Quote of the Day, Courtesy of the Legendary Isaac Asimov (or Is It Actually “The Legendary Alan Alda?”)

Quote of the Day, Courtesy of the Legendary Isaac Asimov (or Is It Actually “The Legendary Alan Alda?”) December 17, 2014

In honor of the recent publication of a 55-year-old lost-then-found essay on creativity from the legendary Isaac Asimov, here’s a thought that’s been floating around in my head for a few months now — a thought that I find particularly relevant in this increasingly siloized InterWeb World in which we live.

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

Now, there are reams and reams of provocative Asimov quotes, but I find this one particularly challenging. And challenging whether or not the assumptions I’m looking through/around are somewhat — or even mostly — right. (OK, fine. They’re never mostly right, if I’m honest with myself. But who wants to be that?)

The problem for me is that my assumptions don’t really seem to be stand-alone things. For each one that I can readily identify, there are dozens (or millions) more. It’s a huge-and-delicate construct of interconnected hypotheses– I hesitate to call it a house of cards, because I don’t like speaking truth to my own power, remember? — and pulling one out willy-nilly can have a profoundly destabilizing effect on the whole edifice. And I hate that. (I’m also terrible at Jenga. And Pick-up Sticks.)

But at the same time, that discomfort is precisely why I need to scrub those assumption-rimed windows from time to time. Because while I’m confident that most of the larger, more fundamental presumptions are correct and that I can see through them fairly clearly to what stands without, it’s all those little assumption tendrils that can really cloud the overall picture. Taking a (regularly repeated) moment or two just to make sure I can still see through them — making sure that I can see the Light on the other side — is a good exercise no matter how comfortable I am. (In fact, it’s probably a better and more necessary exercise the more comfortable I get. And there’s something refreshingly Matthew 6:22-ish about it, as well.)

(Almost) Final Thought: Speaking of assumptions, this might not actually be Asimov. It sort of sounds like him, but I can’t put my hands on the initial source. What I did find, though, were a couple of references to Alan Alda’s 1980 Commencement Address at Connecticut College. Maybe he’s quoting Asimov without attribution. But maybe (more likely) he came up with it himself. So maybe I need need to reexamine the original claim of Asimovian authorship; maybe I need to keep on scrubbing.

Actual Final Thought: Inspired by the pictures that turned up as I researched this quote a bit, I feel compelled to ask: Is there such a thing — indeed, has there ever been such a thing — as a better combination of head/facial hair than Asmiov’s? (Just to prime the pump, the correct response is either “No,” or  “HECK, NO!!!” Comparable? Perhaps. But better? Don’t be silly. Though I am willing to reexamine that assumption, as well. Within reason, of course.)

AsimovAttribution(s): Fun-and-eminently-loopable gif courtesy of Archive.org’s public-domain clip of an interview between Sy Bourgin and Asimov. Also, Photoshop and a whole lot of patience. (Yeah, I don’t know where that last one came from, either. Weird.)

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