoff Tibballs, p. 299
If you suspect that my interest in the Bible is going to inspire me with sudden enthusiasm for Judaism and make me a convert of mountain‐moving fervor and that I shall suddenly grow long earlocks and learn Hebrew and go about denouncing the heathen — you little know the effect of the Bible on me. Properly read, it is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.
Quoted in Asimov, Janet Jeppson (2006-06-06). Notes for a Memoir: On Isaac Asimov, Life, and Writing (1st ed.). Amherst: Prometheus. p. 58. LCC PS3551.S5 Z519 2006. ISBN 978-1591024057.
I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I don’t have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.
As quoted in Philosophy on the Go (2007) by Joey Green, p. 222
Radiation, unlike smoking, drinking, and overeating, gives no pleasure, so the possible victims object.
As given in The Journal of NIH Research (1990), 2, 30
The foundation of all technology is fire.
Asimov’s Chronology of the World (1991), p. 11
The Three Laws of Robotics (1942)

A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
“Runaround” in Astounding Science Fiction (March 1942); later published in I, Robot (1950). This statement is known as “The First Law of Robotics”
A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
“Runaround” in Astounding Science Fiction (March 1942); later published in I, Robot (1950). This statement is known as “The Second Law of Robotics”
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
“Runaround” in Astounding Science Fiction (March 1942); later published in I, Robot (1950). This statement is known as “The Third Law of Robotics”
Later included among these laws was a more fundamental directive:

A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
Robots and Empire (1985) This statement is known as “The Zeroth Law of Robotics”; a variant of it first occurred in The Evitable Conflict (1950) as: No robot may harm humanity, or through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
I, Robot (1950)

All page numbers from the 1983 Del Rey mass market paperback edition, ISBN 0-345-31482-4
“Fifty years,” I hackneyed, “is a long time.”
“Not when you’re looking back at them,” she said. “You wonder how they vanished so quickly.”
“Introduction” (pp. 8-9)
“Nonsense,” Weston denied, with an involuntary nervous shiver. “That’s completely ridiculous. We had a long discussion at the time we bought Robbie about the First Law of Robotics. You know that it is impossible for a robot to harm a human being; that long before enough can go wrong to alter that First Law, a robot would be completely inoperable. It’s a mathematical impossibility. Besides I have an engineer from U.S. Robots here twice a year to give the poor gadget a complete overhaul. Why, there’s no more chance of anything at all going wrong with Robbie than there is of you or I suddenly going looney—considerably less, in fact. Besides, how are you going to take him away from Gloria?”
“Robbie” (p. 17)
There’s nothing like deduction. We’ve determined everything about our problem but the solution.
“Runaround” (p. 41; see above for the Three Laws of Robotics, also drawn from this story)
I accept nothing on authority. A hypothesis must be backed by reason, or else it is worthless.
“Reason” (p. 52)
“You can prove anything you want by coldly logical reason—if you pick the proper postulates. We have ours and Cutie has his.”
“Then let’s get at those postulates in a hurry. The storm’s due tomorrow.”
Powell sighed wearily. “That’s where everything falls down. Postulates are based on assumptions and adhered to by faith. Nothing in the Universe can shake them. I’m going to bed.”
“Reason” (p. 63)
The unwritten motto of United States Robot and Mechanical Men Corp. was well-known: “No employee makes the same mistake twice. He is fired the first time.”
“Catch That Rabbit” (p. 65)
Just you think first, and don’t bother to speak afterward, either.
“Catch That Rabbit” (p. 71)
Milton Ashe is not the type to marry a head of hair and a pair of eyes.
“Liar!” (p. 89)
“You’re the U. S. Robot’s psychologist, aren’t you?”
“Robopsychologist, please.”
“Oh, are robots so different from men, mentally?”
“Worlds different.” She allowed herself a frosty smile, “Robots are essentially decent.”
“Evidence” (p. 151)
The machine is only a tool after all, which can help humanity progress faster by taking some of the burdens of calculations and interpretations off its back. The task of the human brain remains what it has always been; that of discovering new data to be analyzed, and of devising new concepts to be tested.
“The Evitable Conflict” (p. 187)
There is nothing so eternally adhesive as the memory of power.
“The Evitable Conflict” (p. 189)
“Why, Stephen, if I am right, it means that the Machine is conducting our future for us not only simply in direct answer to our direct questions, but in general answer to the world situation and to human psychology as a whole. And to know that may make us unhappy and may hurt our pride. The Machine cannot, must not, make us unhappy.
“Stephen, how do we know what the ultimate good of Humanity will entail? We haven’t at our disposal the infinite factors that the Machine has at its! Perhaps, to give you a not unfamiliar example, our entire technical civilization has created more unhappiness and misery than it has removed. Perhaps an agrarian or pastoral civilization, with less culture and less people would be better. If so, the Machines must move in that direction, preferably without telling us, since in our ignorant prejudices we only know that what we are used to, is good—and we would then fight change. Or perhaps a complete urbanization, or a completely caste-ridden society, or complete anarchy, is the answer. We don’t know. Only the Machines know, and they are going there and taking us with them.”
“But you are telling me, Susan, that the ‘Society for Humanity’ is right; and that Mankind has lost its own say in its future.”
“It never had any, really. It was always at the mercy of economic and sociological forces it did not understand—at the whims of climate, and the fortunes of war. Now the Machines understand them; and no one can stop them, since the Machines will deal with them as they are dealing with the Society,—having, as they do, the greatest of weapons at their disposal, the absolute control of our economy.”
“How horrible!”
“Perhaps how wonderful! Think, that for all time, all conflicts are finally evitable. Only the Machines, from now on, are inevitable!”
“The Evitable Conflict” (p. 192)
Pebble in the Sky (1950)

All page numbers from the 1964 Bantam Pathfinder mass market paperback edition, 6th printing
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.
Chapter 4 “The Royal Road” (p. 33)
It is because you yourself fear the propaganda created, after all, only by the stupidity of your own bigots.
Chapter 4 “The Royal Road” (p. 33)
There was no denying that he would always be conscious of the fact that an Earthman was an Earthman. He couldn’t help that. That was the result of a childhood immersed in an atmosphere of bigotry so complete that it was almost invisible, so entire that you accepted its axioms as second nature. Then you left it and saw it for what it was when you looked back.
Chapter 7 “Conversation with Madmen?” (p. 58)
That is the most stupid thing yet. I tell you that I could despair of human intelligence when I see what can exist in men’s minds.
Chapter 15 “The Odds That Vanished” (p. 136)
The Foundation series

Foundation (1951)

Four of the stories in this work were originally published with different titles in Astounding Magazine between 1942 and 1944, and the fifth was added when they first appeared in book form in 1951.
Q. You do not consider your statement a disloyal one?
A. No, sir. Scientific truth is beyond loyalty and disloyalty.
Q. You are sure that your statement represents scientific truth?
A. I am.
Part I, The Psychohistorians, section 6
The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity — a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.
Part I, The Psychohistorians, section 6
“That insufferable, dull-witted donkey! That—”
Hardin broke in: “Not at all. He’s merely the product of his environment. He doesn’t understand much except that ‘I got a gun and you ain’t.’ ”
Part II, The Encyclopedists, section 2 (originally published as “Foundation” in Astounding (May 1942))
“It seems an uncommonly woundabout and hopelessly wigmawolish method of getting anywheahs.”
Part II, The Encyclopedists, section 4
“Violence,” came the retort, “is the last refuge of the incompetent.”
Part II, The Encyclopedists, section 5 (This also appears three times in “Bridle and Saddle” which is titled “The Mayors” within Foundation. It is derived from the famous phrase by Samuel Johnson: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel” and is usually quoted as simply “Violence … is the last refuge of the incompetent.”)
Well, then, arrest him. You can accuse him of something or other afterward.
Part III, The Mayors, section 1 (originally published as “Bridle and Saddle” in Astounding (June 1942))
“That was the time to begin all-out preparations for war.”
“On the contrary. That was the time to begin all-out prevention of war.”
Part III, The Mayors, section 1
It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety.
Part III, The Mayors, section 2
Courtiers don’t take wagers against the king’s skill. There is the deadly danger of winning.
Part III, The Mayors, section 3
He believes in that mummery a good deal less than I do, and I don’t believe in it at all.
Part III, The Mayors, section 3
For it is the chief characteristic of the religion of science, that it works, and that such curses as that of Aporat’s are really deadly.
Part III, The Mayors, section 7
A fire eater must eat fire even if he has to kindle it himself.
Part III, The Mayors, section 9
Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.
Part IV, The Traders, section 1 (originally published as “The Wedge” in Astounding (October 1944))
“Ponyets! They sent you?”
“Pure chance,” said Ponyets, bitterly, “or the work of my own personal malevolent demon.”
Part IV, The Traders, section 3
There’s something about a pious man such as he. He will cheerfully cut your throat if it suits him, but he will hesitate to endanger the welfare of your immaterial and problematical soul.
Part IV, The Traders, section 3
The whole business is the crudest sort of stratagem, since we have no way of foreseeing it to the end. It is a mere paying out of rope on the chance that somewhere along the length of it will be a noose.
Part V, The Merchant Princes, section 2 (originally published as “The Big and the Little” in Astounding (August 1944))
He is energetic only in evading responsibility.
Part V, The Merchant Princes, section 2
To succeed, planning alone is insufficient. One must improvise as well.
Part V, The Merchant Princes, section 3
Korell is that frequent phenomenon in history: the republic whose ruler has every attribute of the absolute monarch but the name. It therefore enjoyed the usual despotism unrestrained even by those two moderating influences in the legitimate monarchies: regal “honor” and court etiquette.
Part V, The Merchant Princes, section 4
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.
Part V, The Merchant Princes, section 13
An atom blaster is a good weapon, but it can point both ways.
Part V, The Merchant Princes, section 13
It’s a poor atom blaster that won’t point both ways.
Part V, The Merchant Princes, section 18
Foundation and Empire (1952)

Inertia! Our ruling class knows one law; no change. Despotism! They know one rule; force. Maldistribution! They know one desire; to hold what is theirs.
He is a dreamer of ancient times, or rather, of the myths of what ancient times used to be. Such men are harmless in themselves, but their queer lack of realism makes them fools for others.
Chapter 4 “The Emperor” (in part I, “The General” originally published as “Dead Hand” in Astounding (April 1945))
You are a valuable subject, Brodrig. You always suspect far more than is necessary, and I have but to take half your suggested precautions to be utterly safe.
Chapter 4 “The Emperor”
Inertia! Our ruling class knows one law; no change. Despotism! They know one rule; force. Maldistribution! They know one desire; to hold what is theirs.
Chapter 11 “Bride and Groom” (in part II, “The Mule” originally published under the same title in Astounding (November-December 1945))
To him, a stilted geometric love of arrangement was “system,” an indefatigable and feverish interest in the pettiest facets of day-to-day bureaucracy was “industry,” indecision when right was “caution,” and blind stubbornness when wrong, “determination.”
Chapter 12 “Captain and Mayor”
It is the invariable lesson to humanity that distance in time, and in space as well, lends focus. It is not recorded, incidentally, that the lesson has ever been permanently learned.
Chapter 13 “Lieutenant and Clown”
“Were I to use the wits the good Spirits gave me,” he said, “then I would say this lady can not exist — for what sane man would hold a dream to be reality. Yet rather would I not be sane and lend belief to charmed, enchanted eyes.”
Chapter 13 “Lieutenant and Clown”
“When the twenty-seven independent Trading Worlds, united only by their distrust of mother planet of the Foundation, concert an assembly among themselves, and each is big with a pride grown of its smallness, hardened by its own insularity and embittered by eternal danger — there are preliminary negotiations to be overcome of a pettiness sufficiently staggering to heart-sicken the most persevering.”
Chapter 16 “Conference”
It is well-known that the friend of a conqueror is but the last victim.
Chapter 22 “Death on Neotrantor”
Second Foundation (1953)

Secrecy as deep as this is past possibility without nonexistence as well.
Chapter 1 “Two Men and the Mule” (in part I, “Search by the Mule” originally published as “Now You See It—” in Astounding (January 1948))
Every human being lived behind an impenetrable wall of choking mist within which no other but he existed. Occasionally there were the dim signals from deep within the cavern in which another man was located — so that each might grope toward the other. Yet because they did not know one another, and could not understand one another, and dared not trust one another, and felt from infancy the terrors and insecurity of that ultimate isolation — there was the hunted fear of man for man, the savage rapacity of man toward man.
Chapter 8 “Seldon’s Plan” (in part II, “Search by the Foundation” originally published as “—And Now You Don’t” in Astounding (November and December 1949 and January 1950))
The most hopelessly stupid man is he who is not aware that he is wise.
Chapter 8 “Seldon’s Plan”
The house was somehow very lonely at night and Dr. Darell found that the fate of the Galaxy made remarkably little difference while his daughter’s mad little life was in danger.
Chapter 11 “Stowaway”
Remarkable what a fragile flower romance is. A gun with a nervous operator behind it can spoil the whole thing.
Chapter 11 “Stowaway”
The spell of power never quite releases its hold.
Chapter 12 “Lord”
Foundation’s Edge (1982)

Once you get it into your head that somebody is controlling events, you can interpret everything in that light and find no reasonable certainty anywhere.
All page numbers from the mass market edition published by Del Rey (17th printing, March 1989)
At odd and unpredictable times, we cling in fright to the past.
Chapter 1 “Councilman” section 1, p. 4
It seems to me, Golan, that the advance of civilization is nothing but an exercise in the limiting of privacy.
Chapter 6 “Earth” section 1, p. 100
If there is a misuse of power, it is on her part. My crime is that I have never labored to make myself popular — I admit that much — and I have paid too little attention to fools who are old enough to be senile but young enough to have power.
Chapter 8 “Farmwoman” section 5, p. 154
Pelorat sighed. “I will never understand people.”
“There’s nothing to it. All you have to do is take a close look at yourself and you will understand everyone else. We’re in no way different ourselves… You show me someone who can’t understand people and I’ll show you someone who has built up a false image of himself.”
Chapter 11 “Sayshell” section 3, p. 205
Once you get it into your head that somebody is controlling events, you can interpret everything in that light and find no reasonable certainty anywhere.
Chapter 12 “Agent” section 4, p. 226
“Is not all this an extraordinary concatenation of coincidence?”
Pelorat said, “If you list it like that—”
“List it any way you please,” said Trevize. “I don’t believe in extraordinary concatenations of coincidence.”
Chapter 14 “Forward!” section 1, p. 281
It’s one thing to have guts; it’s another to be crazy.
Chapter 15 “Gaia-S” section 2, p. 302
“Stories grow by accretion. Tales accumulate — like dust. The longer the time lapse, the dustier the history — until it degenerates into fables.”
Pelorat said, “We historians are familiar with the process, Dom. There is a certain preference for the fable. The falsely dramatic drives out the truly dull.”
Chapter 17 “Gaia” section 5, p. 361
Societies create their own history and tend to wipe out lowly beginnings, either by forgetting them or inventing totally fictitious heroic rescues.
Chapter 17 “Gaia” section 5, p. 363
It was easy to cover up ignorance by the mystical word “intuition.”
Chapter 18 “Collision” section 4, p. 377
It is better to go to defeat with free will than to live in a meaningless security as a cog in a machine.
Chapter 19 “Decision” section 7, p. 404
We abandoned the appearance of power to preserve the essence of it.
Chapter 20 “Conclusion” section 1, p. 408
If you were to insist I was a robot, you might not consider me capable of love in some mystic human sense, but you would not be able to distinguish my reactions from that which you would call love — so what difference would it make?
Chapter 20 “Conclusion” section 4, p. 420
Prelude to Foundation (1988)

I have always dealt with economic forces, rather than philosophic forces, but you can’t split history into neat little non-overlapping divisions. For instance, religions tend to accumulate wealth when successful and that eventually tends to distort the economic development of a society.
Chapter 40, Dors Venabili to Hari Seldon
The Gods Themselves (1972)

I suppose I can argue myself into believing that I have no great cause to love humanity. However, only a few people have hurt me, and if I hurt everyone in return that is unconscionable usury.
To Mankind
And the hope that the war against folly may someday be won, after all.
Dedication, p. 5; this refers to the quotation of Friedrich Schiller from which Asimov derived the title of this novel: “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.”
“Don’t finish, Pete. I’ve heard it all before. All I have to do is decipher the thinking of a non-human intelligence.”
“A better-than-human intelligence. Those creatures from the para-Universe are trying to make themselves understood.”
“That may be,” sighed Bronowski, “but they’re trying to do it through my intelligence, which is better than human I sometimes think, but not much. Sometimes, in the dark of the night, I lie awake and wonder if different intelligences can communicate at all; or, if I’ve had a particularly bad day, whether the phrase ‘different intelligences’ has meaning at all.”
“It does,” said Lamont savagely, his hands clearly bailing into fists within his lab coat pockets. “It means Hallam and me. It means that fool-hero, Dr. Frederick Hallam and me. We’re different intelligences because when I talk to him he doesn’t understand. His idiot face gets redder and his eyes bulge and his ears block. I’d say his mind stops functioning, but lack the proof of any other state from which it might stop.”
Section 1 “Against stupidity…”, Chapter 6, p. 12
“It is a mistake,” he said, “to suppose that the public wants the environment protected or their lives saved and that they will be grateful to any idealist who will fight for such ends. What the public wants is their own individual comfort. We know that well enough from our experience in the environmental crisis of the twentieth century.”
Section 1, Chapter 7, p. 56; the book is set in the year 2100.
Tritt listened placidly, clearly understanding nothing, but content to be listening; while Odeen, transmitting nothing, was as clearly content to be lecturing.
Section 2 “…the gods themselves…”, Chapter 1b, p. 82
I don’t like anything that’s got to be. I want to know why.
Section 2, Chapter 2a, p. 93
I know nothing of that directly; I only know what I have been told by other young ones who couldn’t have known directly either. I want to find out the truth about them and the wanting has grown until there is more of curiosity in me than fear.
Section 2, Chapter 2b, p. 104
I fear my ignorance.
Section 3 “…contend in vain?”, Chapter 3 (p. 187)
The easiest way to solve a problem is to deny it exists.
Section 3, Chapter 10, p. 236
You know that prudery is only the other side of prurience. The words are even on the same page in the dictionary.
Section 3, Chapter 12, p. 244
I’ve lived most of my life already and I suppose I can argue myself into believing that I have no great cause to love humanity. However, only a few people have hurt me, and if I hurt everyone in return that is unconscionable usury.
Section 3, Chapter 12, p. 250
If an interaction is too weak to be detectable or to exert influence in any way, then by any operational definition, it doesn’t exist.
Section 3, Chapter 12, p. 257
There are no happy endings in history, only crisis points that pass.
Section 3, Chapter 19, p. 287
The Roving Mind (1983)

Don’t you believe in flying saucers, they ask me? Don’t you believe in telepathy? — in ancient astronauts? — in the Bermuda triangle? — in life after death?
No, I reply. No, no, no, no, and again no.
One person recently, goaded into desperation by the litany of unrelieved negation, burst out “Don’t you believe in anything?”
“Yes”, I said. “I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I’ll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.”
p. 43
Knowledge is indivisible. When people grow wise in one direction, they are sure to make it easier for themselves to grow wise in other directions as well. On the other hand, when they split up knowledge, concentrate on their own field, and scorn and ignore other fields, they grow less wise — even in their own field.
Ch. 25
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.
Ch. 25
I. Asimov: A Memoir (1994)

I received the fundamentals of my education in school, but that was not enough. My real education, the superstructure, the details, the true architecture, I got out of the public library. For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it.
Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.
Ch. 8, Library
If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul.
I would also want a God who would not allow a Hell. Infinite torture can only be a punishment for infinite evil, and I don’t believe that infinite evil can be said to exist even in the case of Hitler. Besides, if most human governments are civilized enough to try to eliminate torture and outlaw cruel and unusual punishments, can we expect anything less of an all-merciful God?
I feel that if there were an afterlife, punishment for evil would be reasonable and of a fixed term. And I feel that the longest and worst punishment should be reserved for those who slandered God by inventing Hell.
He always pictured himself a libertarian, which to my way of thinking means “I want the liberty to grow rich and you can have the liberty to starve”. It’s easy to believe that no one should depend on society for help when you yourself happen not to need such help.
p. 308
Happiness is doing it rotten your own way.

Quotes about Asimov

He had writer’s block once. It was the worst ten minutes of his life.
Attributed to Harlan Ellison, quoted in Page Fright : Foibles and Fetishes of Famous Writers (2009) by Harry Bruce
Variant: Most writers hate to write, and will grasp any excuse to do something else … There are exceptions. Isaac Asimov actually was never happier than sitting at a keyboard — first, his old typewriter; then, the TRS-80; and later, a more conventional PC. But then, Isaac was unusual, and his experience with writer’s block was the worst 10 minutes of his life.
Jerry Pournelle, in “Chaos Manor: Is there an Upgrade in your future?” in Dr. Dobb’s Journal : Software Tools For The Professional Programmer (2005), Vol. 30, Issues 374-379, p. 9
When I first met Asimov, I asked him if he was a professor at Boston University. He said no and … asked me where I got my Ph.D. I said I didn’t have one and he looked startled. “You mean you’re in the same racket I am,” he said, “you just read books by the professors and rewrite them?” That’s really what I do.
Martin Gardner, as quoted in “Every Day” by Sally Helgeson, in Bookletter, Vol. 3, No. 8 (6 December 1976), p. 8
Although he spends many pages writing about his friends in the science-fiction community, the true value of Asimov’s insight is his reflections on his life — and, in his mind, Asimov was first a genius, second a prolific writer, and only thirdly a sci-fi writer.
Asimov tells the reader repeatedly that his life would have been easier if he had learned to submerge his ego and get along with others. “It really puzzles me as I look back on it that I didn’t make a greater effort to placate the powers that be,” he writes. Indeed, it was this inability to get along with others that forced Asimov out of academia and into the solitary life of a freelance writer.
Simson Garfinkel, in Asimov the Explainer Explains Himself” in The Christian Science Monitor (9 August 1994)
I am honorary president of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great, spectacularly prolific writer and scientist, Dr. Isaac Asimov in that essentially functionless capacity. At an A.H.A. memorial service for my predecessor I said, “Isaac is up in Heaven now.” That was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. It rolled them in the aisles. Mirth! Several minutes had to pass before something resembling solemnity could be restored.
Kurt Vonnegut, in God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian (1999)
External links

Asimov Online
Complete list of works
The Asimov Vault (Photos, sound recordings, biography and links)
Internet Science Fiction Database page for Isaac Asimov
Internet Movie Database page for Isaac Asimov
Jenkins’ Spoiler-Laden Guide to Isaac Asimov (reviews and ratings)
Book listing for Asimov by {Work in Progress}
Foundation RPG

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