2004
"What's Your Law?"
Printer version

"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?"
"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."
"John Brockman has posted an intriguing question on his Edge website. Brockman advises his would-be legislators to stick to the scientific disciplines."
"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."

2003
"What are the pressing scientific issues for the nation and the world, and what is your advice on how I can begin to deal with them?"
"In 2002, he [Brockman] asked respondents to imagine that they had been nominated as White House science adviser and that President Bush had sought their answer to 'What are the pressing scientific issues for the nation and the world, and what is your advice on how I can begin to deal with them?'Here are excerpts of some of the responses. "
"Edge's combination of political engagement and blue-sky thinking makes stimulating reading for anyone seeking a glimpse into the next decade."
"Dear W: Scientists Offer
President Advice on Policy"
"There are 84 responses, ranging in topic from advanced nanotechnology to the psychology of foreign cultures, and lots of ideas regarding science, technology, politics, and education."

2002
"What's Your Question?"
"Brockman's thinkers of the 'Third Culture,' whether they, like Dawkins, study evolutionary biology at Oxford or, like Alan Alda, portray scientists on Broadway, know no taboos. Everything is permitted, and nothing is excluded from this intellectual game."
"The responses are generally written in an engaging, casual style (perhaps encouraged by the medium of e-mail), and are often fascinating and thought - provoking....These are all wonderful, intelligent questions..."

2001—9/11
What Now?
  "We are interested in ‘thinking smart,'" declares Brockman on the site, "we are not interested in the anesthesiology of ‘wisdom.'"
"INSPIRED ARENA: Edge has been bringing together the world's foremost scientific thinkers since 1998, and the response to September 11 was measured and uplifting."

2001
"What Questions Have Disappeared?"
"Responses to this year's question are deliciously creative... the variety astonishes. Edge continues to launch intellectual skyrockets of stunning brilliance. Nobody in the world is doing what Edge is doing."
"Once a year, John Brockman of New York, a writer and literary agent who represents many scientists, poses a question in his online journal, The Edge, and invites the thousand or so people on his mailing list to answer it."

2000
"What Is Today's Most Important Unreported Story?"
"Don't assume for a second that Ted Koppel, Charlie Rose and the editorial high command at the New York Times have a handle on all the pressing issues of the day.... a lengthy list of profound, esoteric and outright entertaining responses.

1999
"What Is The Most Important Invention In The Past Two Thousand Years?"
"A terrific, thought provoking site."
"The Power of Big Ideas"
"The Nominees for Best Invention Of the Last Two Millennia Are . . ."
"...Thoughtful and often surprising answers ....a fascinating survey of intellectual and creative wonders of the world ..... Reading them reminds me of how wondrous our world is." — Bill Gates, New York Times Syndicated Column

1998
"What Questions Are You Asking Yourself?"
"A site that has raised electronic discourse on the Web to a whole new level.... Genuine learning seems to be going on here."
"To mark the first anniversary of [Edge], Brockman posed a question: 'Simply reading the six million volumes in the Widener Library does not necessarily lead to a complex and subtle mind," he wrote, referring to the Harvard library. "How to avoid the anesthesiology of wisdom?' "
"Home to often lively, sometimes obscure and almost always ambitious discussions."



Contributors

Izumi Aizu

Alan Alda

Ivan Amato

Alun Anderson

Chris Anderson

Philip W. Anderson

Charles Arthur

W. Brian Arthur

Scott Atran

Robert Aunger

Albert-László Barabási

Simon Baron-Cohen

Samuel Barondes

Julian Barbour

John Barrow

David Berreby

Gregory Benford

Jamshed Bharucha

Susan Blackmore

Colin Blakemore

Adam Bly

Stewart Brand

Rodney Brooks

David Bunnell

David Buss

William Calvin

Philip Campbell

Leo Chalupa

Andy Clark

Helena Cronin

Garniss Curtis

Antonio Damasio

Paul Davies

Richard Dawkins

Stanislas Dehaene

Daniel C. Dennett

David Deutsch

Art De Vany

Keith Devlin

Niels Diffrient

K. Eric Drexler

Esther Dyson

Freeman Dyson

George Dyson

Brian Eno

Jeffrey Epstein

Nancy Etcoff

Dylan Evans

Paul Ewald

David Finkelstein

Christine Finn

Howard Gardner

David Gelernter

Neil Gershenfeld

Gerd Gigerenzer

Daniel Gilbert

Mike Godwin

Beatrice Golomb

Brian Goodwin

Alison Gopnik

Steve Grand

Stuart Hameroff

Haim Harari

Judith Rich Harris

Marc D. Hauser

Marti Hearst

W. Daniel Hillis

Gerald Holton

Donald Hoffman

John Horgan

Verena Huber-Dyson

Nicholas Humphrey

Mark Hurst

Piet Hut

Arthur R. Jensen

Raphael Kasper

Stuart Kauffman

Kevin Kelly

Art Kleiner

Steven Kosslyn

Kai Krause

Andrian Kreye

Ray Kurzweil

George Lakoff

Jaron Lanier

Edward O. Laumann

Steven Levy

Sara Lippincott

Steve Lohr

Seth Lloyd

David Lykken

John McWhorter

John Maddox

Gary Marcus

John Markoff

Pamela McCorduck

Geoffrey Miller

Marvin Minsky

Mark Mirsky

Howard Morgan

Michael Nesmith

David G. Myers

Randoph Nesse

Richard Nisbett

Tor Nørretranders

James J. O'Donnell

Jay Ogilvy

Dennis Overbye

John Allan Paulos

Irene Pepperberg

Clifford Pickover

Stuart Pimm

Steven Pinker

Jordan Pollack

Ernst Pöppel

William Poundstone

Robert Provine

Eduard Punset

Steve Quartz

Richard Rabkin

Lisa Randall

Eric S. Raymond

Martin Rees

John Rennie

Howard Rheingold

Matt Ridley

Rudy Rucker

Paul Ryan

Scott Sampson

Robert Sapolsky

Roger Schank

Gino Segre

Charles Seife

Terrence Sejnowski

Al Seckel

Rupert Sheldrake

Michael Shermer

Todd Siler

Charles Simonyi

John Skoyles

Lee Smolin

Allan Snyder

Dan Sperber

Maria Spiropulu

Paul Steinhardt

Bruce Sterling

Steven Strogat

Leonard Susskind

Nassim Taleb

Frank Tipler

Joseph Traub

Arnold Trehub

Carlo Rovelli

Douglas Rushkoff

Karl Sabbagh

Timothy Taylor

Sherry Turkle

Yossi Vardi

J. Craig Venter

Henry Warwick

Delta Willis

Dave Winer

Eberhard Zangger

Anton Zeilinger


"Big, deep and ambitious questions....breathtaking in scope. Keep watching The World Question Center." — New Scientist

THE EDGE ANNUAL QUESTION—2004

"Say the words," said the Ape Man, repeating, and the figures in the doorway echoed this, with a threat in the tone of their voices. I realised that I had to repeat this idiotic formula, And then began the insanest ceremony. The voice in the dark began intoning a mad litany, line by line, and I and the rest to repeat it. As they did so, they swayed from side to side, and beat their hands upon their knees, and I followed their example. I could have imagined I was already dead and in another world. That dark hut, these grotesque dim figures, just flecked here and there by a glimmer of light, and all of them swaying in unison and chanting:

"Not to go on all-Fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

"Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

"Not to eat Flesh or Fish; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

"Not to claw the Bark of Trees; that is the Law. Are we not Men?

"Not to chase other Men; that is the Law. Are we not Men?"


—H. G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau (Chapter 12, "The Sayers of the Law"), 1896. New York: Bantam Books, 1994, pp. 64-65.


The 2004 Edge Annual Question...

"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 imagination.

Say the words....

Happy New Year!

John Brockman
Publisher & Editor

164 Contributors: George DysonBruce SterlingWilliam CalvinHoward GardnerJames J. O'DonnellMarc D. HauserDavid LykkenIrene PepperbergDaniel GilbertJoseph TraubRoger SchankDouglas RushkoffKarl SabbaghCarlo RovelliTimothy TaylorRichard NisbettFreeman DysonJohn Allan PaulosJohn McWhorterKevin KellyBrian GoodwinJohn BarrowMarvin Minsky Garniss CurtisTodd SilerHoward RheingoldDavid G. MyersMichael NesmithArnold TrehubKeith DevlinArthur R. JensenJohn Maddox John Skoyles Pamela McCorduck Philip W. AndersonCharles ArthurDavid BunnellEsther Dyson Scott AtranJay OgilvySteven Kosslyn Jeffrey EpsteinStewart BrandPiet HutGeoffrey MillerNassim TalebDonald HoffmanRichard RabkinStanislas DehaeneSusan BlackmoreRaphael KasperAlison GopnikArt De VanyRobert ProvineStuart PimmChris AndersonAlan AldaAndy Clark Charles SeifeJaron Lanier Seth Lloyd John HorganRobert AungerErnst PöppelMichael ShermerColin Blakemore Scott SampsonVerena Huber-DysonGary MarcusRodney BrooksDavid DeutschSteve GrandPaul DaviesDavid FinkelsteinRichard DawkinsJ. Craig VenterSteve QuartzPhilip CampbellTor NørretrandersJulian BarbourMaria SpiropuluEberhard Zangger David BussMark MirskyLee SmolinNancy EtcoffAnton ZeilingerEdward O. LaumannGeorge LakoffHaim HarariMatt Ridley Daniel C. DennettW. Brian ArthurSamuel BarondesJamshed BharuchaRay Kurzweil Adam BlyKai KrauseDylan EvansJordan PollackStuart Kauffman Niels DiffrientGerald HoltonRobert SapolskyIzumi AizuRandoph NesseDave Winer Rupert SheldrakeIvan AmatoJudith Rich HarrisSteven StrogatzSherry Turkle Leonard Susskind Christine FinnSimon Baron-CohenHenry WarwickGino SegreNeil GershenfeldSteven LevyPaul Ryan Stuart HameroffLeo ChalupaTerrence SejnowskiEduard PunsetPaul SteinhardtDelta WillisRudy Rucker Al SeckelHoward MorganClifford PickoverBeatrice GolombK. Eric Drexler Mark Hurst Art KleinerYossi VardiNicholas HumphreyMartin ReesJohn MarkoffGerd GigerenzerSteve LohrDavid BerrebyWilliam PoundstoneDennis OverbyeSara LippincottAlbert-László Barabási David GelernterW. Daniel HillisMarti HearstSteven PinkerLisa RandallGregory Benford Allan SnyderMike GodwinDan SperberFrank TiplerAndrian KreyeEric S. RaymondBrian EnoAntonio DamasioHelena CroninPaul EwaldCharles Simonyi John RennieAlun Anderson


CONNECTIONS
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" 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 registration required]

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."


SCIENCE JOURNAL By Sharon Begley, January 2 , 2004
Scientists Who Give Their Minds to Study, Can Give Names, Too (Subscription Required)

 
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.


A Week in Books: Core principles are needed in the muddled business of books
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?"

[most recent first]

Alun Anderson

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 genius.

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.

Corollary

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.

John Rennie

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.

Charles Simonyi

Simonyi's Law of Guaranteed Evolution

Anything that can be done, could be done "meta".


Paul Ewald

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.

Corollary 1

Most of religion is antithetical to science.

Corollary 2

Much of Western Medicine is antithetical to science.
.
Corollary 3

Quite a bit of Science is antithetical to science.

Ewald'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 experience it.

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 science supplies.


Helena Cronin

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' adaptations.

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.


Antonio Damasio

Damasio's First Law


The body precedes the mind.

Damasio's Second Law

Emotions precede feelings.

Damasio's Second Law

Concepts precede words.


Brian Eno

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 experience it.

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 science supplies.


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.
 


Andrian Kreye

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 of reason.

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.


Frank Tipler

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?


Dan Sperber

Sperber's Shudder

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).


Mike Godwin

Godwin 's Law

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.


Allan Snyder

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.


Gregory Benford

Benford's Modified Clarke Law

Any technology that does not appear magical is insufficiently advanced.


Lisa Randall

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.


Steven Pinker

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 ones.

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%.


Marti Hearst

Hearst's Law

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

Hillis' Law

The representation becomes the reality.

Or more precisely: Successful representations of reality become more important than the reality they represent.

Examples:

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.


David Gelernter

Gelernter's First Law

Computers make people stupid.

Gelernter'sSecond Law

One expert is worth a million intellectuals. (This law is onlyapproximate.)

Gelernter's Third Law

Scientists know all the right answers and none of the right questions.


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John Brockman, Editor and Publisher
Russell Weinberger, Associate Publisher

contact: [email protected]
Copyright © 2004 by
Edge Foundation, Inc
All Rights Reserved.

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