72 Quotes by Alan Alda

Alan Alda is an American actor, director, and writer, known for his roles in the television series MAS*H and The West Wing, as well as his work as a science communicator. Alda has a passion for science and has been involved in promoting public understanding of science through various media, including hosting the PBS series Scientific American Frontiers. He has also written several books on science and communication, including If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? and Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself. Alda's unique ability to bridge the worlds of art and science has made him a beloved figure in both communities. (Bio)

Alan Alda Quotes


You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover is yourself.

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Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won't come in.

The difference between listening and pretending to listen, I discovered, is enormous. One is fluid, the other is rigid. One is alive, the other is stuffed. Eventually, I found a radical way of thinking about listening. Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you. When I’m willing to let them change me, something happens between us that’s more interesting than a pair of dueling monologues.

Be as smart as you can, but remember that it is always better to be wise than to be smart.

Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while or the light won't come in. If you challenge your own, you won't be so quick to accept the unchallenged assumptions of others. You'll be a lot less likely to be caught up in bias or prejudice or be influenced by people who ask you to hand over your brains, your soul or your money because they have everything all figured out for you. (Meaning)

Laugh at yourself, but don't ever aim your doubt at yourself. Be bold. When you embark for strange places, don't leave any of yourself safely on shore. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory.

Originality is unexplored territory. You get there by carrying a canoe - you can't take a taxi.

life is meaningless unless you bring meaning to it; ... it is up to us to create our own existence. Unless you do something, unless you make something it's as though you aren't there.

Life is great-I wouldn't know what I'd do without it.

The best things said come last. People will talk for hours saying nothing much and then linger at the door with words that come with a rush from the heart.

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People who laugh together generally don't kill each other.

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed is really advice to myself, a reminder to myself not to avoid change or uncertainty, but to go with it, to surf into change.

Don't be upset that it takes a long, long time to find wisdom because nobody knows where wisdom can be found. It tends to break out at unexpected times like a rare virus and mostly people with compassion and understanding are susceptible to it.

I was a child, and my mother was psychotic. She loved me, but I didn't really feel I had a mother. And when you live with somebody who is paranoid and thinks you're trying to kill them all the time, you tend to feel a little betrayed.

Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.

When I started out as an actor, I thought, Here's what I have to say; how shall I say it? I began to understand that what I do in the scene is not as important as what happens between me and the other person. And listening is what lets it happen. It's almost always the other person who causes you to say what you say next. You don't have to figure out how you'll say it. You have to listen so simply, so innocently, that the other person brings about a change in you that makes you say it and informs the way you say it.

No man or woman of the humblest sort can really be strong, gentle and good, without the world being better for it, without somebody being helped and comforted by the very existence of that goodness.

Laugh at yourself, but don't ever aim your doubt at yourself.

Our lives depend on good communication. Good communication helps personal relationships, it helps bosses and employees get along better. We rely on it.

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It isn't necessary to be rich and famous to be happy. It's only necessary to be rich.

I'm an angry person, angrier than most people would imagine, I get flashes of anger. What works for me is working out when it's useful to use that anger.

How can I ever hope to communicate something to you unless I get signals back from you that I'm on the right track or that I've started at some place that you're familiar with?

Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative place where no one else has ever been.

I'll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash and carry, carry me back to Old Virginia, I'll even 'hari-kari' if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun!

It's really clear to me that you can't hang onto something longer than its time. Ideas lose certain freshness, ideas have a shelf life, and sometimes they have to be replaced by other ideas.

I found I wasn't asking good enough questions because I assumed I knew something. I would box them into a corner with a badly formed question, and they didn't know how to get out of it. Now, I let them take me through it step by step, and I listen.

Whenever you wonder about yourself, look up at the stars swirling around in the heavens and just realize how tiny and puny they are. They're supposed to be gigantic explosions and they're just these insignificant little dots. If you step back from things far enough you realize how important and powerful you are.

It's too bad I'm not as wonderful a person as people say I am, because the world could use a few people like that.

If you don't listen deeply, the connection won't take place.... [You have to be] willing to be changed by the person you're listening to, where you're not just waiting for a pause so you can say your thing, but you're actually letting them have an effect on you if they can.

In 2003, I almost died of an intestinal blockage when I was on a mountain in Chile, filming a segment for 'Scientific American Frontiers.'

I still don't like the word agnostic. It's too fancy. I'm simply not a believer. But, as simple as this notion is, it confuses some people. Someone wrote a Wikipedia entry about me, identifying me as an atheist because I'd said in a book I wrote that I wasn't a believer. I guess in a world uncomfortable with uncertainty, an unbeliever must be an atheist, and possibly an infidel. This gets us back to that most pressing of human questions: why do people worry so much about other people's holding beliefs other than their own?

If I can't get the girl, at least give me more money.

I found I wasn't asking good enough questions because I assumed I knew something.

Here's my Golden Rule for a tarnished age: Be fair with others, but keep after them until they're fair with you.

artists try to say things that can't be said. in a fragile net of words, gestures, or colors, we hope to capture a feeling; a taste; a painful longing. but the net is always too porous, and we are left with the sweet frustration of almost knowing, which is teasingly pleasurable.

I have thought about punching people out. Sometimes, I've thought, 'Why don't I just act on that impulse?' But then, I've never hit anybody in anger. Hey! I've never hit anybody for fun.

When people are laughing, they're generally not killing one another.

Be brave enough to live creatively . . . what you'll discover will be wonderful: yourself. (Meaning)

My relationship with science is as someone who's curious and hungry to know, hungry to understand. So all I have to offer is my ignorance and my curiosity, which is a good combination, as long as they come together.

I've played a murderer, so certainly I think I can play a Republican.

I find myself going to places where I really have no business, speaking to these people in a whole other field that I have no extensive knowledge of. But I do it very often because it scares me.

I used to be a Catholic. I left because I object to conversion by concussion. If you don't agree with what they teach, you get clobbered over the head until you do. All that does is change the shape of the head.

For a while in my teens, I was sure I had it. It was about getting to heaven. If heaven existed and lasted forever, then a mere lifetime spent scrupulously following orders was a small investment for an infinite payoff. One day, though, I realized I was no longer a believer, and realizing that, I couldn't go back.

I've been lucky enough to live through all the things that are supposed to give meaning to our lives, like parenting, grandparenting, art, celebrity. All these things you expect meaning to come from, and sometimes it comes when you're not expecting it.

I had never really wanted to be famous. Everyone is supposed to want to be rich and famous, but as a boy I never knew what rich was, and the first view I had of famous made me leery.

I've never tried to manipulate my image.

I try to find out what there is in the character that in a way, you can't put into words. If I could put it into words, then it wouldn't be a performance. And if I do put it into words, as I play it, I start to get boxed in by those words.

As an artist, as an actor, as a writer, you have to use what's personal to you. You have to be personal about your work; otherwise, it doesn't ring true.

When your kids turn 13, an alien being invades their bodies and doesn't leave until they're 20.

I was always interested in figuring things out. I'd do experiments, like combining things I found around the house to see what would happen if I put them together.

It's always better to be wise than to be smart.

Insanity is just a state of mind.

As I am becoming older, the only thing that speeds up is time.

When I studied how to think in school, I was taught that the first rule of logic was that a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. That last note, “in the same respect,” says a lot. As soon as you change the frame of reference, you’ve changed the truthiness of a once immutable fact.

I'm in this wonderful position where I can do what interests me. And whatever comes along that interests me, I do. The rest of the time I bother scientists about communicating.

There are two things that I get a lot of pleasure from in my life, and that is, doing what I know how to do well - that really makes me happy. The other one, and probably an equal pleasure, is finding out how I can be helpful and then really being helpful.

The good thing about being a hypocrite is that you get to keep your values.

If you know what you're looking for, that's all you'll get - what's previously known. But when you're open to what's possible, you get something new - that's creativity.

You can't get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you're doing. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover will be yourself.

I really don't like plays or movies that service propaganda.

Musicals are hard for me because I got thrown out of the glee club in high school, because I couldn't sing in tune at the time. I can sing in tune now, but I have to work really hard on it to make sure that I don't exercise one of my great talents, which is the ability to sing in three keys at the same time.

I dont see we can have a separation of church and state in this government if you have to pass a religious test to get in this government. And I want to warn everyone in the press and all the voters out there: if you demand expressions of religious faith from politicians, you are just begging to be lied to. They wont all lie to you but a lot of them will. And itll be the easiest lie they ever had to tell to get your votes. So every day till the end of this campaign, Ill answer any question anyone has on government, but if you have a question on religion, please, go to church.

When does she do all this thinking? We're together all the time but she thinks deeply about things and with feeling and she can remember the facts. We've been married 48 years.

What then are doing if not creating a better place together? I think, for me the key has to be, what do I want to create? What is it I want to leave behind?

Almost everybody that's well-known gets tagged with a nickname.

Working on The West Wing was similar in many ways to my experience on M*A*S*H, because you had people willing to work late at night to get it just right.

Everybody's on their toes and focused on what we're about to do, and then there's this moment where you relax because you see that everybody is there to do the best that they can. Everyone opens up to one another right away. That's a terrific thing. I love that about actors. They know how personal this job is.

It makes it fun. When an actor plays a character, you want what that character wants. Otherwise it doesn't look authentic. So I really want to defeat Jimmy - I mean Jimmy as the character.

What I can't completely understand is most other people's fascination with what the famous among us do with their lips and the rest of their bodies. Why do ordinary people become the target of this curiosity simply by virtue of the fact that other people recognize their names and faces but know nothing else about them? Why do we care what they think, what they wear, what they eat?

I was brought up as a Catholic, and I'm no longer a Catholic. I don't talk about my beliefs too much in public probably because I feel very strongly that it's something personal - more than personal, it's private.

I wouldn't live in California. All that sun makes you sterile.

I've sat looking down into a volcano that could blow at any moment; I've helped catch a shark and several rattlesnakes; I let a tarantula walk across my hand, and I ate rat soup.

― Alan Alda Quotes

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