Liberal Arts Blog — Isaac Asimov — Biochemist and Writer

Liberal Arts Blog — Wednesday is the Joy of Science, Engineering, and Technology Day

Today’s Topic — Isaac Asimov (1920–1992) — Biochemist, Writer (science fiction, popular science)

Technically a Professor of Biochemistry at Boston University, Isaac Asimov was in fact one of the most prolific writers of all time — publishing in “nine out of ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal Classification, which organizes library materials by discipline or field of study.” He published on average 12 books per year from 1951 to 1992! Some think his story “Nightfall” is the greatest science fiction short story of all time. He is also credited with adding three words to the english language: robotics, psychohistory, and positronic. His books of popular science include: the three volume “Understanding Physics” (1966) and “The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science” (1960). Today, a few quotes, very random biographical notes, and how to pronounce his name. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE, THE SADDEST ASPECT OF LIFE, ASSUMPTIONS

1. “My philosophy of life is that difficulties vanish when faced boldly.”

2. “The saddest aspect of life is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”

3. “Your assumptions are your windows on the world, scrub them off every once in a while or the light won’t come in.”

NB: “Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is. The only function of a school is to make self-education easier; failing that, it does nothing.”

MORALS, CHESS, ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM

1. “Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right.”

2. “In life, unlike chess, the game continues after checkmate.”

3. “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.’

NB: “Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.”

WRITING WITHOUT MENTAL FRICTION, PROFESSIONAL CRITICS, ATHEISM

1.) “I have an informal style, which means I tend to use short words and simple sentence structure, to say nothing of occasional colloquialisms. This grates on people who like things that are poetic, weighty, complex, and, above all, obscure. On the other hand, the informal style pleases people who enjoy the sensation of reading an essay without being aware that they are reading and of feeling that ideas are flowing from the writer’s brain into their own without mental friction.”

2.) “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.”

3.) “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.”

NB: “Writing to me is simply thinking through my fingers.”

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES — the shtetl of Petrovichi, weirdly a claustrophile and aerophobe, self-assessment

1. Born to Russian Jewish parents in a “shtetl” (a small town in the “Pale of Settlement” for Jews in Tsarist Russia), he came to the US in 1923 and became a US citizen at age 8 in 1928.

2. “Asimov was a “claustrophile”: he enjoyed small, enclosed spaces.In the third volume of his autobiography, he recalls a childhood desire to own a magazine stand in a New York City Subway station, within which he could enclose himself and listen to the rumble of passing trains while reading.”

3. “Asimov was afraid of flying doing so only twice: once in the course of his work at the Naval Air Experimental Station and once returning home from Oahu in 1946.”

NB. “I have had a good life and I have accomplished all I wanted to, and more than I had a right to expect I would.”

HOW TO PRONOUNCE HIS NAME — two steps

“There are three very simple English words: ‘Has,’ ‘him’ and ‘of.’ Put them together like this — ‘has-him-of’ — and say it in the ordinary fashion. Now leave out the two h’s and say it again and you have Asimov.”

HARLAN ELLISON ON ISAAC ASIMOV:

“He had writer’s block once — it was the worst ten minutes of his life.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Asimov

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nightfall_(Asimov_novelette_and_novel)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Intelligent_Man%27s_Guide_to_Science

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Understanding_Physics

7 reasons why Isaac Asimov is the greatest science fiction writer ever

A LINK TO THE LAST THREE YEARS OF POSTS ORGANIZED BY THEME:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive

YOUR TURN

Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to science, engineering, or technology. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to science and engineering.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. Or to cement in your mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.