[Paleopsych] Edge Annual Question 2004: What's Your Law?
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Edge Annual Question 2004: What's Your Law?
There is some bit of wisdom, some rule of nature, some law-like
pattern, either grand or small, that you've noticed in the universe
that might as well be named after you. Gordon Moore has one; Johannes
Kepler and Michael Faraday, too. So does Murphy.
Since you are so bright, you probably have at least two you can
articulate. Send me two laws based on your empirical work and
observations you would not mind having tagged with your name. Stick to
science and to those scientific areas where you have expertise. Avoid
flippancy. Remember, your name will be attached to your law.
I am asking members of the Edge community to take this project
seriously as a public service, to work together to create a document
that can be widely disseminated, that can stimulate discussion and the
Say the words....
Happy New Year!
Publisher & Editor
164 Contributors: George Dyson o Bruce Sterling o William Calvin o
Howard Gardner o James J. O'Donnell o Marc D. Hauser o David Lykken o
Irene Pepperberg o Daniel Gilbert o Joseph Traub o Roger Schank o
Douglas Rushkoff o Karl Sabbagh o Carlo Rovelli o Timothy Taylor o
Richard Nisbett o Freeman Dyson o John Allan Paulos o John McWhorter o
Kevin Kelly o Brian Goodwin o John Barrow o Marvin Minsky o Garniss
Curtis o Todd Siler o Howard Rheingold o David G. Myers o Michael
Nesmith o Arnold Trehub o Keith Devlin o Arthur R. Jensen o John
Maddox o John Skoyles o Pamela McCorduck o Philip W. Anderson o
Charles Arthur o David Bunnell o Esther Dyson o Scott Atran o Jay
Ogilvy o Steven Kosslyn o Jeffrey Epstein o Stewart Brand o Piet Hut o
Geoffrey Miller o Nassim Taleb o Donald Hoffman o Richard Rabkin o
Stanislas Dehaene o Susan Blackmore o Raphael Kasper o Alison Gopnik o
Art De Vany o Robert Provine o Stuart Pimm o Chris Anderson o Alan
Alda o Andy Clark o Charles Seife o Jaron Lanier o Seth Lloyd o John
Horgan o Robert Aunger o Ernst Pöppel o Michael Shermer o Colin
Blakemore o Scott Sampson o Verena Huber-Dyson o Gary Marcus o Rodney
Brooks o David Deutsch o Steve Grand o Paul Davies o David Finkelstein
o Richard Dawkins o J. Craig Venter o Steve Quartz o Philip Campbell o
Tor Nørretranders o Julian Barbour o Maria Spiropulu o Eberhard
Zangger o David Buss o Mark Mirsky o Lee Smolin o Nancy Etcoff o Anton
Zeilinger o Edward O. Laumann o George Lakoff o Haim Harari o Matt
Ridley o Daniel C. Dennett o W. Brian Arthur o Samuel Barondes o
Jamshed Bharucha o Ray Kurzweil o Adam Bly o Kai Krause o Dylan Evans
o Jordan Pollack o Stuart Kauffman o Niels Diffrient o Gerald Holton o
Robert Sapolsky o Izumi Aizu o Randoph Nesse o Dave Winer o Rupert
Sheldrake o Ivan Amato o Judith Rich Harris o Steven Strogatz o Sherry
Turkle o Leonard Susskind o Christine Finn o Simon Baron-Cohen o Henry
Warwick o Gino Segre o Neil Gershenfeld o Steven Levy o Paul Ryan o
Stuart Hameroff o Leo Chalupa o Terrence Sejnowski o Eduard Punset o
Paul Steinhardt o Delta Willis o Rudy Rucker o Al Seckel o Howard
Morgan o Clifford Pickover o Beatrice Golomb o K. Eric Drexler o Mark
Hurst o Art Kleiner o Yossi Vardi o Nicholas Humphrey o Martin Rees o
John Markoff o Gerd Gigerenzer o Steve Lohr o David Berreby o William
Poundstone o Dennis Overbye o Sara Lippincott o Albert-László Barabási
o David Gelernter o W. Daniel Hillis o Marti Hearst o Steven Pinker o
Lisa Randall o Gregory Benford o Allan Snyder o Mike Godwin o Dan
Sperber o Frank Tipler o Andrian Kreye o Eric S. Raymond o Brian Eno o
Antonio Damasio o Helena Cronin o Paul Ewald o Charles Simonyi o John
Rennie o Alun Anderson
Finding the Universal Laws That Are There, Waiting . . .
By Edward Rothstein, January 10, 2004 [free registration required]
Nature abhors a vacuum. Gravitational force is inversely proportional
to the square of the distance between two objects. Over the course of
evolution, each species develops larger body sizes. If something can
go wrong, it will.
Such are some of nature's laws as handed down by Aristotle, Newton,
Edward Cope and Murphy. And regardless of their varying accuracy (and
seriousness), it takes an enormous amount of daring to posit them in
the first place. Think of it: asserting that what you observe here and
now is true for all times and places, that a pattern you perceive is
not just a coincidence but reveals a deep principle about how the
world is ordered.
If you say, for example, that whenever you have tried to create a
vacuum, matter has rushed in to fill it, you are making an
observation. But say that "nature abhors a vacuum" and you are
asserting something about the essence of things. Similarly, when
Newton discovered his law of gravitation, he was not simply accounting
for his observations. It has been shown that his crude instruments and
approximate measurements could never have justified the precise and
elegant conclusions. That is the power of natural law: the evidence
does not make the law plausible; the law makes the evidence plausible.
But what kind of natural laws can now be so confidently formulated,
disclosing a hidden order and forever bearing their creator's names?
We no longer even hold Newton's laws sacred; 20th-century physics
turned them into approximations. Cope, the 19th-century
paleontologist, created his law about growing species size based on
dinosaurs; the idea has now become somewhat quaint. Someday even an
heir to Capt. Edward Aloysius Murphy might have to modify the law he
based on his experience about things going awry in the United States
Air Force in the 1940's.
So now, into the breach comes John Brockman, the literary agent and
gadfly, whose online scientific salon, Edge.org, has become one of the
most interesting stopping places on the Web. He begins every year by
posing a question to his distinguished roster of authors and invited
guests. Last year he asked what sort of counsel each would offer
George W. Bush as the nation's top science adviser. This time the
question is "What's your law?"
"There is some bit of wisdom," Mr. Brockman proposes, "some rule of
nature, some lawlike pattern, either grand or small, that you've
noticed in the universe that might as well be named after you." What,
he asks, is your law, one that's ready to take a place near Kepler's
and Faraday's and Murphy's.
More than 150 responses totaling more than 20,000 words have been
posted so far at www.edge.org/q2004/q04_print.html. The respondents
form an international gathering of what Mr. Brockman has called the
"third culture" Û scientists and science-oriented intellectuals who
are, he believes, displacing traditional literary intellectuals in
importance. They include figures like the scientists Freeman Dyson and
Richard Dawkins, innovators and entrepreneurs like Ray Kurzweil and W.
Daniel Hillis, younger mavericks like Douglas Rushkoff and senior
mavericks like Stewart Brand, mathematicians, theoretical physicists,
computer scientists, psychologists, linguists and journalists....
Edge.org Compiles Rules Of The Wise Observations Of Thinking People
January 9, 2004 By John Jurgensen, Courant Staff Writer [free
Everything answers to the rule of law. Nature. Science. Society. All
of it obeys a set of codes...It's the thinker's challenge to put words
to these unwritten rules. Do so, and he or she may go down in history.
Like a Newton or, more recently, a Gordon Moore, who in 1965 coined
the most cited theory of the technological age, an observation on how
computers grow exponentially cheaper and more powerful... Recently,
John Brockman went looking for more laws.
..."It's interesting to sit back and watch this crowd move the
question in different directions that I hadn't intended," says
Brockman, who has been posting answers to the annual question online
since 1997... This year's results, published on edge.org, run the
gamut from brainy principles to homespun observations in the tradition
of Murphy's Law...If all this theorizing sounds a little high-flown,
it's not, says Brockman. The important questions of life aren't
restricted to an exclusive club - this just happens to be the
intellectual company Brockman keeps.
" They're not sitting around looking at their work in awe and wonder,"
he says. "They're looking at experiments and empirical results and
asking, `Where do we go from here?'"
... As for choosing a favorite among the crop of submissions, Brockman
invokes a law of his own: "Nobody knows, and you can't find out."
Wall St. Journal:
SCIENCE JOURNAL By Sharon Begley, January 2 , 2004
Scientists Who Give Their Minds to Study, Can Give Names, Too
Heisenberg has one, and so do Boyle and Maxwell: A scientific
principle, law or rule with their moniker attached.... It isn't every
day that a researcher discovers the uncertainty principle, an ideal
gas law, or the mathematical structure of electromagnetism. And ours
is the era of real-estate moguls, phone companies and others slapping
their name on every building, stadium and arena in sight.... So, John
Brockman, a New York literary agent, writer and impresario of the
online salon Edge, figures it is time for more scientists to get in on
the whole naming thing.... As a New Year's exercise, he asked scores
of leading thinkers in the natural and social sciences for "some bit
of wisdom, some rule of nature, some law-like pattern, either grand or
small, that you've noticed in the universe that might as well be named
after you."...The responses, to be posted soon on Mr. Brockman's Web
site www.edge.org, range from the whimsical to the somber, from
cosmology to neuroscience...You can find other proposed laws of nature
on the Edge Web site. Who knows? Maybe one or more might eventually
join Heisenberg in the nomenclature pantheon.
The Independent (UK)
A Week in Books: Core principles are needed in the muddled business of
By Boyd Tonkin, 02 January 2004
The literary agent John Brockman, who makes over significant
scientists into successful authors, has posted an intriguing question
on his Edge website. He seeks suggestions for contemporary "laws",
just as Boyle, Newton, Faraday and other pioneers gave their names to
the rules of the physical universe. (That eminent pair, Sod and
Murphy, soon followed suit.) Brockman advises his would-be legislators
to stick to the scientific disciplines, and you can find their
responses at www.edge.org.
"WHAT'S YOUR LAW?"
Anderson's First Law (of the Experienced Science Journalist)
Science may be objective but scientists are not.
Anderson's Second Law (of the Experienced Science Journalist)
A scientist who can speak without jargon is either an idiot or a
Anderson's Third Law (on Subjectivity and Objectivity from the
Interface of Neuroscience and Computers)
The bigger the brain, the better the stories it fabricates for us.
The more technology gives us the power to record and store everything,
the less it captures reality.
laws on subjectivity and objectivity from the interface of
Neuroscience and Computers
Anderson's Fourth Law (for ordinary folk)
Science can produce knowledge but it cannot produce wisdom.
Anderson's Fifth Law (Based on An Ancient Zen Saying to An Untutored
Monk Seeking Wisdom)
If you can tell the false from the true you are already a scientist.
Rennie's Law of Credibility
Scientists don't always know best about matters of science-but they're
more likely to be right than the critics who make that argument.
1st Corollary to the Law of Credibility
The first job of any scientific fraud is to persuade the public that
science is itself unscientific.
2nd Corollary to the Law of Credibility
Any iconoclast with a scientifically unorthodox view who reminds you
that Galileo was persecuted too...ain't Galileo.
Rennie's Law of Evolutionary Biology
The most important environmental influences on any organism are always
the other organisms around it.
Corollary to the Law of Evolutionary Biology
Species do not occupy ecological niches; they define them.
Simonyi's Law of Guaranteed Evolution
Anything that can be done, could be done "meta".
Ewald's First Law
The defining characteristic of science--the one that gives sciences
its extraordinary explanatory power--is the objective use of evidence
to distinguish between alternative guesses.
Most of religion is antithetical to science.
Much of Western Medicine is antithetical to science.
Quite a bit of Science is antithetical to science.
Ewald's Second Law
When the practice of medicine finally obtains a balanced perspective,
Medicine and Evolutionary Medicine will be one and the same.
Cronin's law of dual information storage
Adaptations stockpile information in environments as well as in genes.
The Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos used to describe himself as a
"machine for turning coffee into theorems". In much the same way,
genes are machines for turning stars into a bird's compass;
carotenoids into males of dazzling beauty; smells into love-potions;
facial muscles into signals of friendship; a glance into uncertainty
of paternity; and oxygen, water, light, zinc, calcium and iron into
bears, beetles, bacteria or bluebells. More strictly, genes are
machines for turning stars into birds and thereby into more genes.
This reminds us that adaptations weld together two information-storage
systems. They build up a store of information in genes, meticulously
accumulated, elaborated and honed down evolutionary time. And, to
match that store, they also stockpile information in the environment.
For genes need resources to build and run organisms; and adaptations
furnish genes (or organisms) with the information to pluck those
resources from the environment. So stars and carotenoids and glances
need to be there generation after generation no less reliably than the
information carried by genes.
Thus genes and environments are not in opposition; not zero-sum; not
parallel but separate. Rather, they are designed to work in tandem.
Their interconnection is highly intricate, minutely structured; and it
becomes ever more so over evolutionary time.
And thus, without environments to provide resources, genes would not
be viable; and without genes to specify what constitutes an
environment, environments would not exist. So how could biology not be
an environmental issue? And, conversely, how could environments not
be--necessarily--a biological issue?
Cronin's law of adaptations and environments
What constitutes an organism's environment depends on the species'
What constitutes an organism's environment? The answer is that it is
the organism's adaptations that stake out which are the relevant
aspects of the world. An environment is not simply a given. It is the
typical characteristics of a species, its adaptations, that specify
what constitutes the environment for that species.
Think of it this way. Adaptations are keys to unlocking the world's
resources. They are the means by which organisms harness features of
the world for their own use, transforming them from part of the
indifferent world-out-there into the organism's own tailor-made,
species-specific environment, an environment brimming with materials
and information for the organism's own distinctive adaptive needs.
And so to understand how any species interacts with its environment,
we need to start by exploring that species' adaptations. Only through
adaptations was that environment constructed and only through
understanding adaptations can we reconstruct it.
And, similarly, within a sexually reproducing species, differences
between the sexes should be the default assumption. In particular, the
female's adaptations should not be treated as mere adumbrations of the
male's. On the contrary, if a rule-of-thumb default is needed, turn to
the female. After all, the 'little brown bird' is what the entire
species--males, females and juveniles--looks like before sexual
selection distorts her mate into a showy explosion of colour and song.
When it comes to environments, males perceive them as platforms for
status games. Females most certainly do not.
Damasio's First Law
The body precedes the mind.
Damasio's Second Law
Emotions precede feelings.
Damasio's Third Law
Concepts precede words.
Eno's First Law
Culture is everything we don't have to do
We have to eat, but we didn't have to invent Baked Alaskas and Beef
Wellington. We have to clothe ourselves, but we didn't have to invent
platform shoes and polka-dot bikinis. We have to communicate, but we
didn't have to invent sonnets and sonatas. Everything we do--beyond
simply keeping ourselves alive--we do because we like making and
experiencing art and culture.
Eno's Second Law
Science is the conversation about how the world is. Culture is the
conversation about how else the world could be, and how else we could
Science wants to know what can be said about the world, what can be
predicted about it. Art likes to see which other worlds are possible,
to see how it would feel if it were this way instead of that way. As
such art can give us the practice and agility to think and experience
in new ways - preparing us for the new understandings of things that
Eric S. Raymond
Raymond's Law of Software
Given a sufficiently large number of eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.
Raymond's Second Law
Any sufficiently advanced system of magic would be indistinguishable
from a technology.
The first one is sometimes called "Raymond's Law" now, though I
originally called it "Linus's Law" when I formulated it. Second one.
Hmmm. Several people have since invented this one independently, but I
came up with it more than twenty years ago. It's a reply to Arthur C.
Clarke's Third Law, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is
indistinguishable from magic."
Raymond's Law of Consequences
The road to hell has often been paved with good intentions. Therefore,
evil is best recognized not by its motives but by its methods.
Kreye's Law of Literalism
When devaluated information makes opinion an added value, the law of
literalism is permanently questioned, while remaining the last resort
The inflation of available information has devaluated word and image
to mere content. The resulting perception fatigue is increasingly met
with the overused rhetorical tool of polarizing opinion. It's based on
an old trick used by street vendors. In the intellectual food court of
mass media, opinion appeals to reflexes just as the fried fat and
sugar smells of snackfood outlets activate age-old instincts of
hunting and gathering. In the average consumer opinion triggers an
illusion of enlightenment and understanding that ultimately clouds the
reason of literalism.
Literalism is freedom from credo, dogma and philosophical pessimism.
It's the process of finding reality driven by an optimistic faith in
its existence. It tries to transcend the limits of the word, by
permanently questioning any perception of reality.
Belief and ideology, the strongest purveyors of opinion, have long
known the language of science and reason. Creationists use secular
reasoning to demand that schools stop teaching the laws of evolution.
Right-wing radicals and religious fundamentalists of all creeds tone
down their world visions to fit into an opinionated consensus.
Economic and political forces use selective findings to present their
interests as fact.
Literalism can become an exhausting effort to defend the principles of
fact and reason in a polarized world. The complex and often boring
nature of factual reality makes it an unglamorous voice amid a choir
of sparkling witticisms and provocations. Devoid of the ecstasies and
spiritual cushioning of religion it denies age old longings. It can be
decried as heresy or simultaneously accused of treason by all sides.
It must sustain the insecurities brought on by the absence of ultimate
truth. Having been the gravitational center of enlightenment, it must
be defended as the last resort of reason.
Tipler's Law of Unilimited Progress
The laws of physics place no limits on progress, be it scientific,
economic, cultural, or intellectual. In fact, the laws of physics
require the knowledge and wealth possessed by intelligent beings in
the universe to increase without limit, this knowledge and wealth
becoming literally infinite by the the end of time. Intelligent life
forms must inevitably expand out from their planets of origin, and
convert the entire universe into a biosphere. If the laws of physics
be for us, who can be against us?
Thanks for the invitation, but this time I will pass: I am too much of
an anarchist: the only laws I like are scientific ones, and the idea
of some normative statement being labelled, even if just for fun,
"Sperber's Law", makes me shudder. Sorry! (But I will enjoy reading
the "laws" of other people).
Godwin 's Law
As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison
involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.
Snyder's First Law
The most creative science is wrong, but the deception ultimately leads
to the benefit of mankind. Think Freud!
Snyder's Second Law
Everyone steals ideas from everyone else, but they do so
unconsciously. This has evolved for our very survival. It maximises
the innovative power of society.
Benford's Modified Clarke Law
Any technology that does not appear magical is insufficiently
Randall's First Law
Non-existence "theorems", which state something cannot happen, are
untrustworthy; they are only statements about what we have seen or
thought of so far. Non-existence theorems often appear in physics.
They are useful guidelines, but there are often loopholes. Sometimes
you find those loopholes by looking--and sometimes you find them by
accident through superficially unrelated research
Randall's Second Law
Studies confirming Baron-Cohen's First Law will always reflect the
bias of the investigator.
Pinker's First Law
Human intelligence is a product of analogy and combinatorics. Analogy
allows the mind to use a few innate ideas--space, force, essence,
goal--to understand more abstract domains. Combinatorics allows an a
finite set of simple ideas to give rise to an infinite set of complex
Pinker's Second Law
Human sociality is a product of conflicts and confluences of genetic
interests. Our relationships with our parents, siblings, spouses,
friends, trading partners, allies, rivals, and selves have different
forms because they instantiate different patterns of overlap of
ultimate interests. History, fiction, news, and gossip are endlessly
fascinating because the overlap is never 0% or 100%.
A public figure is often condemned for an action that is taken
unfairly out of context but nevertheless reflects, in a compelling and
encapsulated manner, an underlying truth about that person.
W. Daniel Hillis
The representation becomes the reality.
Or more precisely: Successful representations of reality become more
important than the reality they represent.
Dollars become more important than gold.
The brand becomes more important than the company.
The painting becomes more important than the landscape.
The new medium (which begins as a representation of the old medium)
eclipses the old.
The prize becomes more important than the achievement.
The genes become more important than the organism.
Gelernter's First Law
Computers make people stupid.
One expert is worth a million intellectuals. (This law is
Gelernter's Third Law
Scientists know all the right answers and none of the right questions.
Barabási's Law of Programming
Program development ends when the program does what you expect it to
do--whether it is correct or not.
God is evolving. So if you're an atheist, you'd better hope that the
arrow of time only goes in one direction.
"There's always a faster gun."
Poundstone's First Law
Independent discoverers of great ideas emerge in proportion to the
time spent looking for them. The history of science is a fractal, with
co-discoverers emerging like crinkles in the Norwegian coastline.
Poundstone's Second Law
The fractal dimension of scientific discovery increases with time.
Where people once marveled at the simultaneous discovery of calculus,
we now marvel when a Nobel science prize goes to one person.
Berreby's First Law
Human kinds exist only in human minds.
Human differences and human similarities are infinite, therefore any
assortment of people can be grouped together according to a shared
trait or divided according to unshared traits. Our borders of race,
ethnie, nation, religion, class etc. are not, then, facts about the
world. They are facts about belief. We should look at minds, not
kinds, if we want to understand this phenomenon.
Berreby's Second Law
Science which seems to confirm human-kind beliefs is always welcome;
science that undermines human-kind belief is always unpopular.
To put it more cynically, if your work lets people believe there are
"Jewish genes'" (never mind that the same genes are found in
Palestinians) or that criminals have different kinds of brains from
regular people (never mind that regular people get arrested all the
time), or that your ancestors 5,000 years ago lived in the same neck
of the woods as you (never mind the whereabouts of all your other
ancestors), well then, good press will be yours. On the other hand, if
your work shows how thoroughly perceptions of race, ethnicity, and
other traits change with circumstances, well, good luck. Common sense
will defend itself against science.
The future is merely the past with a twist--and better tools.
Gigerenzer's Law of Indispensable Ignorance
The world cannot function without partially ignorant people.
The ideal of omniscience fuels the many disciplines and theories that
envision godlike humans. Much of cognitive science, and Homo
economicus as well, assume the superiority of a mind with complete,
veridical representations of the outside world that remain stable and
available throughout a lifetime. The Law of Indispensable Ignorance,
in contrast, says that complete information is neither realistic nor
generally desirable. What is desirable are partially (not totally)
Justice is blindfolded; jurors are not supposed to know the criminal
record of the defendant; trial consultants hunt for "virgin minds"
rather than academics as jurors. Academics in turn review papers
anonymously under the veil of ignorance about the authors; trust in
experiments demands double-blind procedures; economic fairness
encourages sealed bids. The efficient market hypothesis implies that
knowledge of future stock prices is impossible, and the Greek skeptics
taught their students that they knew nothing.
When watching a pre-recorded football game, we do not want to know the
result in advance; knowledge would destroy suspense. The estimated 5
to 10% of children and their fathers who falsely believe that they are
related might not lead a happier life by becoming less ignorant;
knowledge can destroy families. And few of us would want to know the
day we will die; knowledge can destroy hope.
Zero-intelligence traders who submitted random bids and offers in
double auctions were as good as experts. Pedestrians who chose stocks
by mere name recognition outperformed market experts and the Fidelity
Growth Fund--and even more successfully when they were from abroad and
more ignorant of the stock names. Expert ball players made better
decisions about where to pass the ball when they had less time.
Recreational tennis players who had only heard of half of the
professional players in Wimbledon 2003 and simply bet that those they
had not heard of would lose predicted the outcomes of the matches
better than the official ATP-rankings and the seeding. Adam Smith's
invisible hand is a metaphor for how collective wisdom emerges from
the uninformed masses.
We can prove that situations exist in which a group does best by
following its most ignorant member rather than the consensus of their
informed majority, and we can prove that a heuristic that ignores all
information except for one reason will make better predictions than a
multiple regression with a dozen reasons. Mnemonists, who have
virtually unlimited memory, are swamped by details and find it
difficult to abstract and reason, while ordinary people's working
memory limitations maximize the ability to detect correlations in the
world. Limited memory facilitates acquisition of language, in infants
and computers alike; the more complex the species, the longer the
period of infancy.
Theories that respect the Law of Indispensable Ignorance incorporate a
more realistic picture of people as being partially ignorant.
Omniscience is dispensable.
Markoff's Law of Inversion
Technology once trickled down from supercomputers to PCs. Now new
computing technology comes to game machines first.
The companies who make the fastest computers are the ones that make
things that go under Xmas trees.
As cosmological theories advance, they will draw more concepts from
The part of the universe astronomers can observe is probably only a
tiny part of the aftermath of 'our' big bang, which in turn may be one
of an infinity of 'bangs' in which the physics may be very different
from in ours. To analyse how our own cosmic habitat relates to this
ensemble, we'll need to draw on concepts from ecology and evolutionary
biology ('fitness landscapes', etc).
So we'll need biological ideas to understand the beginning. But
biology may control the far future too. In some 'universes' (ours
perhaps among them) life can eventually become pervasive and powerful
enough to renders the dynamics of the cosmic future as unpredictable
as that of an organism or mind.
Humphrey's Law of the Efficacy of Prayer
In a dangerous world there will always be more people around whose
prayers for their own safety have been answered than those whose
prayers have not.
[Think about it.]
Experts predictions are always correct.
1. A certain portion of all predictions made by experts will be
2. Human memory is short.
3. Make lot of forcasts, most of the people will remember the
4. A good hedge: make contradictory predictions with intervals
Every organization always operates on behalf of the perceived needs
and priorities of some core group of key people. This purpose will
trump every other organizational loyalty, including those to
shareholders, employees, customers, and other constituents.
Any unbounded bitstream tends to irrelevance.
Bits are so easy to create, copy, and send that without some filtering
process, the worth of the entire bitstream decays
rapidly. A good example is the e-mail inbox. Many e-mail users have no
discipline about deleting or filtering their mail, and thus the bits
that flow in--spam and legimitate mail together--clutter the inbox to
an extent that the worth of the inbox overall tends to zero.
Stated another way, the worth of a bitstream is proportional to the
accuracy and usage of the filters and meta-bits applied to the
K. Eric Drexler
Drexler's First Law
Physical technology evolves toward limits set by physical law.
Drexler's Second Law
A technology approaching the limits set by physical law must build
with atomic precision.
Golomb 's Law
Everything in biology is more complicated than you think it is, even
taking into account Golomb's Law.
Pickover 's Law of Mutating Conjectures
I am having difficulty formulating a law to give you. Through the
millennia, even the most brilliant minds rarely generated great and
profound "laws." Probably every "law" ever made had been broken or
will crumble after a time. Perhaps Edge is asking the wrong question.
Knowledge moves in an ever-expanding, upward-pointing funnel. From the
rim, we look down and see previous knowledge from a new perspective as
new theories are formed. Today's conjectures mutate, new theories
evolve, and yesterday's impossibilities become part of everyday life.
Morgan's First Law
To a first approximation, no deals close.
Morgan's Second Law
To a first approximation all appointments are canceled.
Morgan's Third Law
Events of probability zero happen--they are the ones that change the
These laws are actually the engineering approximations to life.
Seckel's First Law
Visual Perception is Essentially an Ambiguity Solving Process.
Most of us take vision for granted. After all, it comes to us so
easily. With normal vision we are able to navigate quickly and
efficiently through a visually rich three-dimensional world of light,
shading, texture, and color--a complex world in motion, with objects
of different sizes at differing distances. Looking about we have a
definite sense of the "real world".
In fact, our visual system is so successful at building an accurate
representation of the real world (our perception) that most of us do
not realize what a difficult task our brain is performing. Without
conscious thought, our visual system gathers and interprets complex
information, providing us with a seamless perception of our
environment. The complexities of how we perceive are cleverly
concealed by a successful visual system.
It might seem reasonable for us to assume that there is a one-to-one
mapping between the real world and what you perceive--that your visual
system "sees" the retinal image, in much the way that a digital camera
records what it "sees."
Although it seems like a useful analogy, there is no real comparison
between our visual system and a camera beyond a strictly surface
level. Furthermore, this comparison trivializes the accomplishments of
our visual system. This is because a camera records incoming
information, but our brain interprets incoming information.
Furthermore, it feels to us as if a photograph reproduces a
three-dimensional world, but it doesn't. It only suggests one. The
same visual system that interprets the world around us also interprets
the photograph to make it appear as a three-dimensional scene.
Our perceptions are not always perfect. Sometimes our brain will
interpret a static image on the retina in more than one way. A
skeleton cube, known as a Necker cube, is a classic example of a
single image that is interpreted in more than one way. If you fixate
on this cube for any length of time, it will spontaneously reverse in
depth, even though the image on the retina remains constant. Our brain
interprets this image differently because of conflicting depth cues.
The great 19th century German physicist and physiologist Hermann Von
Helmholtz first discovered the basic problem of perception over one
hundred years ago. He correctly reasoned that the visual information
from our world that is projected onto the back of the retina is
spatially ambiguous. Helmholtz reasoned that there can be an infinite
variety of shapes that can give rise to the same retinal image, as
long as they subtend the same visual angle to the eye.
However, the concept of visual ambiguity is far deeper than what
Helmholtz originally proposed, because it turns out that any one
aspect of visual information, such as brightness, color, motion, etc,
could have arisen from infinitely many different conditions. It is
very hard to appreciate this fact at first, because what we perceive
in a normal viewing environment is not at all ambiguous.
If all visual stimuli are inherently ambiguous, how does our
visual/perceptual system discard the infinite variety of possible
conditions to settle on the correct interpretation almost all the
time, and in such a quick and efficient manner? The problem basically
stated is, how does the visual system "retrieve" all of the visual
information about the 3D world from the very limited information
contained in the 2D retinal image? This is a basic and central
question of perception.
Studying the visual system only at one level will never result in a
full understanding of visual perception. Many of the underlying
mechanisms that mediate vision may be even "messier" than previously
thought, with cross-feedback from more than one level of visual
processing contributing to processing at another level. UCSD vision
scientist V.S. Ramachandran is correct when he believes that it is
time to "open the black box in order to study the responses of nerve
cells," but he is also probably right to promote his Utilitarian
Theory of Perception, which argues for a clever "bag of tricks" that
the human visual system has evolved over millions of years of
evolution to resolve the inherent ambiguities in the visual image.
Visual perception is largely an ambiguity-solving process.
The task of vision scientists, therefore, is to uncover these hidden
and underlying constraints, rather than to attribute to the visual
system a degree of simplicity that it simply does not possess.
Seckel's Second Law
Our Visual/Perceptual System is Highly Constrained.
Sometimes our perceptions are wrong. Often these errors have been
classified as illusions, dismissed by many as failures of the visual
system, quirky exceptions to normal vision.
If illusions are not failures of the visual system, then, what are
they? After all, we do categorize a number of different perceptual
experiences as "illusions". What makes them fundamentally different
than those we perceive as normal?
One difference is a noticeable split between your perception and
conception. With an illusion, your perception is fooled but your
conception is correct--you're seeing something wrong (your mis
perception), but you know it's wrong (your correct conception).
Initially, your conception may be fooled too, but at that point you
are unaware that you are encountering an illusion. It is only when
your conception is at odds with your perception that you are aware
that you have encountered an illusion.
Furthermore, in almost all pictorial illusions (where the meaning of
the image is not ambiguous), your perceptions will continue to be
fooled, even though your conception is fine, no matter how many times
you view the illusion. It does not matter how old you are, how smart
you are, how cultured you are, or how artistic you are, you will
continue to be fooled by these illusions over and over again. In fact,
you cannot "undo" your incorrect perceptions, even with extended
experiences, worldly knowledge, or training. It is more important for
your visual system to adhere to these constraints than to violate them
because it has encountered something unusual, inconsistent, or
paradoxical. This indicates that your visual/perceptual system is
highly constrained on how it interprets the world.
It is not my intention to cause the reader to think that visual
perception is unreliable and untrustworthy. This would be a mistake
as, for the most part, our perceptions of the world are veridical.
However, how we perceive the world is not a mirror image of reality,
but an actively and intelligently constructed one that allows us to
have the best chances for survival in a complicated environment.
Rucker's Law of Morphogenesis
Most biological, social, and psychological systems are based on
interactions between an activator and an inhibitor. The patterns which
emerge depend upon the relative rates at which the activator and
inhibitor spread. Three main cases occur, depending on whether the
activator's diffusion rate is much less than, roughly equal to, or
greater than the rate at which the inhibition spreads. In these three
cases we observe, respectively, isolated patches like zebra stripes or
leopard spots, moving complex patterns like Belusov-Zhabontinsky
scrolls, or seething chaos. Applying this to the activator-inhibitor
patterns in the human brain, if you inhibit new thoughts, you are left
with a few highly stimulated patches: obsessions and fixed ideas. If
you manage to create new thought associations at about the same rate
you inhibit them, you develop creative complexity. And too high a rate
of activation leads to unproductive mania. Exercise: apply this notion
to spread of good and bad news in society.
There are three sides to every story.
The Greek letter delta is a symbol for change in formulas. This
triangle can be taken personally to create a philosophy that can be
used as laws. For example, the 3 points of a triangle create a
possibility space for change. Two points in a debate provide nothing
more than a tyranny of dichotomies, whereas adding a third possibility
is always more interesting, and closer to the true complexity of life.
This rule of favoring 3s instead of 2s also works in any design to
please the eye, such as three pictures on a wall instead of two. A
couple become more interesting when they go beyond their own twosome
to create a third focal point, whether a child, a book or a business.
As Yale paleontologist Dolf Seilacher put it, Symmetry is boring. The
next time you are confronted with only two choices, create a third,
and see the possibility space expand.
Good science creates two challenging puzzles for each puzzle it
Contrary to some prognostications, science is not coming to an end.
Good science is growing every day.
The Anthropic Principle does not resolve any puzzles andcreates no new
ones. Hence, ...
(Exercise left for the reader--fill in the blank. For hint, see
Punset's First Law
If fully conscious, don´t trust your brain.
The brain is very good at managing automated, unconscious processes
such as breathing, digesting or transpiring. But so far neuroscience
has not produced the slightest evidence that flipping a coin to decide
on important matters such as marriage, taking up a job, or traveling
is any worst than a formal, conscious, discriminatory decision made by
the brain. This should not surprise anybody. If we leave aside the
individual brain, and look at the evolution of social primates as a
whole, few would question that the history of civilization equals the
history of sucessive and cumulative automatization in fields such as
agriculture, industry or information. Why should it be different for
the individual brain?
Punset's Second Law
When in doubt, please ask Nature, not people. After all, this is the
stuff scientists are made of.
This Law has to do with Darwinian Theory and Business Practice. There
is a huge amount of money to be made by just applying basic science to
ordinary business. In the Universe as a whole--according to
Physics--95% of reality is invisible. Most businessmen, however, are
convinced that 95% of what is going on in their firms, workshops or
projects can be seen at first sight. No wonder that it takes on
average over three failures for an innovation to succeed.
For every important function that a cell needs to carry out Nature has
created a gadget to make it more efficient.
(Gadgets are macromolecular complexes made from proteins, RNA, and DNA
and often have hundereds of parts.)
Chalupa's First Law
No matter how good or bad things are at any given point in time (in
science as in life), remember that "this too shall pass."
This is key for attaining longevity in this business...people who
"violate" or are unaware of this rule are doomed to failure. In other
words, it is vitally important how one deals with success and failure
in doing cutting edge science. Failure is the rule even among the most
successful working scientists (since 90% of grant application are
typically rejected and the top journals reject even a higher
percentage); and with respect to success, in all but a few exceptional
cases, institutional memory is exceedingly fleeting (i.e, yesterday's
superstars are unrecognized by today's grad students, postdocs, junior
faculty). So you've got to keep pitching if you want to stay in the
Chalupa's Second Law
Don't underestimate the importance of fashion in doing science.
Another key for success in science...if you're too far ahead of the
herd (with very few exception) you're not going to get funded by
NIH/NSF or published in the premier journals. This is in spite of the
fact that they claim that they fund innovative research. Anyone who
has spend as much time on grant review committees as I have will
recognize the power of this rule. In other words, there is a price to
pay for originality and every working scientist knows this is the
The sub-conscious mind is to consciousness what the quantum world is
to the classical world.
The vast majority of brain activity is non-conscious; consciousness is
"the tip of an iceberg" of neural activity. Yet the threshold for
transition from pre-, non-, or sub-conscious processes into conscious
awareness is unknown. The sub-conscious mind as revealed in dreams has
been described by Matte Blanco as a place where "paradox reigns, and
opposites merge to sameness". Reality is seemingly described by two
separate sets of laws. In our everyday classical world, Newton's laws
and Maxwell's equations accurately portray reality. However at small
scales, the bizarre laws of quantum mechanics rule: particles are
distorted in space and time (uncertainty), exist in multiple states or
locations simultaneously (superposition) and remain connected in
opposite states over distance (nonlocal entanglement). In the quantum
world "paradox reigns and opposites merge to sameness".
The boundary, or threshold between the quantum and classical worlds
(i.e. quantum state reduction, collapse of the wave function,
measurement, decoherence) remains mysterious. Early quantum theorists
attributed reduction/collapse to observation: "consciousness collapses
the wave function". Modern physics attributes reduction/collapse to
any interaction with the classical environment ("decoherence").
Neither solves the problem of isolated quantum superpositions which
are nonetheless useful in quantum computation.
In quantum computation, information may be represented as isolated
superpositions (e.g. as quantum bits--"qubits"--of both 1 AND 0) which
interact/compute by nonlocal entanglement, and eventually
reduce/collapse to classical solutions.
Based on a 1989 suggestion by Sir Roger Penrose, he and I have put
forth a specific model of consciousness involving quantum computation
in microtubules within the brain's neurons. Superpositions of multiple
possible pre-/sub-conscious perceptions or choices reach threshold for
self-collapse (by Roger's "objective reduction" due to properties of
fundamental spacetime geometry), and select/reduce to particular
classical perceptions or choices. Each reduction is a conscious event,
a series of which gives a "stream of consciousness".
The main scientific objection to our proposal has been that the brain
is too warm for quantum computation which in the technological realm
seems to require ultra cold temperatures to avoid thermal decoherence.
However recent evidence shows that quantum processes in biological
molecules are enhanced by increased temperature. Evolution has had
billion of years to solve the problem of decoherence. Consciousness
may be a particular form of quantum state reduction: a process on the
edge between the quantum and classical worlds.
Once the miind is freed to think positionally without orientation, a
logic of relationships naturally ensues.
The truth is always more interesting that your preconception of what
it might be.
In journalism, this means that the best practicioners should not have
the stories written out in their heads before they report them.
Preconceptions can blind you to the full, rich human reality that
awaits you when you actually listen to your subjects and approach the
material with an open mind. It wouldn't surprise me if the same tabula
rasa principle applies when scientists try to answer the big
Gershenfeld's Law on Research
Experiments take pi times longer than planned (no matter how many
factors of pi you account for).
Gershenfeld's Law on Writing
Good [theses, papers, books] are never finished, just abandoned.
Function from form.
"Form follows function" implies that they're separable; the most
profound scientific and technological insights that I know follow from
abstracting logical functions from physical forms.
Segre's First Law
Numbers are everything.
This is just a rephrasing of the Pythagorean credo, proclaimed 2500
years ago, that "All things are numbers". Science began with it, but
it's still worth remembering that measurements are at the base of all
Segre's Second Law
Understand what the numbers mean.
One has to keep looking for a theory that will explain the numbers.
Our galaxy has a hundred billion stars and our brain has a hundred
billion neurons. Understanding our galaxy and our brain are great
challenges, but two different theories are required.
Warwick's First Law
Art takes you out of town, and gives you a destination. Science builds
the bus that takes you there.
Art, at its best, takes you out of your town, your home, your living
room, your armchair, your mind, and brings you some place--a
destination, a wonderful place, a new way of looking at things, a deep
shift in your understanding of what it means to be human with a sense
of profundity and awe at the Creation, pointing toward a new and
better environment for living, smiling a new smile--all by altering
your consciousness in some useful and insightful way.
Cooking up the better paint or programming didn't make the better
paintmaker a better painter, or the better word processor-maker a
better writer, but the great painter required the skills of the better
paint makers and the great writer needs the tool of the trade. If we
are to go to these grand destinations, artists need the insights and
tools provided by science--the " bus" to take us there. And we need to
Warwick's Second Law
Art tells the jokes that science insists on explaining.
Baron-Cohen's Law of Sex differences in the Mind
In any random population, of those who score in the above-average
range on tests of empathizing, females will significantly outnumber
males. And of those who score in the above-average range on tests of
systemizing, males will significantly outnumber females.
Baron-Cohen's Law of Autism
What unites individuals on the autistic spectrum is impaired
empathizing in the presence of intact or even superior systemizing,
relative to non-autistic individuals of the same mental age.
Uncertainty is the final test of innovation.
That is, new concepts are tested best by a sudden faltering confidence
on the part of the innovator operating in an almost-liminal,
almost-sure intellectual state.
Does not the palpible quiver preceding the sudden rush of certainty
final kick to real innovation?
This is especially good for interdisciplinary areas, where unusual
generally involve more maverick trip-wire than usual.
Susskind's Rule of Thumb
Don't ask what they think. Ask what they do.
My rule has to do with pardigm shifts--yes, I do believe in them. I've
been through a few myself. It is useful if you want to be the first on
your block to know that the shift has taken place. I formulated the
rule in 1974. I was visiting the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center
(SLAC) for a weeks to give a couple of seminars on particle physics.
The subject was QCD. It doesn't matter what this stands for. The point
is that it was a new theory of sub-nuclear particles and it was
absolutely clear that it was the right theory. There was no critical
experiment but the place was littered with smoking guns. Anway, at the
end of my first lecture I took a poll of the audience. "What
probability would you assign to the proposition 'QCD is the right
theory of hadrons.'?" My socks were knocked off by the answers. They
ranged from .01 percent to 5 percent. As I said, by this time it was a
clear no-brainer. The answer should have been close too 100 percent.
The next day I gave my second seminar and took another poll. "What are
you working on?" was the question. Answers: QCD, QCD, QCD, QCD,
QCD,........ Everyone was working on QCD. That's when I learned to ask
"What are you doing?" instead of "what do you think?"
I saw exacly the same phenomenon more recently when I was working on
black holes. This time it was after a string theory seminar, I think
in Santa Barbara. I asked the audience to vote whether they agreed
with me and Gerard 't Hooft or if they thought Hawkings ideas were
correct. This time I got a 50-50 response. By this time I knew what
was going on so I wasn't so surprised. Anyway I later asked if anyone
was working on Hawking's theory of information loss. Not a single hand
went up. Don't ask what they think. Ask what they do.
Turkle's Law of Evocative Objects
Every technology has an instrumental side, what the technology does
for us and a subjective side, what the technology does to us, to our
ways of seeing the world, including to our ways of thinking about
So the Internet both facilitates communication and changes our sense
of identity, privacy, and sexual possibility; gene sequencing both
gives us new ways of diagnosing and treating disease and new ways of
thinking about human nature and human history. On an instrumental
level, interactive, "sociable" robotics offers new opportunities for
education, childcare, and eldercare; on a subjective level, it offers
new challenges to our view of human nature, and to our moral sense of
what kinds of creatures are deserving of relationship.
Turkle's Law of Human Vulnerability to An Active Gaze
If a creature, computational or biological, makes eye contact with a
person, tracks her gaze, and gestures with interest toward her, that
person will experience the creature as sentient, even capable of
understanding her inner state.
The human has evolved to anthropomorphize. We are on the brink of
creating machines so "sociable" in appearance that they will push our
evolutionary buttons to treat them as kindred. Yet they will not have
shared our human biological and social experience and will thus not
have our means of access to the meanings of moments in the human life
cycle: a child's first step, an adolescent's strut, a parent's pride.
Yet we will not be in complete control of our feelings for these
objects because our feelings will not be based on what they know or
understand, but on what we "experience" them as knowing, a very
We don't know what people and animals are "really" thinking but grant
them a "species pass" in which we make assumptions about their inner
states. It is a social and moral contract. Contemporary technology has
put us close to the moment when we shall be called upon to make this
kind of contract (or some other kind) about creatures of our own
devising. We are called upon to answer the question: What kinds of
relationships are appropriate to have with a machine? Our answer will
not only affect the instrumental roles that we allow technology to
play but the way technology will co-create the human psyche and
sensibility of the future.
Strogatz's First Law of Doing Math
When you're trying to prove something, it helps to know it's true.
Strogatz's Second Law of Doing Math
To figure out if something is true, check it on the computer. If the
machine agrees with your own calculations, you're probably right.
Judith Rich Harris
Harris's First Law
Good things go together. Miller's Iron Law of Iniquity--" in practice,
every good trait correlates positively with every other good
trait"--is true, and follows from Harris's First Law.
Harris's Second Law
Bad things go together, too.
Harris's Third Law
People think they know why good things go together, and why bad things
go together, but they are wrong.
Amato's First Law of Awe
Awe begins in the eye of the beholder.
Limited as it is, biology's homegrown sensory physiology is sufficient
in our case to ignite wonder and curiosity about just where it is we
find ourselves thrown, how we got there, and how we can even know
anything at all. Therein lies the beginning of science.
Amato's Second Law of Awe
Transcending our own sensory limitations with technological tools of
observation, a relentless theme of the history of science, enhances
the experience of awe itself because it expands the variety of
attributes of the universe that we can know about. Therein lies one of
the most underrated values of science.
(For example, we used to see the world in only a rainbow of colors.
Our tools have shown us that the rainbow is a mere sliver of
electromagnetic wavelengths sandwiched between an infinitude of
previously invisible ones.)
The "laws" of nature are more like habits.
Sheldrake's Reformulation of a Traditional Theory of Vision
Vision involves a movement of light into the eyes, changes in the
brain, and the outward projection of images to where they seem to be.
Winer's Law of the Internet
Productive open work will only result in standards as long as the
parties involved strive to follow prior art in every way possible.
Gratuitous innovation is when the standardization process ends, and
usually that happens quickly.
Think about the process of arriving at a standard. Someone goes first
with something new. Assume it catches on and becomes popular. Because
the person did it in an open way, with no patents, or other barriers
to competitors using the technology, a second developer decides to do
the same thing. The innovator supports this, because he or she wants a
standard to develop. At that point the second person has the power to
decide how strong a standard it will be. If the new implementation
strives to work exactly as the original does, then it's more likely
the standard will be strong, and there will be a vibrant market around
it. But if the second party decides to use the concept but not be
technically compatible, it will be a weak standard.
One would assume that the second mover would make every effort to do
it exactly the same way as the first, but over the years, but this has
not been the case. As soon as a standard becomes popular, market
forces lead to multiple incompatible ways forward. Microsoft called
this Embrace & Extend, but all technology vendors are driven to break
standards. Standards can only go a short distance before forking
defeats the standardization process.
This is an extension to Postel's Law (the late Jon Postel was one of
the key players of the development of the Internet), which says you
should be liberal in what you accept and conservative in what you
send. It goes further by saying that we should all collectively be
conservative in what we send. This keeps the technology small and the
market approachable by developers of all sizes. The large companies
always try to make the technology complicated to reduce competition to
other organizations with large research and development budgets.
Aizu's Fisrt Law
Using is believing.
As was the case for the Internet, or the PCs, unless you use it, you
cannot understand its real significance. To put it the other way
around, if and when you use it, it will prevail.
Instead of "seeing" from afar, you must use it to understand. So many
people denied the potential and the impact of the Net simply because
they never tried to use it.
Aizu's Second Law
What changes the world is communication, not information.
We are living in a world where we can exchange ideas and emotions
freely and inexpensively, the first time in the history. Information
piled up, or disseminated one way down, never makes people happy or
feel compelled to act that much, while communication, just a single
line or word from your friends or beloved, or even from a total
stranger, that catches your heart, often results in collective
Randlph Nesse, M.D.
Nesse's Laws for deciding when it is safe to use drugs to block
evolved protective responses.
Aversive responses, such as pain, fever, vomiting and panic, were
shaped by natural selection because they gave selective advantages in
the face of various dangers. Optimal decisions about when to use our
growing pharmacological powers to block these responses will require
signal-detection models of how defenses are regulated.
Nesse's First Law
An optimal mechanism to regulate an all-or-none defensive response
such as vomiting or panic will express the response whenever CD<
\sum(pH x CH w/o defense) -\sum(pH x CH w/defense). That is,
expressing a defense is worth it whenever the cost of the defense (CD)
is less than the estimated reduction in harm, based the probability
(pH) and cost of various harmful outcomes (CH) with and without the
expression of the defense. This means that optimal systems that
regulate inexpensive defenses against large somewhat unpredictable
potential harms will express many false alarms and that blocking these
unnecessary responses can (and does) greatly relieve human suffering.
Blocking responses yields a net benefit, however, only if we can
anticipate when a normal response is likely to be essential to prevent
Nesse's Second Law
An optimal mechanism to regulate a continuously expressed defense,
such as fever or pain, will increase the defensive response up to the
point where the sum of CH and CD is minimized. At this point the
marginal increase in the cost of the defense becomes greater than the
marginal decrease in harm. This helps to explain why so many defenses,
such as those involved in inflammation and the immune responses, so
often seem excessive.
Many will recognize this analysis as a less grand and somewhat more
practical variation on Pascal's Wager. So far, however, few in the
pharmaceutical industry seem to recognize the importance of routinely
assessing the effects of new drugs on normal defensive responses.
Sapolsky's Three Laws for Doing Science
Sapolsky's First Law
Think logically, but orthogonally.
Sapolsky's Second Law
It's okay to think about nonsense, as long as you don't believe in it.
Sapolsky's Third Law
Often, the biggest impediment to scientific progress is not what we
don't know, but what we know.
Holton's First Law
The turning points in individual and national life are most probably
guided by probabilism. (Examples: You are one of about a billion
possible yous, since only one spematozoon [or sometimes two] make it
to the ovum, out of about a billion different competitors, none the
same. Or on the national/ international scale, the availability of a
Churchill in 1940.)
The Second Law
The probability of a right answer or a beneficent outcome is usually
much smaller than that of the wrong or malignant ones. ( This is not
pessimism, but realism--an amplified analogue of the Law of Entropy.)
The Third Law
In the limit of small numbers, the previous two Laws may not
rigorously apply. Therefore if you need only one parking place when
driving your car, look for one first right where you want to go.
The improvements derived from technological advances have an equal and
opposite effect on culture and the environment magnified by time and
The biosphere advances, on average, at the maximum rate it can sustain
into the adjacent possible.
The adjacent possible, for a chemical reaction graph, is the set of
novel molecules that can be created out of those existing now. The
biosphere has advanced into the chemical adjacent possible over the
history of life.The issue is, are there laws that govern this advance?
And so too for technology. I'm very unsure about my candidate law, but
at least it points to the reality that we do advance into the adjacent
possible and perhaps some law governs how we do so.
Progress requires the Pareto Optimization of Competitiveness and
The simple idea that Nature is "Red in Tooth and Claw" lends a
religious fervor to those promoting Competition as the right
organizing principle for open-ended innovation, e.g. in Laissez Faire
Capitalism, government procurement, Social Darwinism, personnel
review, and even high-stakes educational testing.
Through the use of mathematical and computer models of learning, we
discovered that competition between learning agents does not lead to
open-ended progress. Instead, it leads to boom-bust cycles,
winner-take-all monopolies, and oligarchic groups who collude to block
progress. Unfortunately, cooperation (collaborative learning,
altruism) fails as well, leading to weak systems easy to invade or
The exciting new "law" is that progress can be sustained among
self-interested agents when both competitiveness and informativeness
are rewarded. A chess master who wins every game like one who loses
every game - provides no information on the strengths and weaknesses
of other agents, while an informative agent, like a teacher,
contributes opportunity and motivation for further progress. We
predict that this law will be found in Nature, and will have
ramifications for building new learning organizations.
A measurement of innovation rate.
There is no measure of the rate at which processes like art,
evolution, companies, and computer programs innovate.
Consider a black box that takes in energy and produces bit-strings.
The complexity of a bit-string is not simply its length, because a
long string of all 1's or all 0's is quite simple. Kolmogorov measures
complexity by the size of the smallest program listing that can
generate a string, and Bennet's Logical Depth also accounts for the
cost of running the program. But these fail on the Mandelbrot Set, a
very beautiful set of patterns arising from a one-line program
listing. What of life itself, the result of a simple non-equilibrium
chemical process baking for quite a long time? Different algorithmic
processes (including fractals, natural evolution, and the human mind)
"create" by operating as a "Platonic Scoop," instantiating "ideals"
into physical arrangements or memory states.
So to measure innovation rate (in POLLACKS) we divide the P=Product
novelty (assigned by an observer with memory) by the L=program listing
size and the C= Cost of runtime/space/energy.
Platonic Density = P / LC
Pollack's Law of Robotics
Start over with Pinball Machines.
Moore's law existed before computers; it is just economics of scale
with zero labor. If enough demand can justify capital investment in
fully automated factories, then the price of a good approaches the
cost of its raw materials, energy dissipated, and (patent/copyright)
monopoly tax. Everyone knows Moore's law has lead to ultra-small-cheap
integrated circuits. But why don't we have ultra-small-cheap
Pollack's law of Robotics states that we won't get a Moore's law for
electro-mechanical systems until we return to the age of the Pinball
Machine, and bootstrap the manufacture of general purpose integrated
mechatronics, reducing scale from macro through mesa and MEMS. Leaping
to Nano is likely to fail.
Evans' laws of the completeness of good old fashioned AI.
Evans' First Law
For every intelligent agent, there is a Turing-machine that provides
an exhaustive description of its mind.
Evans' Second Law
When the Turing-machine that describes the mind of intelligent agent
has been specified, there is nothing more to say about that mind,
apart from how it is implemented in hardware.
Kai's Existential Dilemma
Kai's Exactness Dilemma
93.8127 % of all statistics are useless.
Kai's Example Dilemma
A good analogy is like a diagonal frog.
Bly's First Law
Science is culture.
Bly's Second Law
High public interest in science without growing public understanding
of science is worse than low public interest in science.
Kurzweil's Law (aka "The Law of Accelerating Returns")
Evolution applies positive feedback in that the more capable
methods resulting from one stage of evolutionary progress are used
to create the next stage. Each epoch of evolution has progressed
more rapidly by building on the products of the previous stage.
Evolution works through indirection: evolution created humans,
humans created technology, humans are now working with increasingly
advanced technology to create new generations of technology. As a
result, the rate of progress of an evolutionary process increases
exponentially over time.
Over time, the "order" of the information embedded in the
evolutionary process (i.e., the measure of how well the information
fits a purpose, which in evolution is survival) increases.
A comment on the nature of order.
The concept of the "order" of information is important here, as it is
not the same as the opposite of disorder. If disorder represents a
random sequence of events, then the opposite of disorder should imply
"not random." Information is a sequence of data that is meaningful in
a process, such as the DNA code of an organism, or the bits in a
computer program. Noise, on the other hand, is a random sequence.
Neither noise nor information is predictable. Noise is inherently
unpredictable, but carries no information. Information, however, is
also unpredictable. If we can predict future data from past data, then
that future data stops being information. We might consider an
alternating pattern ("0101010. . . .") to be orderly, but it carries
no information (beyond the first couple of bits).
Thus orderliness does not constitute order because order requires
information. However, order goes beyond mere information. A recording
of radiation levels from space represents information, but if we
double the size of this data file, we have increased the amount of
data, but we have not achieved a deeper level of order.
Order is information that fits a purpose. The measure of order is the
measure of how well the information fits the purpose. In the evolution
of life-forms, the purpose is to survive. In an evolutionary algorithm
(a computer program that simulates evolution to solve a problem)
applied to, say, investing in the stock market, the purpose is to make
money. Simply having more information does not necessarily result in a
better fit. A superior solution for a purpose may very well involve
The concept of "complexity" is often used to describe the nature of
the information created by an evolutionary process. Complexity is a
close fit to the concept of order that I am describing, but is also
not sufficient. Sometimes, a deeper order--a better fit to a
purpose--is achieved through simplification rather than further
increases in complexity. For example, a new theory that ties together
apparently disparate ideas into one broader more coherent theory
reduces complexity but nonetheless may increase the "order for a
purpose" that I am describing. Indeed, achieving simpler theories is a
driving force in science. Evolution has shown, however, that the
general trend towards greater order does generally result in greater
Thus improving a solution to a problem--which may increase or decrease
complexity--increases order. Now that just leaves the issue of
defining the problem. Indeed, the key to an evolution algorithm (and
to biological and technological evolution) is exactly this: defining
We may note that this aspect of "Kurzweil's Law" (the law of
accelerating returns) appears to contradict the Second Law of
Thermodynamics, which implies that entropy (randomness in a closed
system) cannot decrease, and, therefore, generally increases. However,
the law of accelerating returns pertains to evolution, and evolution
is not a closed system. It takes place amidst great chaos, and indeed
depends on the disorder in its midst, from which it draws its options
for diversity. And from these options, an evolutionary process
continually prunes its choices to create ever greater order. Even a
crisis, such as the periodic large asteroids that have crashed into
the Earth, although increasing chaos temporarily, end up
increasing--deepening--the order created by an evolutionary process.
o A primary reason that evolution--of life-forms or of
technology--speeds up is that it builds on its own increasing
order, with ever more sophisticated means of recording and
manipulating information. Innovations created by evolution
encourage and enable faster evolution. In the case of the evolution
of life forms, the most notable early example is DNA, which
provides a recorded and protected transcription of life's design
from which to launch further experiments. In the case of the
evolution of technology, ever improving human methods of recording
information have fostered further technology. The first computers
were designed on paper and assembled by hand. Today, they are
designed on computer workstations with the computers themselves
working out many details of the next generation's design, and are
then produced in fully-automated factories with human guidance but
limited direct intervention.
o The evolutionary process of technology seeks to improve
capabilities in an exponential fashion. Innovators seek to improve
things by multiples. Innovation is multiplicative, not additive.
Technology, like any evolutionary process, builds on itself. This
aspect will continue to accelerate when the technology itself takes
full control of its own progression.
o We can thus conclude the following with regard to the evolution
of life-forms, and of technology: the law of accelerating returns
as applied to an evolutionary process: An evolutionary process is
not a closed system; therefore, evolution draws upon the chaos in
the larger system in which it takes place for its options for
diversity; and evolution builds on its own increasing order.
Therefore, in an evolutionary process, order increases
o A correlate of the above observation is that the "returns" of an
evolutionary process (e.g., the speed, cost-effectiveness, or
overall "power" of a process) increase exponentially over time. We
see this in Moore's law, in which each new generation of computer
chip (now spaced about two years apart) provides twice as many
components, each of which operates substantially faster (because of
the smaller distances required for the electrons to travel, and
other innovations). This exponential growth in the power and
price-performance of information-based technologies--now roughly
doubling every year--is not limited to computers, but is true for a
wide range of technologies, measured many different ways.
o In another positive feedback loop, as a particular evolutionary
process (e.g., computation) becomes more effective (e.g., cost
effective), greater resources are deployed towards the further
progress of that process. This results in a second level of
exponential growth (i.e., the rate of exponential growth itself
grows exponentially). For example, it took three years to double
the price-performance of computation at the beginning of the
twentieth century, two years around 1950, and is now doubling about
once a year. Not only is each chip doubling in power each year for
the same unit cost, but the number of chips being manufactured is
o Biological evolution is one such evolutionary process. Indeed it
is the quintessential evolutionary process. It took place in a
completely open system (as opposed to the artificial constraints in
an evolutionary algorithm). Thus many levels of the system evolved
at the same time.
o Technological evolution is another such evolutionary process.
Indeed, the emergence of the first technology-creating species
resulted in the new evolutionary process of technology. Therefore,
technological evolution is an outgrowth of--and a continuation
of--biological evolution. Early stages of humanoid created
technology were barely faster than the biological evolution that
created our species. Homo sapiens evolved in a few hundred thousand
years. Early stages of technology--the wheel, fire, stone
tools--took tens of thousands of years to evolve and be widely
deployed. A thousand years ago, a paradigm shift such as the
printing press, took on the order of a century to be widely
deployed. Today, major paradigm shifts, such as cell phones and the
world wide web were widely adopted in only a few years time.
o A specific paradigm (a method or approach to solving a problem,
e.g., shrinking transistors on an integrated circuit as an approach
to making more powerful computers) provides exponential growth
until the method exhausts its potential. When this happens, a
paradigm shift (a fundamental change in the approach) occurs, which
enables exponential growth to continue.
o Each paradigm follows an "S-curve," which consists of slow growth
(the early phase of exponential growth), followed by rapid growth
(the late, explosive phase of exponential growth), followed by a
leveling off as the particular paradigm matures.
o During this third or maturing phase in the life cycle of a
paradigm, pressure builds for the next paradigm shift, and research
dollars are invested to create the next paradigm. We can see this
in the enormous investments being made today in the next computing
paradigm--three-dimensional molecular computing--despite the fact
that we still have at least a decade left for the paradigm of
shrinking transistors on a flat integrated circuit using
photolithography (Moore's Law). Generally, by the time a paradigm
approaches its asymptote (limit) in price-performance, the next
technical paradigm is already working in niche applications. For
example, engineers were shrinking vacuum tubes in the 1950s to
provide greater price-performance for computers, and reached a
point where it was no longer feasible to shrink tubes and maintain
a vacuum. At this point, around 1960, transistors had already
achieved a strong niche market in portable radios.
o When a paradigm shift occurs for a particular type of technology,
the process begins a new S-curve.
o Thus the acceleration of the overall evolutionary process
proceeds as a sequence of S-curves, and the overall exponential
growth consists of this cascade of S-curves.
o The resources underlying the exponential growth of an
evolutionary process are relatively unbounded.
o One resource is the (ever-growing) order of the evolutionary
process itself. Each stage of evolution provides more powerful
tools for the next. In biological evolution, the advent of DNA
allowed more powerful and faster evolutionary "experiments." Later,
setting the "designs" of animal body plans during the Cambrian
explosion allowed rapid evolutionary development of other body
organs, such as the brain. Or to take a more recent example, the
advent of computer-assisted design tools allows rapid development
of the next generation of computers.
o The other required resource is the "chaos" of the environment in
which the evolutionary process takes place and which provides the
options for further diversity. In biological evolution, diversity
enters the process in the form of mutations and ever- changing
environmental conditions. In technological evolution, human
ingenuity combined with ever-changing market conditions keep the
process of innovation going.
o If we apply these principles at the highest level of evolution on
Earth, the first step, the creation of cells, introduced the
paradigm of biology. The subsequent emergence of DNA provided a
digital method to record the results of evolutionary experiments.
Then, the evolution of a species that combined rational thought
with an opposable appendage (the thumb) caused a fundamental
paradigm shift from biology to technology. The upcoming primary
paradigm shift will be from biological thinking to a hybrid
combining biological and nonbiological thinking. This hybrid will
include "biologically inspired" processes resulting from the
reverse engineering of biological brains.
o If we examine the timing of these steps, we see that the process
has continuously accelerated. The evolution of life forms required
billions of years for the first steps (e.g., primitive cells);
later on progress accelerated. During the Cambrian explosion, major
paradigm shifts took only tens of millions of years. Later on,
Humanoids developed over a period of millions of years, and Homo
sapiens over a period of only hundreds of thousands of years.
o With the advent of a technology-creating species, the exponential
pace became too fast for evolution through DNA-guided protein
synthesis and moved on to human-created technology. Technology goes
beyond mere tool making; it is a process of creating ever more
powerful technology using the tools from the previous round of
innovation, and is, thereby, an evolutionary process. As I noted,
the first technological took tens of thousands of years. For people
living in this era, there was little noticeable technological
change in even a thousand years. By 1000 AD, progress was much
faster and a paradigm shift required only a century or two. In the
nineteenth century, we saw more technological change than in the
nine centuries preceding it. Then in the first twenty years of the
twentieth century, we saw more advancement than in all of the
nineteenth century. Now, paradigm shifts occur in only a few years
o The paradigm shift rate (i.e., the overall rate of technical
progress) is currently doubling (approximately) every decade; that
is, paradigm shift times are halving every decade (and the rate of
acceleration is itself growing exponentially). So, the
technological progress in the twenty-first century will be
equivalent to what would require (in the linear view) on the order
of 200 centuries. In contrast, the twentieth century saw only about
20 years of progress (again at today's rate of progress) since we
have been speeding up to current rates. So the twenty-first century
will see about a thousand times greater technological change than
To understand what people are thinking and feeling, look beyond what
they say. Language does not capture the full range and grain of
thought and experience, and its unique power enables us as easily to
mask our thoughts and feelings as it does to express them.
Barondes' First Law
Science abhors contradictions; scientist's minds are replete with
Barondes' Second Law
Self-understanding is inherently inaccurate because most of our
knowledge comes from specific behavioral experiences that are often
inconsistent; and our mechanisms of learning are designed to store
memories whether or or not their implications are formally
W. Brian Arthur
Arthur's First Law
High-tech markets are dominated 70-80% by a single player--product,
company, or country.
The reason: Such markets are subject to increasing returns or
self-reinforcing mechanisms. Therefore an initial advantage--often
bestowed by chance--leads to increasing advantage and eventually heavy
market domination. (Absent government intervention, of course).
Arthur's Second Law
As technology advances it becomes ever more biological.
We are leaving an age of mechanistic, fixed-design technologies, and
entering an age of metabolic, self-reorganizing technologies. In this
sense, as technology becomes more advanced it becomes more
organic--therefore more "biological." Further, as biological
mechanisms at the cellular and DNA levels become better understood,
they become harnessed and co-opted as technologies. In this century,
biology and technology will therefore intertwine.
Arthur's Third Law
The modularization of technologies increases with the extent of the
Just as it pays to create a specialized worker if there is sufficient
volume of throughput to occupy that specialty, it pays to create a
standard prefabricated assembly, or module, if its function recurs in
many instances. Modularity therefore is to a technological economy
what the division of labor is to a manufacturing one--it increases as
the economy expands.
Daniel C. Dennett
Dennett's Law of Needy Readers
is an extension of Schank's Law
On any important topic, we tend to have a dim idea of what we hope to
be true, and when an author writes the words we want to read, we tend
to fall for it, no matter how shoddy the arguments. Needy readers have
an asymptote at illiteracy; if a text doesn't say the one thing they
need to read, it might as well be in a foreign language. To be
open-minded, you have to recognize, and counteract, your own doxastic
Ridley's First Law
Science is the discovery of ignorance. It is not a catalog of facts.
Ridley's Second Law
Experience affects an organism largely by switching genes on and off.
(Nurture works through nature.)
Ridley's Third Law
Neither the number of base pairs nor the number of genes in an
organism's genome bears much if any relation to that organism's size
Harari's Law of Science Eucation
The faster Science and Technology advance--the more important it is to
teach and to learn the basics of Math and Science and the less
important it is to teach and to learn the latest developments.
Harari's Law of Particle Physics
The electron, its replicas (muon and tau), the quarks and the
neutrinos are all composed of the same set of more fundamental
objects, which will become the newly accepted basic building blocks of
all of nature.
Harari's Law of Scientific Fads and Bandwagons
Every scientific discovery is first made by one person or by a few
people. At the time of the discovery, they are the only ones aware of
it. It follows logically that democratic votes, public opinion polls,
majority views of scientists and scientific fads do not necessarily
represent scientific truth. Only correct experimental results do.
Lakoff's First Law
Frames trump facts.
All of our concepts are organized into conceptual structures called
"frames" (which may include images and metaphors) and all words are
defined relative to those frames. Conventional frames are pretty much
fixed in the neural structures of our brains. In order for a fact to
be comprehended, it must fit the relevant frames. If the facts
contradict the frames, the frames, being fixed in the brain, will be
kept and the facts ignored.
We see this in politics every day. Consider the expression "tax
relief" which the White House introduced into common use on the day of
George W. Bush's inauguration. A "relief" frame has an affliction, an
afflicted party, a reliever who removes the affliction and is thereby
a hero, and in the frame anyone who tries to stop the reliever from
administering the relief is a bad guy, a villain. "Tax relief" imposes
the additional metaphor that Taxation Is an Affliction, with the
entailments that the president is a hero for attempting to remove this
affliction and the Democrats are bad guys for opposing him. This frame
trumps many facts: Most people wind up paying more in local taxes,
payments for services cut, and debt servicing as a result of the
Bush's tax cuts.
There is of course another way to think about taxes: Taxes are what
you pay to live in America--to have democracy, opportunity, government
services, and the vast infrastructure build by previous taxpayers--the
highways, the internet, the schools, scientific research, the court
system, etc. Taxes are membership fees used to maintain and expand
services and the infrastructure. But however true this may be, it is
not yet an established frame inscribed in the synapses of our brains.
This has an important consequence. Political liberals have inherited
an assumption from the Enlightenment, that The facts will set us free,
that if the public is just given the facts, they will, being rational
beings, reach the right conclusion. It is simply false. It violates
Lakoff's Second Law
Voters vote their identities, not their self-interest.
Because of the way they frame the world, voters vote in a way that
best accords with their identities and not in accord with their
self-interest. That is why it is of no use for Democrats to keep
pointing out that Bush's tax cuts go to the top 1 percent, not to most
voters. If they identify with Bush because they share his culture and
his world view, they will vote against their self-interest.
We saw this in California in the recall election, when, for example,
union members overwhelming favored Gray Davis' policies as being
better for them, yet voted for Schwartzenegger.
Edward O. Laumann
Laumann's First Proposition
Moderation in levels of partnered sex activity is the mode for the
bulk of humankind and is consistent with high levels of subjective
Laumann's Second Proposition
Low levels of subjective sexual well-being is associated with poor
physical, emotional, and mental health.
These propositions (they are empirical associations and not
established as causal) are based on my extensive international work on
human sexuality. They are based on surveys I have conducted in the
United States and China as well as the Pfizer-funded Global Survey of
Sexual Attitudes and Behavior (N = 27,500) which interviewed equal
numbers of men and women 40 to 80 years old in 29 countries world
wide. The real question is the nature of the causal link between these
Zeilinger's Fundamental Law
There is no Fundamental Law.
Zeilinger's Law on Reality, Space and Time
Information is the most Fundamental Concept, it's all we have.
Be wary of scientific dualisms.
Approach them with caution, the way demolition experts regard bombs,
likely to explode, in this case into unproductive argument and the
obscuring of truth. "Opposing forces" are the scientific version of
the original dualism--good vs evil and darkness vs. light. Instead, of
acting in opposition, in nature two forces are likely to dependent,
interactive and interwoven; sometimes they are merely two names for
the same thing.
Brain vs Mind
Mind vs Body
Emotion vs Reason
Nature vs Nurture
Us vs Them
Remember always that it is easy to be in possession of some facts,
extraordinarily difficult to know the truth.
Smolin's First Law
Genuine advances are rarely made by accident; in fact, the outcome of
a scientific investigation is usually less dramatic than originally
hoped for. Therefore, if you want to do something really significant
in science, you must aim high and you must take genuine risks.
Smolin's Second Law
In every period and every community there is something that everybody
believes, but cannot justify. If you want to understand anything, you
have to start by ignoring what everyone believes, and thinking for
This was advice given to me by my father when I was a child. Feynman
said something very similar: "Science is the organized skepticism in
the reliability of expert opinion."
Smolin's Third Law
Time does exist.
Smolin's Zeroth Law
A measure of our ignorance about nature is the extent to which our
theories depend on background structures, which are entities necessary
to define the quantities in the theory, that do not themselves refer
to anything which evolves dynamically in time. Our understanding can
always be deepened by bringing such fixed, background structures into
the domain of dynamical law. By doing so, we convert absolute
properties, defined with respect to background structures, into
relational properties, defined in terms of relationships among
dynamical degrees of freedom.
Imagination precedes reality.
To imagine the universe is to fear it, even as one feels the power and
pleasure of trying to find its furthest boundaries. To meet that fear
one has to seek consolation whether in scientific theory or intuitive
As a corollary to that, the return of past time in the present, as
death comes steadily closer, if not unique to the human mind, is
certainly one of the consolations of consciousness, and of the shadow
realm of dream. If there is hope it is in our ability as men and women
to imagine ourselves not only in other worlds but as an "other," as an
opposite. Robert Musil, Proust, Kafka, Shakespeare, Dante Alighieri
together with the anonymous scribes of the religious epics, Gilgamesh,
the Old Testament, were uncanny in their ability to imagine in this
Imagination precedes what we call reality. I would propose this as a
law of daily life and suspect that it plays a large part in our
evolution. Trying to preserve and recreate what was best in my past
and the past of distant ancestors is part of what keeps me balanced
before a future in which I want to hope.
To imagine is not just to exist, but to prolong existence. At the last
moment Spinoza could not surrender the idea that somehow memory of
what had happened would not be lost in the vastness of the universe.
Spinoza needed that consolation. Whether it does or not, we need to
believe that memory persists, and that we are capable of influencing
just what memory will be valued and given predominance.
Buss's Laws of Human Mating
Buss's Third Law of Human Mating
For every mating adaptation in one sex, there exists at least one
co-evolved adaptation in the other sex designed to manipulate and
Buss's Fourth Law of Human Mating
For every co-evolved exploitative mating adaptation, there exists at
least one co-co-evolved defensive adaptation designed to circumvent
being manipulated and exploited.
Buss's Seventh Law of Human Mating
Never reveal your first two laws of mating, lest they be used to
manipulate and exploit you.
Zangger's First Law
Most scientific breakthroughs are nothing else than the discovery of
Zangger's Second Law
Truly great science is always ahead of its time.
Although there seems to be a slight contradiction in my laws,
historical evidence proves them right:
o The Hungarian surgeon Ignaz Semmelweiss in 1847 reduced the death
rate in his hospital from twelve to two percent, simply by washing
hands between operations -- a concept that today would be advocated
by a four year old child. When Semmelweiss urged his colleagues to
introduce hygiene to the operating rooms, they had him committed to
a mental hospital where he eventually died.
o The German meteorologist Alfred Wegener discovered in 1913 what
every ten year old looking at a globe will notice immediately: That
the Atlantic coasts of the African and South American continents
have matching contours and thus may have been locked together some
time ago. The experts needed sixty more years to comprehend the
o When Louis Pasteur stated that bacteria could cause disease,
colleagues treated the idea as "an absurd fantasy'!
o The theories of the Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud were
called "a case for the police" during a neurologists' congress in
Hamburg in 1910.
o Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, only eight years
before Orville and Wilbur Wright left the ground in an aeroplane,
remarked: "Machines that are heavier than air will never be able to
o German physicists Erwin Schrödinger's PhD thesis, in which he
first introduced his famous equation, was initially rejected.
o When the Spanish nobleman de Satuola discovered the Late Ice Age
painted cave at Altamira, established scholars described him as a
forger and a cheat.
o The decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs by Jean Francois
Champollion in 1822 was still rejected by scholar twenty years
after his death.
o And when Johann Karl Fuhlrott discovered the bones of a
Neanderthal in a cave near Duesseldorf in 1856, the president of
the German Society of Anthropology considered it a bow-legged,
Mongolian Cossack with rickets, who had been lucky enough to
survive multiple head injuries, but who, during a campaign by
Russian forces against France in 1814, had been wounded, and (stark
naked) had crawled into a cave, where he died.
o Heinrich Schliemann's excavation of Bronze Age Mycenae and Tiryns
in Greece was considered by English archaeologists in The Times' as
the remains of some obscure barbarian tribe' from the Byzantine
period. In particular, the so-called prehistoric palace in Tiryns
was labelled "the most remarkable hallucination of an unscientific
enthusiast that has ever appeared in literature."
Scientific breakthroughs will always be held hostage to the lag needed
to overcome existing beliefs. Lucius Annaeus Seneca realized this
already two thousand years ago, when he said: "The time will come,
when our successors will be surprised that we did not know such
Maria's 1st Law
The anthropic principle in cosmology is just a (silly) corollary of
the anthropic principle in religion: We are, therefore god is.
Maria's 2nd Law
We are not the source of the laws of nature. Nature is, whether we are
Maria's 3rd Law
A law at the time of its conception is the solution to a problem or
the answer to a question; at that time both the solution and the
problem, the question and the answer, are ill-posed.
My laws make more precise Carlo Rovelli's two principles: time does
not exist, space does not exist. He argues that the universe is a
network of relations and not a game played out on some invisible arena
of absolute space and time such as Newton postulated. I agree but
believe it is important to formulate precisely the manner in which the
universe is relational.
Barbour's First Law
The change of a physical field at a given point is not measured by
time but by the changes of all the other physical fields at the same
point. To determine a rate of change, one does not divide an
infinitesimal change by an infinitesimal time interval but by the
weighted average of all the other changes at the same point. This
ensures that an invisible time can play no role in the dynamics of the
Barbour's Second Law
Geometry is founded on congruence, dynamics on minimisation of
This requires amplification. Suppose just three particles in space.
Newton defined their motions relative to absolute space. In relational
dynamics, this is not allowed. Instead, the motions (changes) between
two instantaneous states of the three particles are completely
determined by the intrinsic changes of the triangles that they form.
Real change will happen when a triangle becomes incongruent with
itself. To determine the intrinsic change between one triangle and
another ever so slightly incongruent with it, move one relative to
each other until the position of best matching, in which they coincide
more closely than in any other possible relative positioning, is
achieved. The corresponding displacements (changes) determined by this
minimisation of incongruence are the true physical displacements. The
notion of best matching can be applied universally to both particles
Barbour's Third Law
Space is Riemannian.
Spelled out in the appropriate mathematical detail, these three laws
seem to explain the structure of all currently known physical fields
as well as the existence of the universal light cone of Einstein's
special relativity and gauge theory.
Nørretranders' Law of Symmetrical Relief
If you find that most other people, upon closer inspection, seem to be
somewhat comical or ludicrous, it is highly probable that most other
people find that you are in fact comical or ludicrous. So you don't
have to hide it, they already know.
Nørretranders' Law of Understanding Novelty
The difficulty in understanding new ideas originating from science or
art is not intellectual, but emotional; good ideas are simple and
clear, but if they are truly new, they will be hard to swallow. It is
not difficult to understand that the Earth is not at the center of the
Universe, but it is hard to believe it. Science is simple, simply
Campbell's First Law
Whatever the science, the forces of nature will exploit any loophole
in experimental or theoretical design and construction, any ambiguity
in measurement and any unchecked or unrecognised assumption to lead a
researcher to enticing but false conclusions.
Campbell's Second Law
Scientists are as vigorous in complaining about the
incomprehensibility of others' scientific papers as they are lazy in
clarifying their own.
Campbell's Third Law
The probability that a Powerpoint presentation will fail is
proportional to the technical sophistication of the institution at
which you are presenting it. (And by the way, where the failure is
total, your talk will be all the better for it.)
Quartz's Law of The Primacy of Feeling
In everyday life, one's anticipated emotions regarding a decision is a
better guide than rational deliberation. Brain science is increasingly
appreciating the centrality of emotions as guides to life, and
emotions are typically more in line with one's wishes than rational
deliberation, which can be easily disconnected from one's desires and
goals. The upshot: deliberation is cheap, emotions are honest.
Quartz's Law of Latent Plasticity
Failure to alter thought, mood, personality, or other facets of
ourselves through environmental means is not a demonstration that
these are hard-wired. Rather, such failure should be taken merely as
an indication that we have not yet discovered the appropriate regime
of experience. New experience-based approaches to brain change are
rapidly emerging, and overturn the dogma of the inflexible brain. We
can now utilize the brain's latent capacity for change to treat mood
disorders through experience-based brain change. Learning how to
utilize the brain's latent plasticity, or capacity for change, will
produce revolutions in physical, cognitive, and mental health
J. Craig Venter
Venter's First Law
Discoveries made in a field by some one from another discipline will
always be upsetting to the majority of those inside.
Venter's Second Law
The ability to directly read the genetic code will continue
exponentially, with the cost per nucleotide (base pair) decreasing by
one-half every two years.
Corollary to Law 2
While DNA sequencing has changed faster than Moore's Law for computer
chips, it will become dependent on and therefore limited by Moore's
Law. (Based on an exchange with Gordon Moore).
Venter's Third Law
We have the tools for the first time in the history of humanity to
answer virtually any question about biology and our own evolution.
Venter's Fourth Law
The Earth's Oceans are the ultimate source of genetic/genomic
diversity providing at least half of the more than 10 billion genes in
the planet's gene pool.
Venter's Fifth Law
Life is like sailing: It is easy to run downwind but usually if you
want to get somewhere worthwhile a long hard beat to weather is
Dawkins's Law of the Conservation of Difficulty
Obscurantism in an academic subject expands to fill the vacuum of its
Dawkins's Law of Divine Invulnerability
God cannot lose.
When comprehension expands, gods contract--but then redefine
themselves to restore the status quo.
When things go right, God will be thanked. When things go wrong, he
will be thanked that they are not worse.
Belief in the afterlife can only be proved right, never wrong.
The fury with which untenable beliefs are defended is inversely
proportional to their defensibility
The following law, though probably older, is often attributed to me in
various versions, and I am happy to formulate it here as
Dawkins's Law of Adversarial Debate
When two incompatible beliefs are advocated with equal intensity, the
truth does not lie half way between them.
Finkelstein's First Law
Everything is relative.
Finkelstein's Second Law
Everything (which is relative).
Davies' First Law
Time does not pass.
Davies' Second Law
Never let observation stand in the way of a good theory.
Grand's First Law
Things that persist, persist; things that don't, don't.
This tautology underlies every single phenomenon we see around us,
molecules to religions. The purpose of science is simply to discover
why any given class of pattern manages to persist. Life is best
as a group of patterns that are able to persist because they
duplicate themselves and adapt to change. Equally, an electron is a
that persists as a self-maintaining resonant mode in the
field. The universe is what is left over when all the
patterns have faded away.
Grand's Second Law
Cortex is cortex is cortex.
Our brains may end up as a collection of highly specialised 'modules',
the functioning of these modules is not the key to intelligence. The
the deeper set of rules that enable a homogeneous pink goo to wire
into such a collection of specialised machines in the first place,
being exposed to the sensory world.
Grand's Third Law
The more carefully one makes contingency plans, the more bizarre the
circumstances will turn out to be.
Every problem that is interesting is also soluble.
Inherently insoluble problems are inherently boring.
In the long run, the distinction between what is interesting and
what is boring is not a matter of subjective taste but an objective
The problem of why every problem that is interesting is also
soluble, is soluble.
Brooks' First Law
A good place to apply scientific leverage is on an implicit assumption
that everyone makes and that is so implicit that no one would even
think to mention it to students entering the field. Negating that
assumption may lead to new and interesting ways of thinking.
Brooks' Second Law
If you don't have a solid example then your theory is not a good
Marcus' First Law
Nature and nurture are not in opposition; nature is what makes nurture
Marcus' Second Law
Nothing in evolution is without precedent; even the most wondrous
adaptations are modifications of pre-existing systems.
Marcus' Third Law
What's good enough for the body is good enough for the brain. Brains,
like any other organ, take their special character from the actions of
individual cells that divide, differentiate, migrate, and die,
according to genetic programs that are the product of evolution.
Verena's Law of Sane Reasoning
Hone your Hunches, Jump, then backtrack to blaze a reliable trail to
But avoid reductios; they lead to mere counterfeits of truth.
Verena's Law of Constructive Proof
Every sound argument can and ought to be turned into a construction
that embodies and explains its conclusion.
Sampson's Law of Interdependent Origination
Life's unfolding is a tapestry in which every new thread is contingent
upon the nature, timing, and interweaving of virtually all previous
This is an extension of the idea that the origin of new life forms is
fundamentally contingent upon interactions among previous biotas. As
Stephen J. Gould described it, if one could rewind the tape of life
and let events play out again, the results would almost certainly
differ dramatically. The point of distinction here is a deeper
incorporation of the connections inherent in the web of life.
Specifically, the origin of new species is inextricably linked both to
evolutionary history and to intricate ecological relationships with
other species. Thus, speciation might be aptly termed "interdependent
origination." So, for example, it is often said that the extinction of
dinosaurs 65 million years ago cleared the way for the radiation of
mammals and, ultimately, the origin of humans. Yet the degree of
life's interconnectedness far exceeds that implied in this statement.
Dinosaurs persisted for 160 million years prior to this mass dying,
co-evolving in intricate organic webs with plants, bacteria, fungi,
and algae, as well as other animals, including mammals. Together these
Mesozoic life forms influenced the origins and fates of one another
and all species that followed. Had the major extinction of the
dinosaurs occurred earlier or later, or had dinosaurs never evolved,
subsequent biotas would have been wholly different, and we almost
certainly wouldn't be here to contemplate nature. An equivalent claim
could be made for any major group at any point in the history of life.
Blakemore's First Law
People are never more honest than you think they are.
Blakemore's Second Law
The only form of intelligence that really matters is the capacity to
Shermer's Last Law
Any sufficiently advanced extra-terrestrial intelligence is
indistinguishable from God.
Any ETI that we might encounter would not be at our level of culture,
science, and technology, nor would they be behind us. How far ahead of
us would they be? If they were only a little ahead of us on an
evolutionary time scale, they would be light years ahead of us
technologically, because cultural evolution is much more rapid than
biological evolution. God is typically described by Western religions
as omniscient and omnipotent. Since we are far from the mark on these
traits, how could we possibly distinguish a God who has them
absolutely, from an ETI who has them in relatively (to us) copious
amounts? Thus, we would be unable to distinguish between absolute and
relative omniscience and omnipotence. But if God were only relatively
more knowing and powerful than us, then by definition it would be an
Shermer's Three Principles of Provisional Morality and Evolutionary
1. The ask-first principle: to find out whether an action is right
or wrong, ask first.
2. The happiness principle: it is a higher moral principle to
always seek happiness with someone else's happiness in mind, and
never seek happiness when it leads to someone else's unhappiness.
3. The liberty principle: it is a higher moral principle to always
seek liberty with someone else's liberty in mind, and never seek
liberty when it leads to someone else's loss of liberty.
0. The Zeroeth principle: do unto others as you would have them do
(These principles were derived from a scientific analysis of the
evolutionary origins of the moral sentiments and the historical
development of evolutionary ethics. The Zeroeth Principle, which
precedes the three principles, first evolved hundreds of thousands of
years ago but was first codified in writing by the world's great
religious leaders and has come down to us as the golden rule. The
foundation of the Zeroeth Principle, and the three derivative
principles is, in evolutionary theory, reciprocal altruism and the
process of reciprocity.)
I refer to my "laws" as "Pöppel's Paradox", and "Pöppel's Universal".
Actually the names have been invented by others.
Not to see, but to see. Some years ago (1973) we described a
phenomenon that patients with a certain brain injury show some
residual vision although they do not have a conscious representation
of their remained visual capacity. They can orient in space, or they
can discriminate simple patterns, but they do not know that they can
do it. This phenomenon became known as "blindsight". Apparently there
is a lot of implicit processing going in our brain that lacks an
explicit representation, but which usually is associated with
conscious experience. Interestingly, the phenomenon of blindsight not
only made a "career" in the neurosciences, but also in philosophy.
We take life 3 seconds at a time. Human experience and behaviour is
characterized by temporal segmentation. Successive segments or "time
windows" have a duration of approx. 3 seconds. Examples: Intentional
movements are embedded within 3 s (like a handshake); the anticipation
of a precise movement like hitting a golf ball does not go beyond 3 s;
if we reproduce the duration of a stimulus, we can do so accurately up
to 3 s but not beyond; if we look at ambiguous figures (like a vase
vs. two faces) or if we listen to ambiguous phoneme sequences (like
Cu-Ba-Cu-Ba-.., either hearing Cuba or Bacu) automatically after
approx. 3 s the percept switches to the alternative; the working
platform of our short term memory lasts only 3 s (being interrupted
after 3 s most of the information is gone); spontaneous speech in all
languages is temporally segmented, each segment lasting up to 3 s;
this temporal segmentation of speech shows up again in poetry, as a
verse of a poem is embedded within 3 s (Shakespeare: "Shall I compare
thee to a summer's day"); musical motives preferably last 3 s
(remember Beethoven's Fifth Symphony); decisions are made within 3 s
(like zapping between TV channels); and there are more examples. Thus,
the brain provides a temporal stage that last approx. 3 s, which is
used in perception, cognition, movement control, memory, speech, or
Aunger's Law of Human Evolution
Human life is unique in being the result of three coevolving
information inheritance systems: genes, minds and technology.
Aunger's Law of Technological Evolution
As the rate of technological innovation increases, so too does the
inertia from ancillary institutions, but not as much.
Horgan's First Law
If science has limits--and science tells us that it does--the only
question is when, not if, it reaches them.
Horgan's Second Law
Every garbage-removal system--whether Zen, skepticism, or
existentialism--generates garbage. If you want to clear your mind, the
best you can hope for is to find a system, or anti-system, that
removes more garbage than it generates.
Lloyd's It From Qubit Law
The universe is a quantum computer: life, sex, the brain, and human
society all arise out of the ability of the universe to process
information at the level of atoms, photons and elementary particles.
The following are Lanier's Laws for Putting Machines in their Place,
distilled from comments I've posted on Edge over the years. They are
all stolen from earlier laws that predate the appearance of computers
by decades or centuries.
Lanier's First Law
Humans change themselves through technology.
Example: Lanier's Law of Eternal Improvement for Virtual Reality:
Average human sensory perception will gain acuity over successive
generations in tandem with the improving qualities of pervasive media
Lanier's Second Law
Even though human nature is dynamic, you must find a way to think of
it as being distinct from the rest of nature.
You can't have a categorical imperative without categories. Or, You
can't have a golden rule without gold. You have to draw a Circle of
Empathy around yourself and others in order to be moral. If you
include too much in the circle, you become incompetent, while if you
include too little you become cruel. This is the "Normal form" of the
eternal liberal/conservative dichotomy.
Lanier's Third Law
You can't rely completely on the level of rationality humans are able
to achieve to decide what to put inside the circle. People are
demonstrably insane when it comes to attributing nonhuman sentience,
as can be seen at any dog show.
Lanier's Fourth Law
Lanier's Law of AI Unrecognizability.
You can't rely on experiment alone to decide what to put in the
circle. A Turing Test-like experiment can't be designed to distinguish
whether a computer has gotten smarter or a person interacting with
that computer has gotten stupider (usually by lowering or narrowing
standards of human excellence in some way.)
Lanier's Fifth Law
If you're inclined to put machines inside your circle, you can't rely
on metrics of technological sophistication to decide which machines to
choose. These metrics have no objectivity.
For just one example, consider Lanier's retelling of Parkinson's Law
for the Post-dot-com Era: Software inefficiency and inelegance will
always expand to the level made tolerable by Moore's Law. Put another
way, Lanier's corrolary to Brand's Laws: Whether Small Information
wants to be free or expensive, Big Information wants to be
Lanier's Sixth Law
When one must make a choice despite almost but not quite total
uncertainty, work hard to make your best guess.
Best guess for Circle of Empathy: Danger of increasing human stupidity
is probably greater than potential reality of machine sentience.
Therefore choose not to place machines in Circle of Empathy.
Seife's First Law
A scientific revolution is a complete surprise. Especially to its
Seife's Second Law
Each generation's scientific neologisms adorn the labels of the next
generation's quack cures.
There are no clear-cut level distinctions in nature. Neural software
bleeds into neural firmware, neural firmware bleeds into neural
hardware, psychology bleeds into biology and biology bleeds into
physics. Body bleeds into mind and mind bleeds into world. Philosophy
bleeds into science and science bleeds back.The idea of levels is a
useful fiction, great for hygienic text-book writing and quick answers
that defend our local turf but seldom advance scientific
The following is written by a non-scientist who supposes it might be
entertaining for scientists to see what passes through the head of a
curious layman while trying to understand the people who try to
Alda's First Law of Laws
All laws are local.
In other words, something is always bound to come along and make you
rethink what you know by forcing you to look at it in a broader
context. I've arrived at this notion after interviewing hundreds of
scientists, and also after being married for 46 years.
I don't mean that laws are not true and useful, especially when they
have been verified by experiment. But they are likely to continue to
be true only within a certain frame, once another frame is discovered.
Some scientists will probably find this idea heretical and others may
find it obvious. According to this law, they'll both be right
(depending on the frame they're working in).
Another way of saying this is that no matter how much we know about
something, it is just the tip of the iceberg. And most disasters occur
by coming in contact with the other part of the iceberg.
Alda's Second Law of Laws
A law does not know how local it is.
Citizens of Lawville do not realize there are city limits and are
constantly surprised to find out they live in a county.
When you're operating within the frame of a law, you can't know where
the edges of the frame are--where dragons begin showing up.
I've just been interviewing astronomers about dark matter and dark
energy in the universe. These two things make up something like 96% of
the universe. The part of the universe we can see or in some way
observe is only about 4%. That leaves a lot of universe that needs to
be rethought. And some people speculate that dark energy may be
leaking in from a whole other universe; an even bigger change of
frame, if that turns out to be the case.
It's now known that vast stretches of DNA once thought to be Junk DNA
because they don't code for proteins actually regulate or even silence
conventional genes. The conventional genes--what we used to think were
responsible for everything we knew about heritability--account for
only 2% of our DNA. Apparently, it's not yet known how much of the
other 98% is active, but I think the frame has just shifted here.
Welcome to Lawville; you are now leaving Lawville.
Anderson's Law of Causal Instinct
Humans are engineered to seek for laws, whether or not they're
Anderson's Law of Skepticism
Most proposed laws, including this one, will probably turn out to be
Pimm's First Law
No language spoken by fewer than 100,000 people survives contact with
the outside world, while no language spoken by more than one million
people can be eliminated by such contact.
Pimm's Second Law
With every change in language (including first contact with humanity),
a region's biodiversity shrinks by 20%.
Provine's Motor Precocity Principle
Organisms spond before they respond (act before they react).
This principle of neurobehavioral development and evolution describes
the tendency of the nervous system to produce motor output before it
receives sensory input. Because motor systems often evolve and develop
before sensory systems, sensory input cannot have the dominant
influence on neural structure and function predicted by some
psychological and neurological theories.
The evolutionary precocity of motor relative to sensory systems also
argues against the classical reflex as a primal step in
neurobehavioral evolution. Spontaneously active motor processes are
adaptive and can emerge through natural selection unlike sensory
processes that are not adaptive without a behavior to guide. Sensory
systems evolved to control already existing movement.
Another argument against the primacy of reflexes is that they require
the unlikely simultaneous evolution of a sensory and a motor process.
The tendency of organisms to "spond before they respond" requires the
re-evaluation of many other traditional neurobehavioral concepts and
Provine's Self/Other Exclusionary Principle
The "self," the most basic sense of personhood, is defined as that
which is not "other." "Other," the most primitive level of social
entity, is defined as a non-self, animate stimulus on the surface of
Self is distinguished from other by a neurological cancellation
process. These definitions are attractive because they permit a
neurologically and computationally based approach to problems that are
traditionally mired in personality and social theory. Although our
sense of identity involves more than self/non-self discrimination,
such a mechanism may be at its foundation and a first step toward the
evolution of personhood and the neurological computation of its
boundaries. For a demonstration of this mechanism, consider your
inability to tickle yourself. Tickle requires stimulation by a
non-self animate entity on the surface of your skin. Similar,
self-produced stimulation is cancelled and is not ticklish.
Without such a self/non-self discriminator, we would be constantly be
tickling ourselves by accident, and the world would be filled with
goosey people lurching their way through life in a chain reaction
filled with tactile false alarms. Developing a similar machine
algorithm may lead to "ticklish" robots whose performance is enhanced
by their capacity to distinguish touching from being touched, and,
provocatively, a computationally based construct of machine
Art De Vany
De Vany's Law
The future is over-forecasted and underpredicted.
Gopnik's Learning Curve
The ability to learn is inversely proportional to years of school,
adjusted for hormones.
Gopnik's Gender Curves
The male curve is an abrupt rise followed by an equally abrupt fall.
The female curve is a slow rise to an extended asymptote. The areas
under the curves are roughly equal. These curves apply to all
activities at all time scales (e.g. attention to TV programs, romantic
love, career scientific productivity).
One should never blindly accept things as they are.
Jose Saramago writes in The Cave with his usual quirky punctuation and
"... we often hear it said, or we say it ourselves, I'll get used
to it, we say or they say, with what seems to be genuine acceptance
..., what no one asks is at what cost do we get used to things."
Kasper's Second Law
Try to know where and how your thoughts arise and always give credit
to your teachers.
Blackmore's First Law
People's desire to believe in the paranormal is stronger than all the
evidence that it does not exist.
Blackmore's Second Law
Humans are not in control of the web; the memes are.
Dehaene's First Law
Every successful human invention such as arithmetic or the alphabet
has a "neuronal niche"--a set of cerebral processors that evolved for
a distinct purpose, but can be recycled to implement the new function.
The difficulty of learning a new concept or technique is directly
related to the amount of recycling needed--the distance between the
evolutionary older function and the new one.
When the old and the new functions are closely related
(isomorphic), an evolutionary old cerebral processor can provide a
fast, unconscious and unexpected solution to a recent cultural
problem--this is what we call
Dehaene's Second Law
The confusability of two ideas, however abstract, is a direct function
of the overlap in their neuronal codes.
Nothing is a simple as it seems.
If you don't understand something, it's because you aren't aware of
Hoffman's First Law
A theory of everything starts with a theory of mind.
Quantum measurement hints that observers may create microphysical
properties. Computational theories of perception hint that observers
may create macrophysical properties. The history of science suggests
that counterintuitive hints, if pursued, can lead to conceptual
Hoffman's Second Law
Physical universes are user interfaces for minds.
Just as the virtual worlds experienced in VR arcades are interfaces
that allow the arcade user to interact effectively with an unseen
world of computers and software, so also the physical world one
experiences daily is a species-specific user interface that allows one
to survive while interacting with a world of which one may be
Taleb's First Black Swan Law
The risk you know anything about today is not the one that matters.
What will hurt you next has to look completely unplausible today. The
more unplausible the event the more it will hurt you.
Consider that had the WTC attack been deemed a reasonable risk then we
would have had tighter control of the skies and it would have not
taken place. It happened because it was improbable. The awareness of a
specific danger makes you protect yourself from its precise effect and
may prevent the event itself from occurring.
Taleb's Second Black Swan Law (corollary)
We don't learn that we don't learn.
We don't learn the First Black Swan Law from experience, yet we think
that we learn something from it. Abstract subject matters (and
metarules) do not affect our risk avoidance mechanisms; only vivid
images do. People did not learn from the WTC (and the succession of
similar events in history such as the formation of financial bubbles)
that we have a horrible track record in forecasting such occurrences.
They just learned the specific task to avoid tall buildings and
Islamic terrorists--after the fact.
Miller's Law of Strange Behavior
To understand any apparently baffling behavior by another human, ask:
what status game is this individual playing, to show off which
heritable traits, in which mating market?
Miller's Iron Law of Iniquity
In principle, there is an evolutionary trade-off between any two
positive traits. But in practice, every good trait correlates
positively with every other good trait.
Miller's First Law of Offspring Ingratitude
People who don't understand genetics attribute their personal failings
to the inane role models offered by their parents.
Miller's Second Law of Offspring Ingratitude
People who do understand genetics attribute their personal failings to
the inane mate-choice decisions made by their parents.
Hut's First Law
Any attempt to define what is science is doomed to failure
Scientists often attack what they consider irrational creeds by first
defining what counts as science and then showing that those creeds
don't fit within the limits specified. While their motive is often
right, their approach is totally wrong. Science has no method. It is
opportunistic in the extreme, with theory adapting with admirable
agility to the most amazing experimental discoveries, no matter what
previous 'corner stones' have to be given up: quantum mechanics is the
most striking example. This opportunism is the only reason that
science has remained alive and well, notwithstanding the human
tendency for stagnation that is exemplified so clearly through more
than a dozen successive generations of individual scientists.
Hut's Second Law
In scientific software development, research = education
When writing a large software package or a whole software environment,
the most efficient way to produce a robust product is to write
documentation simultaneously with the computer codes, on all levels:
from comment lines to manual pages to narrative that explains the
reasons for the many choices made. Having to explain to yourselves and
your coworkers how you choose what why when is the best guide to
quickly discovering hidden flaws and better alternatives, minimizing
the need to
backtrack later. Therefore, the most efficient way to write a large
coherent body of software as a research project is to view it as an
I have come across similar endorsements of documentation in various
places, including Donald Knuth's idea of literate programming, and
Gerald Sussman's advice to write with utmost clarity for humans first,
and for computers as an afterthought.
Information wants to be free.
The rest of Brand's Law
Information also wants to be expensive.
Brand's Pace Law
In haste, mistakes cascade. With deliberation, mistakes instruct
The past can only be known, not changed. The future can only be
changed, not known.
The only way to predict the future is to make sure it stays exactly
the same as the present.
Epstein's First Law
Know when you are winning.
Epstein's Second Law
The key question is not what can I gain but what do I have to lose.
Kosslyn's First Law
Body and mind are not as separate as they appear to be. Not only does
the state of the body affect the mind, but vice-versa.
Kosslyn's Second Law
The individual and the group are not as separate as they appear to be.
A part of each mind spills over into the minds of other people, who
help us think and regulate our emotions.
Many well defined manifolds lack unifying centers that define or
o Just because some things are genuinely sacred does not mean that
there is a god.
o Just because a corporation or a country seems to be
hierarchically structured does not mean that any single leader is
really in charge.
o Just because some behavior is conscious and intentional does not
entail a "ghost in the machine," a homunculus, or a central
o Just because evolution appears to be directional, from less order
and complexity toward greater order and complexity, that does not
presuppose either an alpha-designer or an omega-telos.
Precursors to Ogilvy's Law:
1. Derridean Deconstruction, which is not about taking things
apart, but showing how they were never all that unified in the
2. Wittgenstein's replacement of Platonic Ideas<e.g., that one
thing which all instances of 'game' or 'justice' have in
common<with the much looser notion of "family resemblances"
Lemma to Ogilvy's Law:
Demythologizing false unities does not degrade the values to be found
in their respective manifolds.
o Nietzsche's announcement of the death of god does not mean that
nothing is sacred.
o Skepticism regarding conspiracy theories does not entail naiveté
regarding power or the impossibility of effective leadership.
o Seeing through Cartesianism in the cognitive sciences does not
entail eliminative materialism, a lack of intentionality, or the
reduction of mind to matter.
o Dismissing teleology does not deny a manifest directionality to
In each of these cases and many others like them, the
deconstructive turn should not be confused with nihilism or
deflationary debunking. The value of Ogilvy's Law lies in its
ability to help predict which valleys harbor real value, and which
peaks are better left undefended
Atran's Power Law of History
(a corollary to the law of unintended consequences)
The major events that determine human history follow a power
distribution (a more or less straight line on a log-log scale), with
catastrophic and cascading consequences (economic and health crises,
political and cultural revolutions, war and terrorism, etc.), because
people naturally prefer to act upon the future based on their modeling
of past occurrences. People do not repeat the catastrophes of history
because they forget it; people build up self-destructing ideologies
and behavior patterns that continue history's catastrophic path
because they remember the past too well (e.g., "the maginot effect"
for war and the soon-to-be "box-cutting effect" for terrorism).
Ancillary: For politics, history's most well-developed and
self-assured "isms" (e.g., colonialism, fascism, communism, globalism)
are those most prone to radical collapse.
Atran's Law of Bare Counterintuition
(for the cultural survival of absurd ideas)
Natural selection endowed humans with an intuitive ontology that
includes folkbiology (e.g., biodiversity divides into mutually
exclusive groups of beings, and each group has a proprietary essence),
folkpsychology (e.g., intentional and emotional beings have bodies,
and have knowledge of other like beings by observing and inferring how
other bodies act), and folkphysics (e.g., two bodies cannot
simultaneously occupy the same place at the same time, and no body can
occupy different places at the same time). Barely counterintuitive
ideas, which violate universal constraints on intuitive ontology
(e.g., a bodiless being) but otherwise retain most commonsense
properties associated with intuitive ontology (a bodiless being who
mostly acts and thinks like a person), are those fictions most apt to
survive within a culture, most likely to recur in different cultures,
and most disposed to cultural variation and elaboration (e.g.,
sphinxes and griffins, spirits and crystal balls, ghosts and gods).
Ancillary: For religion (i.e., for most humans in all human
societies), the more costly one's commitment to some factually absurd
but barely counterintuitive world (e.g., afterlife), the more others
believe that person to be sincere and trustworthy.
Do ask; don't lie.
(Rationale:) How can we find the happy medium between disclosure and
prying, between transparency and overexposure? The last thing we want
is a law saying that everyone should disclose everything: vested
interests, negotiating strategies, intentions, bank account, marital
How can we instead devise some rule that fits the best qualities of
the Net decentralized, more or less self-enforcing, flexible.....and
responsive to personal choices? The idea is to create a culture that
expects disclosure, rather than a legal regime that requires it.
People can decide how much they want to play, and others can decide
whether to play with them.
First of all, it's two-way. It's not for a single person; it's for an
interaction. The first person has to ask; the second person, to answer
truthfully or refuse openly to answer.
It drives the responsibility for requiring disclosure down to where it
belongs - to those most likely to be affected by the disclosure. It
decentralizes the requirement and the enforcement to everyone, instead
of leaving it in the hands of a few at the top. (If that's an awkward
use of "requirement," it's because we don't even have a word for
As an individual, you are not commanded to answer; you may want to
protect your own privacy or someone else's. But if you do answer, you
must do so truthfully.
Then it's up to the people involved to decide whether to engage - in
conversation, in a transaction, in whatever kind of interaction they
might be contemplating. The magic of Do ask; don't lie is that the
parties to any particular interaction can make a specific, local
decision about what level of disclosure is appropriate.
Bunnell's First Law of Retrievability
Everything is retrievable.
Bunnell's Second Law of Retrievability
Everything is stored somewhere. The secret to retrieving things is
simply finding out where they are stored.
Arthur's First Law
Nothing is evenly spread; everything happens in clumps. The universe
has clumps--galaxies, star systems, stars, planets, asteroids. You
meet an old friend for the first time in years, then again and again.
The smart folk are all together. It's a universal.
Arthur's Second Law
More data is good, and drives out the bad.
Philip W. Anderson
More is different.
A linear projection into the future of any science or technology is
like a form of propaganda -- often persuasive, almost always wrong.
Skoyles' Law of Culture and the Brain
Human culture and human cognition exists because the brain's neural
plasticity allows learned symbolic associations to substitute for the
innate inputs and outputs of already evolved ape cognitions, a process
that extends greatly their functionality.
Skoyles' Law of Literacy
A society develops democracy to the degree that it writes social,
legal and religious ideas using the syntax, vocabulary and
pronunciation of everyday speech, rather than that of a professional,
literary or dead language.
Maddox's First Law
Those who scorn the "publish or perish" principle are the most eager
to see their own manuscripts published quickly and given wide
publicity--and the least willing to see their length reduced.
Maddox's Second Law
Reviewers who are best placed to understand an author's work are the
least likely to draw attention to its achievements, but are prolific
sources of minor criticism, especially the identification of typos.
Maddox's Third Law
Just as nature is supposed to abhor a vacuum, so scientific opinion
abhors questions unlikely to be answered soon, whence the general
belief that the origin of the Universe is now nearly understood.
Arthur R. Jensen
Jensen's First and Second Laws of Individual Differences in Cognitive
Abilities have crucial educational, economic, and social consequences.
Jensen's two fundamental laws derived from empirical studies of human
individual differences (population variance) in cognitive ability:
Jensen's First Law
Individual differences in learning and performance increase as a
monotonic function of task complexity or difficulty.
Jensen's Second Law
Individual differences in learning and performance increase with
continuing practice and experience,
unless there is an intrinsically low ceiling on task proficiency.
Devlin's First Law
Buyer beware: in the hands of a charlatan, mathematics can be used to
make a vacuous argument look impressive.
Devlin's Second Law
So can PowerPoint.
For any experience, thought, question, or solution there is a
corresponding analog in the biophysical state of the brain.
Nesmith's First Law
The Universe includes no contrary laws
Nesmith's Second Law
Mind is the Constant in all equations
David G. Myers
Myers' Law of Truth
The surest truth is that some of our beliefs err.
Monotheism, someone has said, offers two simple axioms: 1) There is a
God. 2) It's not you. Knowing that we are fallible humans underlies
the humility and openness that inspires science, and democracy. As
Madeline L'Engle noted, "The naked intellect is an extraordinarily
Myers' Law of Self-Perception
Most people see themselves as better than average.
Nine in ten managers rate themselves as superior to their average
peer. Nine in ten college professors rated themselves as superior to
their average colleague. And six in ten high school seniors rate their
"ability to get along with others" as in the top 10 percent. Most
drivers-even most drivers who have been hospitalized after
accidents-believe themselves more skilled than the average driver.
"The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age,
gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background," observes Dave
Barry, "is that deep down inside, we all believe that we are above
average drivers." Excess humility is an uncommon flaw.
Myers Law of Writing
Anything that can be misunderstood will be.
Communication media that enable collective action on new scales, at
new rates, among new groups of people, multiply the power available to
civilizations and enable new forms of social interaction. The alphabet
enabled empire and monotheism, the printing press enabled science and
revolution, the telephone enabled bureaucracy and globalization, the
Internet enabled virtual communities and electronic markets, the
mobile telephone enabled smart mobs and tribes of urban info-nomads.
Siler's First Law
The brain is what the brain creates. Its workings reflect the workings
of everything it creates.
Siler's Second Law
Genius is everywhere, everyday, in everyone, in every way imaginable.
Curtis' First Law
With several unknown keys in hand, one of which fits the lock in front
of you, the first time you try all the keys, none will open it.
Curtis' Second Law
If you try all the keys again, there is only a fifty/fifty chance you
will be successful.
Minsky's First Law
Words should be your servants, not your masters.
Misnksy's Second Law
Don't just do something. Stand there.
Barrow's first 'law'
Any Universe simple enough to be understood is too simple to produce a
mind able to understand it.
Barrow's second 'law'
All difficult conjectures should be proved by reductio ad absurdum
arguments. For if the proof is long and complicated enough you are
bound to make a mistake somewhere and hence a contradiction will
inevitably appear, and so the truth of the original conjecture is
Goodwin's Limited Law
The truth has as many faces as there are beings that express it. so
no-one is ever wrong. everyone is right, though in limited ways.
wisdom lies in spotting the limitation while being grateful for the
Kellys' First Law
Power, understanding, control. Pick any two.
Kellys' Second Law
Nobody is as smart as everybody.
McWhorter's Law of Social History
In a context of widespread literacy, easy communications, and a large
class of people with ample leisure time, the social movement that
begins by addressing a concrete grievance will, after the grievance
has been largely addressed, pass into the hands of persons inclined
for individual reasons towards the dramatic and self-righteous, who
will manipulate the movement's iconography and passion into a staged
indignation difficult for outsiders to square with reality, and with
little actively progressive or beneficent intention.
John Allen Paulos
Paulos' Law of Coincidence
People often note some unlikely conjunction of events and marvel at
the coincidence. Could anything be more wonderfully improbable, they
wonder. The answer is Yes. The most amazing coincidence of all would
be the complete absence of coincidence.
Dyson's Law of Obsolescence
If you are writing history and try to keep it up-to-date up to a time
T before the present, it will be out-of-date within a time T after the
This law applies also to scientific review articles.
( Thanks for including the Doctor Moreau quote, which describes us
When you have the beginnings of an idea about something, the worst
thing to do is to consult "the literature" before you get started to
work on it. You are sure to assimilate your potentially original idea
to something that is already out there.
There are no laws of human behaviour.
Rovelli's Two Principles
Time Does Not Exist
Contrary to what generally assumed, the physical world does not exist
"in time". At the basic microscopic level, the world is better
described in terms of a a-temporal theory, where physical laws do not
express time evolution of physical variables, but just relations
between variables. Time emerges only thermodynamically when describing
macroscopic variables. Therefore time is only a side effect of our
ignorance of the microscopic state of the world. "Time is a side
effect of ignorance."
Space Does Not Exist
The physical world does not exist "in space". The physical world is
made by an ensemble of particles and fields, which do not live in an
external space, but rather live "on each other", and which can be in a
relation of contiguity with respect to one another. "Space" is the
order implied by this relation. These two principles are implied by
what we have learned about the physical world with general relativity
and with quantum mechanics. The second principle is largely a return
to the Pre-Newtonian relational understanding of space, while the
first has few antecendents in our culture.
Sabbagh's First Law
All the mistakes I have made in my life--not that there are that many,
of course--have been because I failed to follow my own law.
Sabbagh's Second Law
The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has
occurred. I think this is the more original and far-reaching of the
two laws but I have put it second because it's not really mine. It was
said to me by Alan Mulally, an inspiring Boeing manager (and they need
inspiring managers at
A religion will increase in social value until a majority of its
members actually believe in it--at which point the social damage it
causes will increase exponentially as long as it is in existence.
Rushkoff's Law of Media
True communication can only occur between people with equal access to
the medium in which the communication is taking place.
Because people understand by finding in their memories the closest
possible match to what they are hearing and use that match as the
basis of comprehension, any new idea will be treated as a variant of
something the listener has already thought of or heard. Agreement with
a new idea means a listener has already had a similar thought and well
appreciates that the speaker has recognized his idea. Disagreement
means the opposite. Really new ideas are incomprehensible. The good
news is that for some people, failure to comprehend is the beginning
of understanding. For most, of course, it is the beginning of
Traub's Law (Version 1)
The important things in life often happen by chance while we're
agonizing over the trivia.
Traub's Law (Version 2)
The important events of a person's life are the products of chains of
highly improbable occurrences.
Happy people are those who do not pass up an opportunity to laugh at
themselves or to make love with someone else. Unhappy people are those
who get this backwards.
Pepperberg's Law of Comparative Cognition
Any behavior exhibited by young children that is taken as evidence of
the early emergence of intelligence will, when subsequently exhibited
by nonhumans, be interpreted by many humans as a set of simple
stimulus-response associations lacking cognitive processing, whereas
the stimulus-response explanation will rarely be used to re-interpret
the behavior of the child.
Lykken's First Law
The quality of one's intellectual productions is a function of the
product of talent (e.g., intelligence) times mental energy. Although
there are many and varied tests for assessing intelligence,
psychologists have not as yet even attempted to construct a measure of
individual differences in mental energy.
Lykken's Second Law
The mind consists of genetically-determined hardware and
experientially-determined software. The hardware components are not
constructed by genes working either individually or additively but,
rather, by groups of genes working sequentially and configurally. Each
human mating produces at least some gene configurations that are
unique, having never occurred previously. This is why, among other
things, human genius often occurs uniquely in an otherwise
undistinguished family line.
Marc D. Hauser
Hauser's First Law
Every uniquely human ability, including cooking, mathematics,
morality, and music, is based on a set of biologically primitive
capacities that evolved before our species walked the earth.
Hauser's Second Law
The historical stability of our prescriptive claims (what we ought to
do) are determined by principles underlying our universal judgments.
Nature's is constrains our lofty hopes for what ought to be.
James J. O'Donnell
O'Donnell's Law of Academic Administration
If it feels good, don't do it.
Because if it feels good, it's going to be because it eases some
frustration you're feeling from all the constraints and hassles of
the institution; or because it really shows up so-and-so; or
because it makes you feel you really do have a little authority
around here after all. It won't, it won't, and you don't. Better to
calm down, make sure you know all the facts, make sure you've
talked to all 49 stakeholders, and sleep on it, then do the thing
you have to hold your nose to do.
O'Donnell's Law of History
There are no true stories.
Story-tellers are in the iron grip of readers' expectations.
Stories have beginnings, middles, ends, heroes, villains, clarity,
resolution. Life has none of those things, so any story gets to be
a story (especially if it's a good story) by edging away from what
really happened (which we don't know in anywhere near enough detail
anyway) towards what makes a good story. Historians exist to
wrestle with the story temptation the way Laocoon wrestled with the
snakes. But at the end of the day, to tell anybody anything, you'll
probably tell a story, so then be sure to follow:
Literally, "Sin bravely." His idea was that you're going to make a
mess of things anyway, so you might as well do so boldly,
confidently, with a little energy and imagination, rather than
timidly, fearfully, half-heartedly.
Gardner's First Law
Don't ask how smart someone is; ask in what ways is he or she smart.
Gardner's Second Law
You can never go directly from a scientific discovery to an
educational recommendation: all educational practices presuppose
implicit or explicit value judgments.
William H. Calvin
Calvin's Law of Coherence
When things "all hang together," you have either gotten the joke,
solved the puzzle, argued in a circle, focused your chain of logic so
narrowly that you will be blindsided--or discovered a hidden pattern
in nature. Science, in large part, consists of imagining coherent
solutions and then making sure that you weren't fooled by a false
coherence as in astrology.
Sterling's Law of Ubiquitous Computation
First, your home is a constant, while the Net is a place you go; then
the Net becomes a constant while your home is a place you go.
Sterling's Corollary to Clarke's Law
Any sufficiently advanced garbage is indistinguishable from magic.
George B. Dyson
Dyson's Law of Artificial Intelligence
Anything simple enough to be understandable will not be complicated
enough to behave intelligently, while anything complicated enough to
behave intelligently will not be simple enough to understand.
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