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Unpopular Essays Notes From The Universe

A Guide to Isaac Asimov's Essays

Copyright © 1995 by Edward Seiler and Richard Hatcher. All rights reserved.

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Though perhaps best known throughout the world for his science fiction, Isaac Asimov was also regarded as one of the great explainers of science. His essays exemplified his skill at making complex subjects understandable, and were written in an unformal style, liberally sprinkled with personal anecdotes that endeared him to a legion of faithful readers.

It was all a labor of love; in particular Asimov often remarked that of all his writing, his essays for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction were his favorite, despite the fact that he received the lowest word-rate payment for them. From November 1959 to February 1992, an essay of his appeared in the magazine every month, without fail.

Asimov didn't stop with his F&SF essays, however. With the advent of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine in 1977, he began a series of editorials that appeared at the beginning of each issue. He also wrote a regular series of science articles for American Way (the magazine of American Airlines), SciQuest (the magazine of the American Chemical Society), and the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. In addition he wrote essays and introductions for literally hundreds of magazines, newspapers, books, and trade publications. All together he wrote over 1600 essays.

With such a huge collection of essays, it can pose a problem for the reader who remembers a piece that Asimov wrote, but can't recall the source. Those who haven't read a great many essays may want to know if Asimov ever wrote an essay on a particular subject. And then there are the Asimov completists who want to read everything that Asimov ever wrote, but lose sleep at night worrying that they might have missed something. Where do they turn?

To that end, we have compiled a list of every known essay by Asimov, together with a brief description of its subject, and listed the source in which the essay originally appeared, as well as any collections of Asimov's in which it appeared. Please note that the emphasis is on known, since there are undoubtedly some we have missed. We have included every essay that has appeared in Asimov's collections, as well as a good number of those that have never been collected. Also included are introductions Asimov wrote for other books, though in this department we probably have missed quite a few.

Notes on the listings

There are some essays that do not appear in any collection and are not readily available, so that the authors haven't read them yet. For those essays the subject field is left blank.

Asimov compiled a list of his F&SF essays on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of his first essay, in the November 1978 issue of F&SF, and reprinted (slightly updated) in the collection The Road to Infinity. That list is ordered alphabetically according to the title of the essay, and includes a designation of the collection in which each essay appears as well as a very brief subject description for each essay. We have used those descriptions, but have added to them in some places, as well as added our own descriptions for essays published since his list appeared. In order to distinguish between his descriptions and ours, we preceded all of our additions with a virgule (also known as a slash, "/"). Note that it is only the F&SF essay descriptions that are affected by this.

The Los Angeles Times essay titles are sometimes followed by a designation such as "(V4)". This indicates the section and page where the essay appeared in the newspaper. The L.A. Times essays for which the exact date of publication has not yet been determined are listed with a range of dates within which they appeared, either 1987-1989 or 1990-1992.


Here are five series in which Asimov's essays regularly appeared, with the remainder grouped together under "Various Sources". The essays are listed chronologically within groups.

Essay lists ordered by source:


What is truly remarkable about Asimov's body of nonfiction is not only its sheer volume, but its great breadth and diversity, and this is reflected in the essay subjects. Though he concentrated on the sciences, and especially loved astronomy, you will find that there aren't many areas of human knowledge that he ignored. The subject groupings here begin with the broad bibliographic categories, and end with some somewhat more specialized areas.

Sometimes Asimov wrote more than one essay on the same subject, in order to update an essay once new information became available, or simply revisit a topic that he had written about long ago. The essays within each subject area are arranged so that, to the extent possible, essays about the same or related topics are grouped together.

Essay lists ordered by subject:

Index of essays ordered by subjects:

economics and overpopulation
fine arts
issues in science
mathematics and computers
about himself
religion and creationism
television and film
science fiction
Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine
miscellaneous topics

Essays about psychology

Essays about societyEssays about historyEssays about geographyEssays about anthropologyEssays about economics and overpopulationEssays about fine artsEssays about literatureEssays about writingEssays about issues in scienceEssays about mathematics and computersEssays about astronomy
  • /calendar calculations; choosing Julian day number 1
  • evidence that planets are more likely
  • mapping the stars; duodecimal system
  • Shakespeare's astronomy
  • ancient astronomic theory
  • star of Bethlehem
  • extraterrestrial life
  • extraterrestrial intelligence
  • extraterrestrial intelligence
  • germs from space are unlikely
  • possibility of life near Alpha Centauri
  • will aliens be kind or cruel to humans?
  • no contact with advanced civilization has ever been made
  • conditions necessary for a planet to support life
  • reasons why other intelligent life in the universe has not reached Earth
  • the search for extraterrestrial life
  • extraterrestrial life
  • can life exist on other planets?
  • possibilities of life beyond Earth in solar system and space
  • probabilities of intelligent life in our galaxy
  • it is profitable, useful, and safe to attempt to contact advanced civilizations
  • we should listen for signals from other intelligent life
  • we should search for extraterrestrial civilizations
  • the search for intelligent signals
  • review of the book _Life Beyond Earth_
  • the chances of violence when Earth people encounter aliens
  • can we avoid violence when encountering alien visitors?
  • /view of stars from the U. S.
  • viewing the sky, stars, and the constellations
  • multiple-mirror reflecting telescopes
  • using liquid mercury to construct large telescope mirrors
  • luminosity of objects in the sky
  • /luminosity of near stars, implications for life
  • a telescope probe going 90 billion miles out
  • Pioneer 10, solar wind, and gravity waves
  • the route of Voyager 2 far out in space
  • an observatory on the Moon is the next step in observing cosmic radiation
  • satellites have made exciting discoveries in our solar system
  • details of planetary probes to Mars, Jupiter, and beyond
  • precession of the equinoxes
  • zodiac and precession
  • perturbations in Earth's spinning
  • axial tipping /and its relation to ice ages
  • latitude and longitude
  • shape of the Earth
  • /ancient ideas of Earth's shape
  • Kepler's third law
  • orbital eccentricity
  • /changing distances of the moon, sun, and Mars
  • Sun's motion across the sky
  • Trojan asteroids
  • the Moon's size and closeness spurred interest in astronomy
  • satellites
  • retrograde satellites
  • /lists of planetary satellites (moons)
  • discoveries of more planetary satellites
  • the unique features of the solar system's satellites
  • tidal effects
  • /tides slow the Earth's rotation
  • adjusting timekeeping for the slowing effect of tides
  • /gravitational lenses
  • evidence for another planet
  • evidence of unseen mass in the universe
  • gravitational lenses and the missing mass
  • gravitational wave detection
  • a gravitational lens bends quasar light
  • the bending of light may help detect missing mass in the universe
  • finding planets by the gravitational lens effect
  • neutrinos and supernovas
  • /detecting neutrinos from the Sun
  • /neutrinos and the missing mass
  • /neutrinos, the supernova of 1987
  • the puzzle of too few neutrinos from the Sun
  • the relation of low solar neutrino counts and WIMP particles
  • the number of neutrinos from supernovas
  • recognizing antimatter by antineutrinos
  • confirmation of relativity by arrival time of neutrinos
  • neutrinos confirm supernova theory
  • the neutrino was predicted by theory years before it was observed
  • the universe could be closed if there are massive neutrinos
  • /non-optical astronomy
  • /gamma ray astronomy
  • /radio waves and radio astronomy
  • long baseline radio telescopes
  • bouncing signals off Titan's surface
  • /growth of our view of the universe
  • diversity in the appearance of the universe
  • since 1900, our understanding of the universe has changed
  • imaginative view of the universe from outside
  • the search for permanence in the universe
  • advantages of a space telescope
  • the Hubble telescope gives new data
  • views from planetary surfaces
  • /sizes of the bodies in the solar system
  • astronomical nomenclature of the solar system
  • what we learned about the solar system, and other new discoveries
  • studying the solar system helps us understand the weather, the sun, and life
  • the Nemesis hypothesis that a companion of the Sun causes comet showers
  • astronomical nomenclature of the Sun and the Moon
  • characteristics of the Sun
  • Sun's companion
  • tidal influences on Sun
  • /determination of the Sun's size and distance
  • /determination of the Sun's mass
  • measuring the Sun's size by an eclipse
  • the Sun's output, sunspots, flares, and corona
  • /sunspots and coincidences
  • sunspots and solar flares, and their effect on Earth
  • tracking solar flares from tree rings
  • solar wind and particles produced in the Sun
  • /chemical composition of the Sun and planets
  • a description of the final stages of the Sun's life
  • we probably don't understand reactions in the Sun's core
  • solar eclipses
  • solar eclipses/and their prediction
  • solar eclipses
  • influence of Moon on life
  • /new theory for the Moon's formation
  • Moon rocks found on Antarctica
  • /future changes in the Moon's rotation
  • the possibility of ice in the Moon's shadows
  • the Moon's surface tells solar system history
  • formation and makeup of the Moon
  • elements of the Moon
  • mapping the Moon
  • planetary nomenclature
  • planetary areas
  • world sizes in solar system
  • /recent planetary facts learned
  • the mysteries of what we see on planets and their satellites
  • /the Earth's magnetic field
  • oxygen atmosphere
  • elements of the planets
  • planetary rotations
  • planetary rotations
  • Vulcan
  • Venus and Mercury
  • /physical properties of Mercury
  • Mercury's thin sodium and potassium atmosphere
  • the sun and the planets as seen from Mercury, with an 88 day rotation period
  • determination of the rotation period of Mercury
  • /atmosphere and properties of Venus
  • comparing the geology of Venus and Earth
  • new information about Venus from the Pioneer 12 spacecraft
  • trying to observe the transit of Venus across the Sun
  • Venus is the hottest planet in the solar system
  • elementary makeup of Earth
  • /examining the length of the day
  • satellites of Mars
  • surface of Mars
  • satellites of Mars
  • satellites of Mars
  • satellites of Mars
  • organics in Martian satellites
  • Soviet and U.S. efforts to explore Mars
  • Mars's satellite Phobos grows closer to Mars
  • conditions for life on Mars
  • possibilities of Martian life
  • canals and inteligent life on Mars
  • large asteroids
  • large asteroids
  • Earth-grazers
  • it makes sense to detect objects that might collide with the Earth
  • tracking asteroids and meteoroids
  • mass extinctions/asteroid collision
  • asteroids and the mass-extinction theory
  • chance of Earth's collision with asteroid
  • we need protection from a meteor strike
  • Trojan (Lagrangian) locations for asteroids
  • dealing with the close asteroids
  • finding asteroids, both close and curious
  • repeating an entreaty for an asteroid sentinel
  • making use of the asteroids near us
  • the danger of eccentric asteroids
  • discovery of and properties of asteroids
  • are Martian satellites captured carbonaceous asteroids?
  • planet Jupiter
  • Jupiter's satellites
  • Jupiter's satellites
  • Jupiter's satellites
  • /Jupiter's moon Io
  • /Great Red Spot of Jupiter
  • ice on Jupiter's satellites
  • the space probe Galileo will examine Jupiter
  • Jupiter's moons compared to the Earth's
  • physical properties of Jupiter
  • surprising view of the sky from the satellites of Jupiter
  • problems of and ideas for visiting Jupiter
  • Saturn and its rings
  • Saturn's satellite Titan
  • new information on Titan's atmosphere
  • the shape of Mimas, Saturn's satellite
  • Saturn's Titan and Neptune's Triton may have gasoline oceans
  • Saturn's rings are probably transient phenomena
  • what's in the atmosphere of Saturn's satellite Titan
  • Saturn's Great White Spot
  • Saturn's moon Iapetus has a bright half and a dark half
  • what was known about Saturn in 1979
  • discovery of Uranus
  • Uranus' rings; Chiron
  • /details of Uranus
  • picking names for Uranus' satellites
  • Uranus was reported as a star before it was recognized as a planet
  • Uranus and its rings
  • discovery of Neptune
  • the variability of Neptune's satellite Nereid
  • some names for Neptune's satellites seem poorly chosen
  • surprising features of Neptune's satellite Triton
  • what little is known about Neptune
  • Pluto
  • discovery of Pluto
  • /details of Pluto, with addendum
  • Pluto-Charon double planet eclipses
  • the debate about calling Pluto a planet
  • information from eclipsing of planets
  • Pluto and its moon Charon
  • details of Pluto and its satellite, Charon
  • tenth planet
  • /the outer planets; existence of a tenth planet
  • the search for a tenth planet
  • comets/cometary planetoids
  • /comets & asteroids (M. Abraham)
  • Chiron, a comet or asteroid past Saturn
  • the birth and death of comets
  • watching comets come close to the Sun
  • Chiron and ideas about short-lived comets
  • comets, asteroids, and small outer planets
  • the outer belt of icy planets and comets
  • the structure and origin of comets
  • formation of comets and some history of their discovery
  • comets and their role in science fiction
  • the comet Kohoutek
  • /Halley's comet and other comets
  • /Halley's comet visits
  • space probes for Comet Halley
  • a close study of Halley's comet yields answers and questions
  • estimates of the cometary Oort cloud
  • /mass extinctions by meteors
  • Earth-grazers
  • micrometeorites
  • /collisions between planetesimals and Earth
  • meteorites on the antarctic ice
  • meteorites from Moon and Mars
  • what we learn from meteorites
  • meteorite hunting on Antarctica
  • analysis of meteorites shows a complex origin
  • the origin of materials falling onto the Earth
  • meteorites from Mars in Antarctica
  • observing starlight from outside the Solar system to avoid zodiacal light
  • /clouds of gas in space
  • /analysis of gas clouds in space
  • interstellar dust
  • the origin of dust in space around the Earth
  • names of stars
  • zodiac
  • Alpha Centauri
  • /Sirius and other near stars
  • /Barnard's star
  • /wobbling orbit of Barnard's star
  • /Betelgeuse (largest apparent star)
  • /living near Betelgeuse
  • a surprising ancient description of Sirius as a red star
  • /the end product of fission and fusion is iron-56; types of supernovas
  • maps have 19 million stars; a fraction of the visible stars
  • distance to the planets and stars
  • /small stars and planets are more numerous than larger ones
  • /large stars and the mass-luminosity law
  • an object in between a planet and a star
  • a theory limiting the size of stars is revived
  • luminosity of the stars
  • /Sirius-B, the dark companion
  • the highest orbit speed ever observed is in a binary star system
  • Cepheid variables/measuring galactic distances
  • /variable stars, finding galaxies
  • planet formation around Vega
  • Polaris and other Cepheid variable stars
  • white dwarfs
  • collapsed stars
  • black holes
  • size of black holes
  • speculations on using black holes
  • finding miniature black holes
  • Seyfert galaxies; enormous black holes
  • confirmation that Cygnus X-1 is a black hole
  • an odd theory puts black holes inside the Earth
  • black holes' effect on their neighborhood
  • the evidence for a black hole vs. a star cluster at the galactic center
  • black holes; what they are and what they may mean to us
  • description of black holes; discovery of one in Cygnus called Cygnus X-1
  • the first brown dwarf planet is reported
  • the search for brown dwarf objects
  • the life cycle of stars and brown dwarfs
  • /pulse rate of pulsars
  • more very dense objects are being discovered
  • discovery of pulsars
  • using pulsars for energy generation
  • using pulsars as clocks
  • the pulsar left from the 1987 supernova
  • neutron stars and the discovery of a pulsar in the Crab Nebula
  • /watching for supernovas
  • /the brightest novas in history
  • an object which may be pre-nova
  • the closest supernova in over 300 years
  • backlighting from the 1987 supernova
  • the Crab supernova was seen by native Americans
  • a type I supernova may have started our solar system
  • the 1987 supernova provided a distance to the Large Magellanic Cloud
  • white dwarfs
  • the mystery of white dwarf star varieties
  • globular clusters help estimate distance
  • evolution of the word galaxy
  • galactic nomenclature
  • the surprising distribution of galaxies
  • puzzles of galaxy distribution
  • discovery of a luminous arc that partially encircled a galaxy
  • what would happen if our galaxy collided with another
  • the consequences of colliding galaxies; the possibility of antimatter galaxies
  • galaxy rotation and other activity
  • watching a galaxy in formation
  • the 1991 discovery of a bright object could upset theories of galaxy formation
  • /galaxies and the Milky Way
  • /size of our galaxy
  • the evolution of galaxies and quasars
  • recession of the galaxies
  • /detecting galactic recession by the Doppler-Fizeau effect
  • a newly discovered dwarf galaxy in the Local Group of galaxies
  • galactic explosions
  • /Andromeda nebula, galaxy debate
  • gravity between huge galactic clusters
  • galactic clusters at great distance and age
  • red shifts of distant quasars 17 billion light years away
  • the unevenness of quasar distribution is a mystery
  • examining the thin dust in space
  • estimating distance by galaxies' spectra
  • /eras of the universe compressed into a single year
  • /the universe has fractal complexity
  • a new answer to Olbers' paradox: insufficient time for the sky to brighten
  • a computer simulation of the early universe
  • studying conditions of the early universe
  • it is meaningless to ask what lies beyond the universe
  • we have no evidence hyperspace exists or allows rapid space travel
  • continuous creation
  • estimating the age of the universe
  • the anthropic principle and the existence of the universe
  • origin of the universe
  • origin of the universe
  • /early universe speculations
  • inflationary theory of the origin of the universe
  • did radiation cause matter coalescence?
  • new half-life measures of neutrons support the big-bang theory
  • neutronium may have been the substance that made up the primordial universe
  • continuous creation vs. the Big Bang
  • several variations on the "Big-Bang" cosmogony considered
  • the Big Bang
  • picturing the scale of the universe
  • /observations of the farthest reaches of the universe
  • /oscillating universe, missing mass
  • /final state of the universe
  • disappearing protons could end the universe
  • expanding universe
  • size of the universe
  • /expansion of the universe
  • the size of the universe
Essays about physics
  • square-cube law of size
  • miniaturization
  • /power generation on the Moon
  • /action at a distance
  • people who believe they have ideas that scientists haven't considered
  • losing the meaning of "clockwise" in a digital world
  • detecting the decay of protons on the Moon
  • evidence for impact theory of extinction
  • the need for tritium and the lack of a supply of it
  • determining the age of universe by three methods
  • dinosaur bone protein is 150 million years old
  • a dating method that uses protein in egg shells
  • high density quark stars may throw off bits of themselves
  • in an oscillating universe, averaged over all time, nothing happens
  • the role of axioms as tools for scientific understanding
  • jets and rockets
  • size and distance, near and far
  • the discovery of nature's rhythms
  • particles and forces included in theories of the universe's composition
  • Einstein's contributions to science
  • Einstein's important contributions to physics
  • conservation laws
  • /conservation of momentum; rockets
  • /conservation of energy
  • leap year adjustments
  • old measurement systems
  • metric system
  • an argument for the metric system
  • Avogadro's number
  • perturbations
  • mass and the fabric of space
  • mass of the Earth
  • escape velocities/gravitational attraction
  • escape velocity
  • /prediction and discovery of antiparticles
  • maintaining antimatter existence
  • particle/antiparticle source of energy
  • elements named after geographic locations
  • elements of the body
  • elements in the ocean
  • meson lifetimes show that time dilation near light speed is real
  • /explaining relativity
  • relativity and the twin paradox
  • time measure and relativity
  • /testing general relativity
  • proving that the principle of equivalence holds for antimatter
  • the special theory of relativity and high-speed travel
  • tests of relativity's bizarre predictions continue to prove them correct
  • review of two books that explain relativity
  • Planck's constant
  • uncertainty principle
  • uncertainty principle
  • conservation of parity
  • conservation of parity
  • absolute zero
  • lowering temperature near absolute zero
  • lack of violations proves the exclusion principle
  • luminiferous ether
  • Michelson-Morley experiment
  • gravitation
  • gravitation
  • /inertial-gravitational equivalence
  • differences in inertia and gravitation
  • detecting gravitational waves
  • echo location
  • temperature extremes/temperature measurement
  • entropy
  • the second law of thermodynamics precludes time travel
  • energy and the second law of thermodynamics
  • Maxwell's demon
  • the physics that make superluminal travel impossible
  • unlikely possibilities of faster-than-light travel
  • Doppler-Fizeau effect
  • speed of light
  • speed of light
  • speed of light
  • light polarization
  • /electromagnetic spectrum
  • /visible light spectrum
  • light spectra
  • luminescence, fluorescence, and the light of fireflies
  • /Blondlot's supposed discovery of N-rays
  • /radioactivity dating
  • dating early hominids to 5 million years ago
  • uranium breakdown sets the age of the oldest rocks at 4 billion years
  • advances in and the potential of superconductivity
  • recipe for superconductivity
  • easier superconductivity
  • /measurement of time
  • lasers
  • light, lasers, and holograms
  • /energy and the magnetic monopole
  • /iron and magnetism
  • tissue radioactivity
  • larger particle accelerators
  • radioactivity
  • ultrashort time periods/subatomic particle lifetimes
  • measuring ultrashort events
  • the Manhattan project
  • /the race to get the A-bomb
  • nuclear structure
  • a brief history of discoveries in nuclear physics
  • atomic weights
  • particle accelerators
  • accelerating larger particles
  • hydrogen fusion
  • /errors in science
  • fusion achieved by colliding deuterium compounds may hold promise
  • power from fusion
  • fusion may provide the answer to our energy problems by the year 2020
  • fusion at low temperature
  • cold fusion, like Martian canals, N-rays, and polywater, seems dubious
  • /delving inside atoms
  • delving into the atom
  • a list of fundamental particles
  • atoms, photons, neutrinos, and quarks
  • elementary particles and the top quark
  • firing electrons into a proton to see quarks inside
  • /X rays, gamma rays, cosmic rays
  • /cosmic rays, neutrinos, and muons
  • /properties of cosmic rays
  • mesons
  • types of neutrinos
  • /proton decay
  • tachyons
  • string theories of subatomic particles
  • breakdown of selenium-82 by double-beta decay
  • natural radioactivity
  • natural radioactivity
  • /nuclear details of radioisotopes
  • /carbon-14 dating
  • revising ice age time by carbon 14 dating
  • carbon-14 dating
  • Earth's water
  • needs for and sources of fresh water
  • rerouting rivers for fresh water
  • carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
  • upper atmosphere/atmospheric properties
  • the atmosphere of the Earth and planets
  • stages of development in Earth's atmosphere
  • greenhouse effect/causes of ice ages
  • carbon dioxide and ice ages
  • controlling global ice levels
  • thawing the arctic ocean ice
  • clear evidence of the greenhouse effect
  • the greenhouse effect and global warming crisis
  • water's presence, makeup, uses, and importance to man
Essays about chemistryEssays about geology and dinosaursEssays about biologyEssays about zoologyEssays about physiologyEssays about microbiologyEssays about technology and space

Unpopular Essays (1950) is a book by Bertrand Russell. It constitutes a collection of his more controversial essays.


Chapter 1: Philosophy and Politics[edit]

  • Change is one thing, progress is another. "Change" is scientific, "progress" is ethical; change is indubitable, whereas progress is a matter of controversy.
  • A fanatical belief in democracy makes democratic institutions impossible.
  • The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment.
  • After ages during which the earth produced harmless trilobites and butterflies, evolution progressed to the point at which it generated Neros, Genghis Khans, and Hitlers. This, however, is a passing nightmare; in time the earth will become again incapable of supporting life, and peace will return.
    • Sardonic comments on human inclinations, p. 19

Chapter 2: Philosophy for Laymen[edit]

  • The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice. So long as men are not trained to withhold judgment in the absence of evidence, they will be led astray by cocksure prophets, and it is likely that their leaders will be either ignorant fanatics or dishonest charlatans. To endure uncertainty is difficult, but so are most of the other virtues.
  • Dogmatism and skepticism are both, in a sense, absolute philosophies; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing. What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or ignorance.
  • But so long as men are not trained to withhold judgment in the absence of evidence, they will be led astray by cocksure prophets, and it is likely that their leaders will be either ignorant fanatics or dishonest charlatans.

Chapter 3: The Future of Mankind[edit]

  • Extreme hopes are born of extreme misery, and in such a world hopes could only be irrational.
    • Sometimes misquoted as "Extreme hopes are born from extreme misery."
    • p. 36

Chapter 4: Philosophy's Ulterior Motives[edit]

  • In a man whose reasoning powers are good, fallacious arguments are evidence of bias.
  • The apparentworld goes through developments which are the same as those the logician goes through if he starts from Pure Being and travels on to the Absolute Idea... Why the world should go through this logical evolution is not clear; one is tempted to suppose that the Absolute Idea did not quite understand itself at first, and made mistakes when it tried to embody itself in events. But this, of course, was not what Hegel would have said.
  • Admiration of the proletariat, like that of dams, power stations, and aeroplanes, is part of the ideology of the machine age.
  • All movements go too far...

Chapter 6: On Being Modern-Minded[edit]

  • Pragmatists explained that Truth is what it pays to believe. Historians of morals reduced the Good to a matter of tribal custom. Beauty was abolished by artists in a revolt against the sugary insipidities of a philistine epoch and in a mood of fury in which satisfaction is to be derived only from what hurts. And so the world was swept clear not only of God as a person but of God's essence as an ideal to which man owed an ideal allegiance.

Chapter 7: An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish[edit]

  • Man is a rational animal — so at least I have been told. Throughout a long life, I have looked diligently for evidence in favor of this statement, but so far I have not had the good fortune to come across it, though I have searched in many countries spread over three continents.
  • I am sometimes shocked by the blasphemies of those who think themselves pious – for instance, the nuns who never take a bath without wearing a bathrobe all the time. When asked why, since no man can see them, they reply: 'Oh, but you forget the good God.' Apparently they conceive of the Deity as a Peeping Tom, whose omnipotence enables Him to see through bathroom walls, but who is foiled by bathrobes. This view strikes me as curious.
  • As soon as we abandon our own reason, and are content to rely upon authority, there is no end to our troubles. Whose authority? The Old Testament? The New Testament? The Koran? In practice, people choose the book considered sacred by the community in which they are born, and out of that book they choose the parts they like, ignoring the others. At one time, the most influential text in the Bible was: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Now-a-days, people pass over this text, in silence if possible; if not, with an apology. And so, even when we have a sacred book, we still choose as truth whatever suits our own prejudices.
  • The whole of theology, in regard to hell no less than to heaven, takes it for granted that Man is what is of most importance in the Universe of created beings. Since all theologians are men, this postulate has met with little opposition.
  • Since evolution became fashionable, the glorification of Man has taken a new form. We are told that evolution has been guided by one great Purpose: through the millions of years when there were only slime, or trilobites, throughout the ages of dinosaurs and giant ferns, of bees and wild flowers, God was preparing the Great Climax. At last, in the fullness of time, He produced Man, including such specimens as Nero and Caligula, Hitler and Mussolini, whose transcendent glory justified the long painful process. For my part, I find even eternal damnation less incredible, certainly less ridiculous, than this lame and impotent conclusion which we are asked to admire as the supreme effort of Omnipotence.
  • The whole conception of superior races is merely a myth generated by the overweening self-esteem of the holders of power. It may be that, some day, better evidence will be forthcoming; perhaps, in time, educators will be able to prove (say) that Jews are on the average more intelligent than gentiles. But as yet no such evidence exists, and all talk of superior races must be dismissed as nonsense.
  • Education, which was at first made universal in order that all might be able to read and write, has been found capable of serving quite other purposes. By instilling nonsense, it unifies populations and generates collective enthusiasm. If all governments taught the same nonsense, the harm would not be so great.
  • Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.
  • Every advance in civilization has been denounced as unnatural while it was recent.
  • For my part I distrust all generalizations about women, favourable and unfavourable, masculine and feminine, ancient and modern; all alike, I should say, result from paucity of experience.
  • Aristotle could have avoided the mistake of thinking that women have fewer teeth than men, by the simple device of asking Mrs. Aristotle to keep her mouth open while he counted.
  • The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way. Persecution is used in theology, not in arithmetic, because in arithmetic there is knowledge, but in theology there is only opinion.
  • Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom, in the pursuit of truth as in the endeavour after a worthy manner of life.
  • If the matter is one that can be settled by observation, make the observation yourself.Aristotle could have avoided the mistake of thinking that women have fewer teeth than men, by the simple device of asking Mrs. Aristotle to keep her mouth open while he counted. He did not do so because he thought he knew. Thinking that you know when in fact you don't is a fatal mistake, to which we are all prone. I believe myself that hedgehogs eat black beetles, because I have been told that they do; but if I were writing a book on the habits of hedgehogs, I should not commit myself until I had seen one enjoying this unappetizing diet. Aristotle, however, was less cautious. Ancient and medieval authors knew all about unicorns and salamanders; not one of them thought it necessary to avoid dogmatic statements about them because he had never seen one of them.
    If, like most of mankind, you have passionate convictions on many such matters, there are ways in which you can make yourself aware of your own bias. If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do. If some one maintains that two and two are five, or that Iceland is on the equator, you feel pity rather than anger, unless you know so little of arithmetic or geography that his opinion shakes your own contrary conviction. The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way.
  • Many a man will have the courage to die gallantly, but will not have the courage to say, or even to think, that the cause for which he is asked to die is an unworthy one.
  • Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear.

Chapter 10: Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind[edit]

  • The belief in the superiority of the male sex, which has now officially died out in Western nations, is a curious example of the sin of pride. There was, I think, never any reason to believe in any innate superiority of the male, except his superior muscle. ... Male superiority in former days was easily demonstrated, because if a woman questioned her husband's he could beat her.
  • In America everybody is of opinion that he has no social superiors, since allmen are equal, but he does not admit that he has no social inferiors, for, from the time of Jefferson onward, the doctrine that all men are equal applies only upwards, not downwards. There is on this subject a profound and widespread hypocrisy whenever people talk in general terms.
  • Most of the greatest evils that man has inflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, was false.
The essence of the Liberal outlook lies not in what opinions are held, but in how they are held: instead of being held dogmatically, they are held tentatively, and with a consciousness that new evidence may at any moment lead to their abandonment.
Man is a rational animal — so at least I have been told.
As soon as we abandon our own reason, and are content to rely upon authority, there is no end to our troubles.
Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.

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