Quotable Arthur C. Clarke

The quotes provided below reflect the insights of Arthur C. Clarke spanning a wide range of topics concerning the human condition, our existence on Earth, and Earth’s place in a greater cosmos. Uncited quotes are provided by Neil McAleer, Arthur C. Clarke’s biographer. Cited quotes have been checked by Institute staff against primary sources in the collection of the Library of Congress, in Washington, DC.

 

Selected quotes:

In the struggle for freedom of information, technology, not politics, will be the ultimate decider.


Every revolutionary idea seems to evoke three stages of reaction. They may be summed up by the phrases:
(1) It’s completely impossible. (2) It’s possible, but it’s not worth doing. (3) I said it was a good idea all along.


Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.


As our own species is in the process of proving, one cannot have superior science and inferior morals. The

combination is unstable and self-destroying.


Human judges can show mercy. But against the laws of nature, there is no appeal.


I don’t pretend we have all the answers. But the questions are certainly worth thinking about.


It has yet to be proven that intelligence has any survival value.


It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the
Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars.


It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God but to create him.


Our lifetime may be the last that will be lived out in a technological society.


Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories.


I don’t believe in astrology; I’m a Sagittarius and we’re skeptical.


Sometimes I think we’re alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we’re not. In either case the idea
is quite staggering.


The best measure of a man’s honesty isn’t his income tax return. It’s the zero adjust on his bathroom scale.


The greatest tragedy in mankind’s entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion.


The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible.


There is hopeful symbolism in the fact that flags do not wave in a vacuum.


This is the first age that’s ever paid much attention to the future, which is a little ironic since we may not have one.


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.


The best proof that there’s intelligent life in outer space is the fact that it hasn’t come here.


We stand now at the turning point between two eras. Behind us is a past to which we can never return … The
coming of the rocket brought to an end a million years of isolation … the childhood of our race was over and
history as we know it began.
—The Exploration of Space, 1951
Verified in Temple Press Ltd., London, 1951 edition, p. 195


The fact that we have not yet found the slightest evidence for life — much less intelligence — beyond this Earth

does not surprise or disappoint me in the least. Our technology must still be laughably primitive; we may well be
like jungle savages listening for the throbbing of tom-toms, while the ether around them carries more words
per second than they could utter in a lifetime.
— Credo, essay, 1991
Verified in Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!, Collected Essays 1934-1998, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999 edition, p. 360


Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.

—Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century, Michio Kaku, 1997
Verified in Anchor Books, New York, 1997 edition, p. 295


The Information Age offers much to mankind, and I would like to think that we will rise to the challenges it

presents. But it is vital to remember that information — in the sense of raw data — is not knowledge; that
knowledge is not wisdom; and that wisdom is not foresight. But information is the first essential step to
all of these.
—Humanity will survive information deluge — Sir Arthur C Clarke, by Nalaka Gunawardene in OneWorld South Asia,
05 December 2003; Verified at http://archive.oneworld.net/article/view/74591


from The Sentinel, 1948 (written in 1948, originally published as “Sentinel of Eternity” in 1951)

I can never look now at the Milky Way without wondering from which of those banked clouds of stars the
emissaries are coming. If you will pardon so commonplace a simile, we have broken the glass of the fire-alarm and
have nothing to do but to wait. I do not think we will have to wait for long.
Verified in The Collected Stories, Tor/Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, New York, 2001 edition, p. 308

or

I can never look now at the Milky Way without wondering from which of those banked clouds of stars the
emissaries are coming. If you will pardon so commonplace a simile, we have set off the fire-alarm and
have nothing to do but to wait. I do not think we will have to wait for long.
Verified in The Sentinel – Masterworks of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Berkley Books, New York, 1983 edition, p. 149


Yet now, as he roared across the night sky toward an unknown destiny, he found himself facing that

bleak and ultimate question which so few men can answer to their satisfaction. What have I done with
my life, he asked himself, that the world will be poorer if I leave it now?
—Glide Path, 1963
Verified in Harcourt, Brace & World Inc., New York, 1963 edition, pp. 206-207


Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.

—Foreword to 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968


One of the biggest roles of science fiction is to prepare people to accept the future without pain and to

encourage a flexibility of mind. Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories.
—The Making of Kubrick’s 2001, Jerome Agel, 1970
Verified in Signet/New American Library, Inc, New York, 1970 edition, p. 300


The dinosaurs disappeared because they could not adapt to their changing environment. We shall
disappear if we cannot adapt to an environment that now contains spaceships, computers — and
thermonuclear weapons.
—Foreword to The Collected Stories, 2001
Verified in The Collected Stories, Tor/Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, New York, 2001, edition, p. x (in foreword)


The danger of asteroid or comet impact is one of the best reasons for getting into space … I’m very fond
of quoting my friend Larry Niven: “The dinosaurs became extinct because they didn’t have a space program.
And if we become extinct because we don’t have a space program, it’ll serve us right!”
—Meeting of the Minds : Buzz Aldrin Visits Arthur C. Clarke, Andrew Chaikin, 2001


SETI is probably the most important quest of our time, and it amazes me that governments and corporations
are not supporting it sufficiently.
—Seti@Home, 2006


2001 was written in an age which now lies beyond one of the great divides in human history; we are
sundered from it forever by the moment when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out on to the Sea
of Tranquility. Now history and fiction have become inexorably intertwined.
—Foreword to the Millennial Edition of 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1999


… we have a situation in which millions of vehicles, each a miracle of (often unnecessary) complication, are
hurtling in all directions under the impulse of anything up to two hundred horsepower. Many of them are the size of
small houses and contain a couple of tons of sophisticated alloys – yet often carry a single passenger. They
can travel at a hundred miles an hour, but are lucky if they average forty. In one lifetime they have consumed
more irreplaceable fuel than has been used in the whole previous history of mankind. The roads to support
them, inadequate though they are, cost as much as a small war; the analogy is a good one, for the casualties
are on the same scale.
—Profiles of the Future, 1962
Verified in Harper & Row, New York, 1963 edition, p. 29


For his 90th birthday in December 2007, Arthur C. Clarke recorded a greeting to his friends around the world.
As part of the message, Clarke expressed three wishes:
Firstly, I would like to see some evidence of extra-terrestrial life. I have always believed that we are
not alone in the universe. But we are still waiting for ET to call us — or give us some kind of a sign.
We have no way of guessing when this might happen — I hope sooner rather than later!

Secondly, I would like to see us kick our current addiction to oil, and adopt clean energy sources. …
Climate change has now added a new sense of urgency. Our civilisation depends on energy, but we
can’t allow oil and coal to slowly bake our planet…

The third wish is one closer to home. I’ve been living in Sri Lanka for 50 years — and half that time,
I’ve been a sad witness to the bitter conflict that divides my adopted country. I dearly wish to see
lasting peace established in Sri Lanka as soon as possible.

In his 90th birthday message, Clarke also addressed his legacy:
I’m sometimes asked how I would like to be remembered. I’ve had a diverse career as a writer,
underwater explorer, space promoter and science populariser. Of all these, I want to be remembered
most as a writer — one who entertained readers, and, hopefully, stretched their imaginations as well.


Our age is in many ways unique, full of events and phenomena that never occurred before and can never
happen again. They distort our thinking, making us believe that what is true now will be true forever,
though perhaps on a larger scale. Because we have annihilated distance on this planet, we imagine that we
can do it once again. The facts are far otherwise, and we will see them more clearly if we forget the present and turn
our minds toward the past.
—We’ll Never Conquer Space, essay, 1960
Verified in Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!, Collected Essays 1934-1998, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999 edition, p. 204,
and in Profiles of the Future, Harper & Row, New York, 1963 edition, p. 113


from We’ll Never Conquer Space, essay, 1960
When the pioneers and adventurers of the past left their homes in search of new lands, they said good-bye
forever to the place of their birth and the companions of their youth. Only a lifetime ago, parents waved
farewell to their emigrating children in the virtual certainty that they would never meet again.
 And now,
within one incredible generation, all this has changed.
Verified in Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!, Collected Essays 1934-1998, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999 edition, p. 205

or

When the pioneers and adventurers of the past left their homes in search of new lands, they said good-by
forever to the place of their birth and the companions of their youth. Only a lifetime ago, parents waved
farewell to their emigrating children in the virtual certainty that they would never meet again.
 And now,
within one incredible generation, all this has changed.
Verified in Profiles of the Future, Harper & Row, New York, 1963 edition, pp. 113-114


from We’ll Never Conquer Space, essay, 1960

We have abolished space here on the little Earth; we can never abolish the space that yawns between the
stars. Once again, as in the days when Homer sang, we are face-to-face with immensity and must accept its
grandeur and terror, its inspiring possibilities and its dreadful restraints.
Verified in Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!, Collected Essays 1934-1998, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999 edition, p. 205

or

We have abolished space here on the little Earth; we can never abolish the space that yawns between the
stars. Once again, as in the days when Homer sang, we are face to face with immensity and must accept its
grandeur and terror, its inspiring possibilities and its dreadful restraints.
Verified in Profiles of the Future, Harper & Row, New York, 1963 edition, p. 114


To obtain a mental picture of the distance to the nearest star, as compared with the distance to the nearest planet,

you must imagine a world in which the closest object to you is only five feet away — and then there is nothing else
to see until you have traveled a thousand miles.
—We’ll Never Conquer Space, essay, 1960
Verified in Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!, Collected Essays 1934-1998, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999 edition, p. 206,
and in Profiles of the Future, Harper & Row, New York, 1963 edition, p. 116


from We’ll Never Conquer Space, essay, 1960

Space can be mapped and crossed and occupied without definable limit; but it can never be conquered.
When our race has reached its ultimate achievements, and the stars themselves are scattered no more
widely than the seed of Adam, even then we shall still be like ants crawling on the face of the Earth. The
ants have covered the world, but have they conquered it — for what do their countless colonies know of it,
or of each other? So it will be with us as we spread out from Earth, loosening the bonds of kinship and
understanding, hearing faint and belated rumors at second — or third — or thousandth hand of an
ever-dwindling fraction of the entire human race. Though Earth will try to keep in touch with her children,
in the end all the efforts of her archivists and historians will be defeated by time and distance, and the
sheer bulk of material. For the number of distinct human societies or nations, when our race is twice its
present age, may be far greater than the total number of all the men who have ever lived up to the present
time.
Verified in Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!, Collected Essays 1934-1998, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999 edition, pp. 208-209

Version printed in Profiles of the Future, Harper & Row, New York, 1963 edition, p. 121, adds the following
sentence to the end of the paragraph:

We have left the realm of comprehension in our vain effort to grasp the scale of the universe; so it
must always be, sooner rather than later.


We seldom stop to think that we are still creatures of the sea, able to leave it only because, from birth to

death, we wear the water-filled space suits of our skins.
—Space and the Spirit of Man, essay, 1965
Verified in Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!, Collected Essays 1934-1998, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999 edition, p. 228


…we cannot predict the new forces, powers, and discoveries that will be disclosed to us when we reach the

other planets or can set up new laboratories in space. They are as much beyond our vision today as fire or
electricity would be beyond the imagination of a fish.
—Space and the Spirit of Man, essay, 1965
Verified in Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!, Collected Essays 1934-1998, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999 edition, p. 228


The rash assertion that ‘God made man in His own image’ is ticking like a time bomb at the foundations of

many faiths, and as the hierarchy of the universe is disclosed to us, we may have to recognize this chilling
truth: if there are any gods whose chief concern is man, they cannot be very important gods.
—Space and the Spirit of Man, essay, 1965
Verified in Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds!, Collected Essays 1934-1998, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999 edition, p. 230


What we need is a machine that will let us see the other guy’s point of view.

—The Light of Other Days, by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, 2000
Verified in Tor/Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, New York, 2000 edition, pp. 61-62


Science demands patience.

—The Light of Other Days, by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, 2000
Verified in Tor/Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, New York, 2000 edition, p. 71


What is becoming more interesting than the myths themselves has been the study of how the myths were

constructed from sparse or unpromising facts—indeed, sometimes from no facts—in a kind of mute
conspiracy of longing, very rarely under anybody’s conscious control.
—The Light of Other Days, by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, 2000
Verified in Tor/Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, New York, 2000 edition, p. 190


Just as the human memory is not a passive recorder but a tool in the construction of the self, so history

has never been a simple record of the past, but a means of shaping peoples.
—The Light of Other Days, by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, 2000
Verified in Tor/Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, New York, 2000 edition, p. 190


The vendors seemed comical, so intent were they on their slivers of meaningless profit, all unaware of the

desolate ages that lay in their own near future, their own imminent deaths.
—The Light of Other Days, by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, 2000
Verified in Tor/Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, New York, 2000 edition, p. 263


Maybe those nihilist philosophers are right; maybe this is all we can expect of the universe, a relentless

crushing of life and spirit, because the equilibrium state of the cosmos is death…
—The Light of Other Days, by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, 2000
Verified in Tor/Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, New York, 2000 edition, p. 305


We always thought the living Earth was a thing of beauty. It isn’t. Life has had to learn to defend itself

against the planet’s random geological savagery.
—The Light of Other Days, by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, 2000
Verified in Tor/Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, New York, 2000 edition, p. 305