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
Zangger's First Law
Most scientific breakthroughs are nothing else than
the discovery of the obvious.
great science is always ahead of its time.
Although there seems to be a slight contradiction
in my laws, historical evidence proves them right:
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.
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 concept.
When Louis Pasteur stated that bacteria could
cause disease, colleagues treated the idea as
"an absurd fantasy'!
The theories of the Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund
Freud were called "a case for the police" during
a neurologists congress in Hamburg in 1910.
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
German physicists Erwin Schrödinger's PhD
thesis, in which he first introduced his famous
equation, was initially rejected.
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.
The decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs by Jean
Francois Champollion in 1822 was still rejected
by scholar twenty years after his death.
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.
Heinrich Schliemanns 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."
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 obvious things."
The anthropic principle in
cosmology is just a (silly) corollary of the anthropic
principle in religion: We are, therefore god is.
We are not the source of the
laws of nature. Nature is, whether we are or not.
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 universe.
Barbour’s Second Law
Geometry is founded on congruence, dynamics on minimisation
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.
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,
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.
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.)
Law of The Primacy of Feeling
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.
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 remediation.
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 necessary.
Law of the Conservation of Difficulty
Obscurantism in an academic subject expands to fill
the vacuum of its intrinsic simplicity.
Law of Divine Invulnerability
God cannot lose.
When comprehension expands, gods contract—but
then redefine themselves to restore the status
things go right, God will be thanked. When things
go wrong, he will be thanked that they are not
Belief in the afterlife can only be proved right,
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
Law of Adversarial Debate
When two incompatible beliefs are advocated with
equal intensity, the truth does not lie half way
Finkelstein's Second Law
(which is relative).
Time does not pass.
Davies' Second Law
Never let observation stand in the way of a good
Things that persist, persist; things that don't,
This tautology underlies every single phenomenon
we see around us, from
molecules to religions. The purpose of science is
simply to discover how and
why any given class of pattern manages to persist.
Life is best understood
as a group of patterns that are able to persist
because they spontaneously
duplicate themselves and adapt to change. Equally,
an electron is a pattern
that persists as a self-maintaining resonant mode
in the electromagnetic
field. The universe is what is left over when all
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', but
the functioning of these modules is not the key
to intelligence. The key is
the deeper set of rules that enable a homogeneous
pink goo to wire itself up
into such a collection of specialised machines in
the first place, merely by
being exposed to the sensory world.
Grand's Third Law
more carefully one makes contingency plans, the
more bizarre the actual
circumstances will turn out to be.
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 fact.
The problem of why every problem that
is interesting is also soluble, is soluble.
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
you don't have a solid example then your theory
is not a good theory.
Nature and nurture are not in opposition; nature
is what makes nurture possible.
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
Verena's Law of Sane Reasoning
Hone your Hunches, Jump, then backtrack to blaze
a reliable trail to your Conclusion.
But avoid reductions; they lead to mere counterfeits
Law of Constructive Proof
Every sound argument can and ought to be turned
into a construction that embodies and explains its
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 threads.
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
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 predict.
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
Shermer's Three Principles of Provisional Morality
and Evolutionary Ethic
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 unto you.
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.)
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
As the rate of technological innovation increases,
so too does the inertia from ancillary institutions,
but not as much.
science has limits—and science tells us that
it does—the only question is when, not if,
it reaches them.
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.
It From Qubit Law
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.