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THE EDGE ANNUAL QUESTION - 2004:
"What's Your Law"


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"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 Strogatz

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


Paul Ryan

Ryan's Law

Once the mind is freed to think positionally without orientation, a logic of relationships naturally ensues.


Steven Levy

Levy's Law

The truth is always more interesting that your preconception of what it might be.

In journalism, this means that the best practitioners 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 questions.


Neil Gershenfeld

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.

Gershenfeld's Goal

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.


Gino Segre

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 science.

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.


Henry Warwick

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 heed Art.

Warwick's Second Law

Art tells the jokes that science insists on explaining.


Simon Baron-Cohen

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.


Christine Finn

Finn's Law

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 palpable quiver preceding the sudden rush of certainty give that
final kick to real innovation?

This is especially good for interdisciplinary areas, where unusual conjunctions
generally involve more maverick trip-wire than usual.


Leonard Susskind

Susskind's Rule of Thumb

Don't ask what they think. Ask what they do.

My rule has to do with paradigm 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. Anyway, 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 exactly 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.


Sherry Turkle

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 ourselves.

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 different thing.

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.


Steven Strogatz

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.


Ivan Amato

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.)


Rupert Sheldrake

Sheldrake's Principle

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.


Dave Winer

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.


Izumi Aizu

Aizu's First 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 actions.


Randolph 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< ∑(pH x CH w/o defense) –∑(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 catastrophe.

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.


Robert Sapolsky

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.


Gerald Holton

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 spermatozoon [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.


Niels Diffrient

Diffrient's Law

The improvements derived from technological advances have an equal and opposite effect on culture and the environment magnified by time and scale.


Stuart Kauffman

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.


Jordan Pollack

Pollack's Law

Progress requires the Pareto Optimization of Competitiveness and Informativeness

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 corrupt.

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.

The Pollack

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 mechanical parts?

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.


Dylan Evans

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 Krause

Kai's Existential Dilemma

I think....
there....
4a.m.

Kai's Exactness Dilemma

93.8127 % of all statistics are useless.

Kai's Example Dilemma

A good analogy is like a diagonal frog.


Adam Bly

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.


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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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