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?"
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."
Brockman has posted an intriguing question on his Edge website.
Brockman advises his would-be legislators to stick to the scientific
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
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."
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,
are interested in thinking smart,'" declares Brockman
on the site, "we are not interested in the anesthesiology
ARENA: Edge has been bringing together the world's foremost
scientific thinkers since 1998, and the response to September
11 was measured and uplifting."
Questions Have Disappeared?"
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
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."
Is Today's Most Important Unreported Story?"
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.
Questions Are You Asking Yourself?"
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?' "
to often lively, sometimes obscure and almost always ambitious
the mind is freed to think positionally without
orientation, a logic of relationships naturally
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.
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,
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 science.
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.
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
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.
tells the jokes that science insists on explaining.
Law of Sex differences in the Mind
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
Law of Autism
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.
is the final test of innovation.
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.
Rule of Thumb
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
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?"
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.
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
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.
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.
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
things go together, too.
Harris's Third Law
think they know why good things go together, and
why bad things go together, but they are wrong.
First Law of 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
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.
Reformulation of a Traditional Theory of 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.
Law of the Internet
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.
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.
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.
Nesse’s Laws for deciding when it
is safe to use drugs to block evolved protective
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
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
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.
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
Sapolsky's Three Laws for Doing Science
logically, but orthogonally.
It's okay to think about nonsense, as long as you
don't believe in it.
the biggest impediment to scientific progress is
not what we don't know, but what we know.
Holton's First Law
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
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
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.
improvements derived from technological advances
have an equal and opposite effect on culture and
the environment magnified by time and scale.
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
requires the Pareto Optimization of Competitiveness
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.
measurement of innovation rate.
There is no measure of the rate at which processes
like art, evolution, companies, and computer programs
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
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.
laws of the completeness of good old fashioned AI.
Evans' First Law
every intelligent agent, there is a Turing-machine
that provides an exhaustive description of its mind.
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
93.8127 % of all statistics are useless.
good analogy is like a diagonal frog.
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.