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Author Topic: Asimov "That's odd" quote
Ron Miel
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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Looking for a quote attributed to Isaac Asimov.

Approximately : "the most exciting words a scientist can say is not 'Eureka' but 'that's odd'"

I've got it on fairly reliable authority that Asimov said something of the sort. Looking for the exact words, and the source.

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kitoboo
Deck the Malls


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"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, 'hmm... that's funny...'"
- Isaac Asimov

From Soluntions Magazine.

----

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surfcitydogdad
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Cool! Thanks, guys!

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Only when we remake ourselves can we remake the world.
- Outer Limits (2001)

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Daniceguy
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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I had never heard that quotation before - or heard it attributed to Asimov - but I can say as a scientist that it is absolutely true.

Thanks for teaching me something today!

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"Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes!"

"No it isn't."

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Bonnie
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quote:
Originally posted by kitoboo:
"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, 'hmm... that's funny...'"
- Isaac Asimov

From Soluntions Magazine.

Trouble is, that attribution doesn't have any details about where Asimov is supposed to have made this observation.

For what it's worth, Asmiov wrote "The Eureka Phenomenon," an essay apparently published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and reprinted in his collection of essays The Left Hand of the Electron, but those who've already taken a look at that work haven't been able to find this observation there.

Bonnie "hmm ... that's funny" Taylor

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DadOf3
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I've heard this quote before, always attributed to Isaac Asimov. It's always been my favourite quote by my favourite science fiction author.

Unfortunately, since I'm away from home, I don't have access to any of my Asimov books, so I can't look it up. If nobody's found anything by Thursday or so, I'll try to find it somewhere.

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Bonnie
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quote:
Originally posted by Ron Miel:

Looking for a quote attributed to Isaac Asimov.

Approximately : "the most exciting words a scientist can say is not 'Eureka' but 'that's odd'"

If that wording and construction are roughly accurate of an observation Asimov may have made, I wonder whether this is something that he might have written for the benefit of youngish readers. Here's a review of his 1960 Breakthroughs in Science (Houghton Mifflin; the book was reissued in 1992) ,

quote:
Contrary to popular opinion, there are not many major scientific theories. Efforts required to master the many essentials of a single theory frequently leads to awareness of fragments rather than a whole. Such a non-technical book as this, with well organized and understandable presentations of many basic discoveries, permits the reader to grasp the central ideas and significances involved in each. "Breakthroughs" contains enjoyable and informative reading on 27 major ideas, theories, and technological advances and their creators. The material, which first appeared serially in Scholastic magazine, ranges from Archimedes' "Eureka" to Goddard's rockets.

[From M.B. Sailsbury's "A Wealth of Material for Scientifically Inclined Youngsters," The Chicago Tribune, 6 November 1960, Pg. E45.]

I don't have ready access to Breakthroughs or to back issues of Scholastic, a serial then intended for American schoolkids, but checking either source might be worth the effort.

On the other hand, the earliest appearance I can find of this statement is on Usenet in 1987, so perhaps it's entirely unrelated to this earlier work. Perhaps it's just a paraphrasing of something he had written elsewhere.

-- Bonnie

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Se non è vero, è ben trovato.

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Quantum Leap
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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Nothing interferes with my concentration. You could put an orgy in my office and I wouldn't look up. Well, maybe once.

I am not a speed reader, I am a speed understander.

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

(I'll look up the exact one you wanted later)

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Quantum Leap
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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The quote is...The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "that's funny...

From World of Quotes.com

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candycane from strangers
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That still doesn't explain where or when he said it though. It is an awesome quote [Smile]

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Me: "He's 19? Uh oh, I bought him a beer."
A: "You contributed to the deliquency of a minor in drag!"
"Sweet spell check: keeping drunks off the radar since 1995."- IND
God Re-Animate Green Pork Bush

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Ron Miel
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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There are numerous slightly different versions of the quote all over the web. Which one do I take as the definitive one?
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candycane from strangers
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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I would look at all the sources and see which one seems the most trustworthy. I can't imagine what other option you'd have in such a situation.

Though if none of them mention when or where it is possible that he didn't really say it and it's just been attributed to him for some reason.

--------------------
Me: "He's 19? Uh oh, I bought him a beer."
A: "You contributed to the deliquency of a minor in drag!"
"Sweet spell check: keeping drunks off the radar since 1995."- IND
God Re-Animate Green Pork Bush

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Bonnie
The Red and the Green Stamps


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quote:
I've got it on fairly reliable authority that Asimov said something of the sort.
If I may, who or what is your source for the hunch that Asimov said something of the sort?

What evidence does he or she have that this pretty accurately reflects an Asimov observation? Is there an allowance that this may be a paraphrasing of something Asimov may have observed? A distillation in someone else's words?

I don't mean that at all accusatorily; I'm just curious to know how what you're working from. We may be able to puzzle this out a little better if we can begin from the same starting point.

-- Bonnie

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Se non è vero, è ben trovato.

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Ron Miel
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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Just the fact that it keeps on coming up in lists of Asimov quotes. And the fact that it has a very Asimovian ring to it. I can well believe that he said this, or something similar. It fails to raise my suspicions, as other questionable quotes have done. But it would be nice to have a source for it.
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candycane from strangers
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Since there seems to be no confirmed source or even agreed upon wording I think at best it's probably, as Bonnie said, a paraphrasing.

--------------------
Me: "He's 19? Uh oh, I bought him a beer."
A: "You contributed to the deliquency of a minor in drag!"
"Sweet spell check: keeping drunks off the radar since 1995."- IND
God Re-Animate Green Pork Bush

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Bonnie
The Red and the Green Stamps


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Thanks for that, Ron. This is definitely intriguing.

It's also, as you know, a little discouraging. For example, of the 12 quotations attributed to Asimov on this page, only two are linked to sources.

For what it's worth, the newly published Yale Book of Quotations contains four Asimov quotations, all with listed sources, none of which are the quote in question; similarly, this observation isn't to be found in the seven listed (with sources) over at bartleby.com.

It might be helpful, though, to check Asimov's Book of Science and Nature Quotations, a work I also don't have ready access to. I don't know whether this volume includes his own contributions or whether he's simply collected witticisms and whatnot from others. On the other hand, I think the first edition came out in 1988, so -- with respect to that 1987 Usenet sighting -- the timing might be a little off.

-- Bonnie

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Se non è vero, è ben trovato.

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gnome
Deck the Malls


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My favorite was the chalk story. His own version perhaps of the "dropped chalk" UL. He was sitting in on a class and the teacher berated mathematicians for attaching significance to imaginary numbers.

He stood up and announced to the teacher that the square root of minus 1 was as real as any other number. The teacher challenged him to hand him i pieces of chalk. He said he would as soon as the teacher handed him 1/2 a piece of chalk.

So the teacher takes a fresh piece of chalk and snaps it in two, handing him one of the pieces. Asimov announces, "This is one piece, not a half."

The teacher retorts that since it is half of a standard sized piece, that it should count as 1/2. Asimov responded (approximately) "Now you're springing an arbitrary definition on me. Besides, can you be sure this isn't a .48 or a .52 piece of chalk? Can you consider yourself to be able to speak with authority on the square root of minus one, when you're apparently shaky on one half?"

He reports that he was ejected from the classroom. Funny how this is similar to the atheist teacher chalk thing.

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Quantum Leap
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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quote:
Originally posted by Bonnie:
quote:
I've got it on fairly reliable authority that Asimov said something of the sort.
If I may, who or what is your source for the hunch that Asimov said something of the sort?

What evidence does he or she have that this pretty accurately reflects an Asimov observation? Is there an allowance that this may be a paraphrasing of something Asimov may have observed? A distillation in someone else's words?

I don't mean that at all accusatorily; I'm just curious to know how what you're working from. We may be able to puzzle this out a little better if we can begin from the same starting point.

-- Bonnie


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Quantum Leap
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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quote:
Originally posted by Bonnie:
quote:
I've got it on fairly reliable authority that Asimov said something of the sort.
If I may, who or what is your source for the hunch that Asimov said something of the sort?

What evidence does he or she have that this pretty accurately reflects an Asimov observation? Is there an allowance that this may be a paraphrasing of something Asimov may have observed? A distillation in someone else's words?

I don't mean that at all accusatorily; I'm just curious to know how what you're working from. We may be able to puzzle this out a little better if we can begin from the same starting point.

-- Bonnie


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Quantum Leap
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Quantum Leap here...in my message you will notice that I got this from World of Quotes.com
I believe if you go there it will say where it came from.

Have a phantasmagoria day.

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Ganzfeld
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quote:
Originally posted by Ron Miel:
Just the fact that it keeps on coming up in lists of Asimov quotes. And the fact that it has a very Asimovian ring to it. I can well believe that he said this, or something similar. It fails to raise my suspicions, as other questionable quotes have done. But it would be nice to have a source for it.

Just for your future reference: Most of those quote lists that "come up" (esp. on the Internet) have at least one misattribution. Some people seem to attract other people's quotes like a magnet: Twain, for example. Yet the same wrong Twain quotes are found in many lists. (Usually, however, the misattributed quotes vary in wording, as in this case.)

ETA - Incidentally, it is fascinating to me that, whether this quote comes from Asimov or not, "Eureka" itself is a famous quote that probably never happened. The story that Archimedes ran out of the bath naked shouting "Eureka" is probably a cute story made up after the fact. (It didn't appear until a couple hundred years later.) Yet for thousands of years it has come up on the list of things Archimedes supposedly said.

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Kathy B
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World of Quotes has no source for the quote
quote:
The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny....'
Author: Isaac Asimov
Topic: science
Source: None

I did find someone's vague recollection that it was in an essay Azimov wrote for Fantasy and Sceince Fiction. Here is a collection fo Asimov fans discussingpossible sources The most exciting phrase to hear in science (One person commented: I thought the most exciting phrase in science was "The grant has been approved".)

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Ron Miel
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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quote:
Originally posted by Ganzfeld:
Just for your future reference: Most of those quote lists that "come up" (esp. on the Internet) have at least one misattribution.

Yes, I'm aware of that. That's precisely the reason why I try to check the source with the clever people at Snopes before I go quoting people on things they never actually said.

I find it extremely plausible that Asimov said something similar, but I want to make certain.

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Mr. Billion
The First USA Noel


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I think the first time I saw this quote was in this webcomic, unatrributed. I've just asked on that comic's forum if anybody has any info on the quote's origins. Maybe the author remembers where he picked it up, or maybe one of the readers has also seen it elsewhere.

I have read The Left Hand of the Electron, but I don't remember if I saw that quote in there or not.

--------------------
"For the U.S. to get involved militarily in determining the outcome of the struggle over who's going to govern Iraq strikes me as a classic definition of a quagmire." ~Dick Cheney.

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Bonnie
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quote:
Originally posted by Quantum Leap:
Quantum Leap here...in my message you will notice that I got this from World of Quotes.com
I believe if you go there it will say where it came from.

You mean the place where it says, "Source: None"?

-- Bonnie

(Oops, Kathy's point was so good that I paraphrased her quote.)

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Brad from Georgia
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This is frustrating--tracking down a well-known source only to run into dead ends.

I'll make up a quote that can be sourced (here): To a scientist, the most exciting thing he or she can say is not "Eureka!" but "Hmm...there's a buck to be made here!"

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Daniceguy
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quote:
Originally posted by Brad from Georgia:
I'll make up a quote that can be sourced (here): To a scientist, the most exciting thing he or she can say is not "Eureka!" but "Hmm...there's a buck to be made here!"

Hey, I also know a few English professors who might get excited by saying that!

[Wink]

--------------------
"Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes!"

"No it isn't."

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Mr. Billion
The First USA Noel


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Just to back-up what Bonnie said earlier: I just re-read (scanned, really) The Eureka Phenomenon in The Left Hand of The Electron, and don't see anything like the phrase in question there. Actually, he makes it seem unlikely that he'd be the one to utter the phrase in question at all, since he keeps returning to what a wonderful thing "Eureka" moments are for science, and provides several examples. He still could have said it elsewhere, though.

ETA: Oh yeah, the webcomic artist did attribute the phrase to Asimov, but didn't yet say just where he got it.

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"For the U.S. to get involved militarily in determining the outcome of the struggle over who's going to govern Iraq strikes me as a classic definition of a quagmire." ~Dick Cheney.

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Fitzaubrey
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How about one of Asimov's history of science or biography of scientist books? I'd want to look especially at his treatment of Fleming, who supposedly really did say "That's funny" when he found his staph cultures contaminated with what turned out to be penicillin.
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