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 more
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
Power Law of History
corollary to the law of unintended consequences)
The major events that determine human history
follow a power distribution (a more or less straight
line on a log-log scale), with catastrophic and
cascading consequences (economic and health crises,
political and cultural revolutions, war and terrorism,
etc.), because people naturally prefer to act
upon the future based on their modeling of past
occurrences. People do not repeat the catastrophes
of history because they forget it; people build
up self-destructing ideologies and behavior patterns
that continue history's catastrophic path because
they remember the past too well (e.g., "the
maginot effect" for war and the soon-to-be
"box-cutting effect" for terrorism).
Ancillary: For politics, history's most well-developed
and self-assured "isms" (e.g., colonialism,
fascism, communism, globalism) are those most
prone to radical collapse.
Law of Bare Counterintuition
the cultural survival of absurd ideas)
Natural selection endowed humans with an intuitive
ontology that includes folkbiology (e.g., biodiversity
divides into mutually exclusive groups of beings,
and each group has a proprietary essence), folkpsychology
(e.g., intentional and emotional beings have bodies,
and have knowledge of other like beings by observing
and inferring how other bodies act), and folkphysics
(e.g., two bodies cannot simultaneously occupy
the same place at the same time, and no body can
occupy different places at the same time). Barely
counterintuitive ideas, which violate universal
constraints on intuitive ontology (e.g., a bodiless
being) but otherwise retain most commonsense properties
associated with intuitive ontology (a bodiless
being who mostly acts and thinks like a person),
are those fictions most apt to survive within
a culture, most likely to recur in different cultures,
and most disposed to cultural variation and elaboration
(e.g., sphinxes and griffins, spirits and crystal
balls, ghosts and gods).
Ancillary: For religion (i.e., for most humans
in all human societies), the more costly one's
commitment to some factually absurd but barely
counterintuitive world (e.g., afterlife), the
more others believe that person to be sincere
ask; don't lie.
(Rationale:) How can we find the happy medium
between disclosure and prying, between transparency
and overexposure? The last thing we want is a
law saying that everyone should disclose everything:
vested interests, negotiating strategies, intentions,
bank account, marital status, whatever.
How can we instead devise some rule that fits
the best qualities of the Net decentralized, more
or less self-enforcing, flexible.....and responsive
to personal choices? The idea is to create a culture
that expects disclosure, rather than a
legal regime that requires it. People can decide
how much they want to play, and others can decide
whether to play with them.
First of all, it's two-way. It's not for a single
person; it's for an interaction. The first person
has to ask; the second person, to answer truthfully
or refuse openly to answer.
It drives the responsibility for requiring disclosure
down to where it belongs - to those most likely
to be affected by the disclosure. It decentralizes
the requirement and the enforcement to everyone,
instead of leaving it in the hands of a few at
the top. (If that's an awkward use of "requirement,"
it's because we don't even have a word for "decentralized
As an individual, you are not commanded to answer;
you may want to protect your own privacy or someone
else's. But if you do answer, you must do so truthfully.
Then it's up to the people involved to decide
whether to engage - in conversation, in a transaction,
in whatever kind of interaction they might be
contemplating. The magic of Do ask; don't lie
is that the parties to any particular interaction
can make a specific, local decision about what
level of disclosure is appropriate.
First Law of Retrievability
Everything is retrievable.
Law of Retrievability
Everything is stored somewhere. The secret to
retrieving things is simply finding out where
they are stored.
Arthur's First Law
is evenly spread; everything happens in clumps.
The universe has clumps—galaxies, star systems,
stars, planets, asteroids. You meet an old friend
for the first time in years, then again and again.
The smart folk are all together. It's a universal.
Arthur's Second Law
data is good, and drives out the bad.
linear projection into the future of any science
or technology is like a form of propaganda —
often persuasive, almost always wrong.
Law of Culture and the Brain
culture and human cognition exists because the
brain's neural plasticity allows learned symbolic
associations to substitute for the innate inputs
and outputs of already evolved ape cognitions,
a process that extends greatly their functionality.
Law of Literacy
society develops democracy to the degree that
it writes social, legal and religious ideas using
the syntax, vocabulary and pronunciation of everyday
speech, rather than that of a professional, literary
or dead language.
who scorn the "publish or perish"
principle are the most eager to see their own
manuscripts published quickly and given wide
publicity—and the least willing to see
their length reduced.
who are best placed to understand an author's
work are the least likely to draw attention
to its achievements, but are prolific sources
of minor criticism, especially the identification
as nature is supposed to abhor a vacuum, so
scientific opinion abhors questions unlikely
to be answered soon, whence the general belief
that the origin of the Universe is now nearly
First and Second Laws of Individual Differences
in Cognitive Abilities have crucial educational,
economic, and social consequences. Jensen's
two fundamental laws derived from empirical
studies of human individual differences (population
variance) in cognitive ability:
differences in learning and performance increase
as a monotonic function of task complexity or
differences in learning and performance increase
with continuing practice and experience,
unless there is an intrinsically low ceiling
on task proficiency.
Buyer beware: in the hands of a charlatan, mathematics
can be used to make a vacuous argument look
Devlin's Second Law
So can PowerPoint.
For any experience, thought, question, or solution
there is a corresponding analog in the biophysical
state of the brain.
The Universe includes no contrary laws
Mind is the Constant in all equations
Myers' Law of Truth
surest truth is that some of our beliefs err.
Monotheism, someone has said, offers two simple
axioms: 1) There is a God. 2) It's not you.
Knowing that we are fallible humans underlies
the humility and openness that inspires science,
and democracy. As Madeline L'Engle noted, "The
naked intellect is an extraordinarily inaccurate
Myers' Law of Self-Perception
people see themselves as better than average.
Nine in ten managers rate themselves as superior
to their average peer. Nine in ten college professors
rated themselves as superior to their average
colleague. And six in ten high school seniors
rate their "ability to get along with others"
as in the top 10 percent. Most driverseven
most drivers who have been hospitalized after
accidentsbelieve themselves more skilled
than the average driver. "The one thing
that unites all human beings, regardless of
age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic
background," observes Dave Barry, "is
that deep down inside, we all believe that we
are above average drivers." Excess humility
is an uncommon flaw.
Myers Law of Writing
that can be misunderstood will be.
media that enable collective action on new scales,
at new rates, among new groups of people, multiply
the power available to civilizations and enable
new forms of social interaction. The alphabet
enabled empire and monotheism, the printing
press enabled science and revolution, the telephone
enabled bureaucracy and globalization, the Internet
enabled virtual communities and electronic markets,
the mobile telephone enabled smart mobs and
tribes of urban info-nomads.
brain is what the brain creates. Its workings
reflect the workings of everything it creates.
Genius is everywhere, everyday, in everyone, in
every way imaginable.
With several unknown keys in hand, one of which
fits the lock in front of you, the first time
you try all the keys, none will open it.
you try all the keys again, there is only a fifty/fifty
chance you will be successful.
should be your servants, not your masters.
just do something. Stand there.
Barrow's first 'law'
Any Universe simple enough
to be understood is too simple to produce a mind
able to understand it.
Barrow's second 'law'
All difficult conjectures
should be proved by reductio ad absurdum arguments.
For if the proof is long and complicated enough
you are bound to make a mistake somewhere and hence
a contradiction will inevitably appear, and so the
truth of the original conjecture is
Goodwin's Limited Law
The truth has as many faces
as there are beings that express it. so no-one is
ever wrong. everyone is right, though in limited
ways. wisdom lies in spotting the limitation while
being grateful for the insight.
Power, understanding, control. Pick any two.
Kellys' Second Law
Nobody is as smart as everybody.
Law of Social History
In a context of widespread literacy, easy communications,
and a large class of people with ample leisure
time, the social movement that begins by addressing
a concrete grievance will, after the grievance
has been largely addressed, pass into the hands
of persons inclined for individual reasons towards
the dramatic and self-righteous, who will manipulate
the movement's iconography and passion into a
staged indignation difficult for outsiders to
square with reality, and with little actively
progressive or beneficent intention.
Law of Coincidence
often note some unlikely conjunction of events
and marvel at the coincidence. Could anything
be more wonderfully improbable, they wonder. The
answer is Yes. The most amazing coincidence of
all would be the complete absence of coincidence.
Law of Obsolescence
you are writing history and try to keep it up-to-date
up to a time T before the present, it will be
out-of-date within a time T after the present.
law applies also to scientific review articles.
( Thanks for including the Doctor Moreau quote,
which describes us very well.)
When you have the beginnings of an idea about
something, the worst thing to do is to consult
"the literature" before you get started
to work on it. You are sure to assimilate your
potentially original idea to something that is
already out there.
Does Not Exist
Contrary to what generally assumed, the physical
world does not exist "in time". At the
basic microscopic level, the world is better described
in terms of a a-temporal theory, where physical
laws do not express time evolution of physical
variables, but just relations between
variables. Time emerges only thermodynamically
when describing macroscopic variables. Therefore
time is only a side effect of our ignorance of
the microscopic state of the world. "Time
is a side effect of ignorance."
Does Not Exist
The physical world does not exist "in space".
The physical world is made by an ensemble of particles
and fields, which do not live in an external space,
but rather live "on each other", and
which can be in a relation of contiguity with
respect to one another. "Space" is the
order implied by this relation. These
two principles are implied by what we have learned
about the physical world with general relativity
and with quantum mechanics. The second principle
is largely a return to the Pre-Newtonian relational
understanding of space, while the first has few
antecendents in our culture.
All the mistakes I have made in my life—not
that there are that many, of course—have
been because I failed to follow my own law.
The biggest problem with communication is the
illusion that it has occurred. I think this is
the more original and far-reaching of the two
laws but I have put it second because it's not
really mine. It was said to me by Alan Mulally,
an inspiring Boeing manager (and they need inspiring
religion will increase in social value until a majority
of its members actually believe in it—at which
point the social damage it causes will increase
exponentially as long as it is in existence.
Rushkoff's Law of Media
communication can only occur between people with
equal access to the medium in which the communication
is taking place.
people understand by finding in their memories
the closest possible match to what they are hearing
and use that match as the basis of comprehension,
any new idea will be treated as a variant of something
the listener has already thought of or heard.
Agreement with a new idea means a listener has
already had a similar thought and well appreciates
that the speaker has recognized his idea. Disagreement
means the opposite. Really new ideas are incomprehensible.
The good news is that for some people, failure
to comprehend is the beginning of understanding.
For most, of course, it is the beginning of dismissal.
Traub's Law (Version 1)
important things in life often happen by chance
while we're agonizing over the trivia.
Law (Version 2)
important events of a person's life are the
products of chains of highly improbable occurrences.
Happy people are those who do not pass up an opportunity
to laugh at themselves or to make love with someone
else. Unhappy people are those who get this backwards.
Law of Comparative Cognition
Any behavior exhibited by young children
that is taken as evidence of the early
emergence of intelligence will, when subsequently
exhibited by nonhumans, be interpreted
by many humans as a set of simple stimulus-response
associations lacking cognitive processing,
whereas the stimulus-response explanation
will rarely be used to re-interpret the
behavior of the child.
The quality of one's intellectual productions
is a function of the product of talent
(e.g., intelligence) times mental energy.
Although there are many and varied tests
for assessing intelligence, psychologists
have not as yet even attempted to construct
a measure of individual differences in
The mind consists of genetically-determined
hardware and experientially-determined
software. The hardware components are
not constructed by genes working either
individually or additively but, rather,
by groups of genes working sequentially
and configurally. Each human mating produces
at least some gene configurations that
are unique, having never occurred previously.
This is why, among other things, human
genius often occurs uniquely in an otherwise
undistinguished family line.
uniquely human ability, including cooking,
mathematics, morality, and music, is based
on a set of biologically primitive capacities
that evolved before our species walked
The historical stability of our prescriptive
claims (what we ought to do) are determined
by principles underlying our universal
judgments. Nature's is constrains
our lofty hopes for what ought
Law of Academic Administration
it feels good, don't do it.
if it feels good, it's going to be because
it eases some frustration you're feeling
from all the constraints and hassles
of the institution; or because it really
shows up so-and-so; or because it makes
you feel you really do have a little
authority around here after all. It
won't, it won't, and you don't. Better
to calm down, make sure you know all
the facts, make sure you've talked to
all 49 stakeholders, and sleep on it,
then do the thing you have to hold your
nose to do.
Law of History
are no true stories.
are in the iron grip of readers' expectations.
Stories have beginnings, middles, ends,
heroes, villains, clarity, resolution.
Life has none of those things, so any
story gets to be a story (especially
if it's a good story) by edging away
from what really happened (which we
don't know in anywhere near enough detail
anyway) towards what makes a good story.
Historians exist to wrestle with the
story temptation the way Laocoon wrestled
with the snakes. But at the end of the
day, to tell anybody anything, you'll
probably tell a story, so then be sure
"Sin bravely." His idea was
that you're going to make a mess of
things anyway, so you might as well
do so boldly, confidently, with a little
energy and imagination, rather than
timidly, fearfully, half-heartedly.
ask how smart someone is; ask in what
ways is he or she smart.
can never go directly from a scientific
discovery to an educational recommendation:
all educational practices presuppose implicit
or explicit value judgments.
Law of Coherence
things "all hang together," you
have either gotten the joke, solved the puzzle,
argued in a circle, focused your chain
of logic so narrowly that you will be blindsided—or
discovered a hidden pattern in nature. Science,
in large part, consists of imagining coherent
solutions and then making sure that you weren't
fooled by a false coherence as in astrology.
Law of Ubiquitous Computation
First, your home is a constant, while the Net
is a place you go; then the Net becomes a constant
while your home is a place you go.
Corollary to Clarke's Law
sufficiently advanced garbage is indistinguishable
Law of Artificial Intelligence
Anything simple enough to be understandable will
not be complicated enough to behave intelligently,
while anything complicated enough to behave intelligently
will not be simple enough to understand.
am the Sayer of the Law," said the grey figure.
come all that be new to learn the Law. I sit in
the darkness and say the Law."
is even so," said one of the beasts in the doorway.
are the punishments of those who break the Law.
escape," said the Beast Folk, glancing furtively
at one another.
none," said the Ape Man. "None escape..."
— H. G. Wells, op. cit., p 67.