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
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
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 is
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."
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
deep and ambitious questions.... breathtaking in scope.
Keep watching The World Question Center." New
EDGE ANNUAL QUESTION—2004
the words," said the Ape Man, repeating, and the figures
in the doorway echoed this, with a threat in the tone of
their voices. I realized that I had to repeat this idiotic
formula, And then began the insanest ceremony. The voice
in the dark began intoning a mad litany, line by line, and
I and the rest to repeat it. As they did so, they swayed
from side to side, and beat their hands upon their knees,
and I followed their example. I could have imagined I was
already dead and in another world. That dark hut, these
grotesque dim figures, just flecked here and there by a
glimmer of light, and all of them swaying in unison and
to go on all-Fours; that is
the Law. Are we not Men?
to suck up Drink; that is
the Law. Are we not Men?
to eat Flesh or Fish; that is
the Law. Are we not Men?
to claw the Bark of Trees; that is
the Law. Are we not Men?
to chase other Men; that is
the Law. Are we not Men?"
—H. G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau (Chapter 12, "The Sayers
of the Law"), 1896. New York: Bantam Books, 1994, pp. 64-65.
2004 Edge Annual Question...
is some bit of wisdom, some rule of nature, some law-like
pattern, either grand or small, that you've noticed in the
universe that might as well be named after you. Gordon Moore
has one; Johannes Kepler and Michael Faraday, too. So does
you are so bright, you probably have at least two you
can articulate. Send me two laws based on your empirical
work and observations you would not mind having tagged
with your name. Stick to science and to those scientific
areas where you have expertise. Avoid flippancy. Remember,
your name will be attached to your law.
am asking members of the Edge community to take
this project seriously as a public service, to work together
to create a document that can be widely disseminated,
that can stimulate discussion and the imagination.
Publisher & Editor
the Universal Laws That Are There, Waiting . . .
By Edward Rothstein, January
10, 2004 [free
Nature abhors a vacuum. Gravitational
force is inversely proportional to the square of the distance
between two objects. Over the course of evolution, each species
develops larger body sizes. If something can go wrong, it
Such are some of nature's laws as handed down by Aristotle,
Newton, Edward Cope and Murphy. And regardless of their varying
accuracy (and seriousness), it takes an enormous amount of
daring to posit them in the first place. Think of it: asserting
that what you observe here and now is true for all times
and places, that a pattern you perceive is not just a coincidence
but reveals a deep principle about how the world is ordered.
say, for example, that whenever you have tried to create
a vacuum, matter has rushed in to fill it, you are
making an observation. But say that "nature abhors a vacuum" and
you are asserting something about the essence of things.
Similarly, when Newton discovered his law of gravitation,
he was not simply accounting for his observations. It has
been shown that his crude instruments and approximate measurements
could never have justified the precise and elegant conclusions.
That is the power of natural law: the evidence does not make
the law plausible; the law makes the evidence plausible.
But what kind of natural laws can now be so confidently
formulated, disclosing a hidden order and forever bearing
their creator's names? We no longer even hold Newton's laws
sacred; 20th-century physics turned them into approximations.
Cope, the 19th-century paleontologist, created his law about
growing species size based on dinosaurs; the idea has now
become somewhat quaint. Someday even an heir to Capt. Edward
Aloysius Murphy might have to modify the law he based on
his experience about things going awry in the United States
Air Force in the 1940's.
into the breach comes John Brockman, the literary agent
and gadfly, whose online scientific salon, Edge.org,
has become one of the most interesting stopping places on
the Web. He begins every year by posing a question to his
distinguished roster of authors and invited guests. Last
year he asked what sort of counsel each would offer George
W. Bush as the nation's top science adviser. This time the
question is "What's your law?"
"There is some bit of wisdom," Mr. Brockman proposes, "some
rule of nature, some lawlike pattern, either grand or small,
that you've noticed in the universe that might as well be
named after you." What, he asks, is your law, one that's
ready to take a place near Kepler's and Faraday's and Murphy's.
More than 150 responses totaling more than 20,000 words have
been posted so far at www.edge.org/q2004/q04_print.html. The
respondents form an international gathering of what Mr. Brockman
has called the "third culture" - scientists and science-oriented
intellectuals who are, he believes, displacing traditional
literary intellectuals in importance. They include figures
like the scientists Freeman Dyson and Richard Dawkins, innovators
and entrepreneurs like Ray Kurzweil and W. Daniel Hillis,
younger mavericks like Douglas Rushkoff and senior mavericks
like Stewart Brand, mathematicians, theoretical physicists,
computer scientists, psychologists, linguists and journalists....
Compiles Rules Of The Wise Observations
Of Thinking People
9, 2004 By John Jurgensen, Courant Staff Writer [free
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.
interesting to sit back and watch this crowd move the question
in different directions that I hadn't intended," says
Brockman, who has been posting answers to the annual question
online since 1997... This year's results, published on edge.org,
run the gamut from brainy principles to homespun observations
in the tradition of Murphy's Law...If
all this theorizing sounds a little high-flown, it's not,
says Brockman. The important questions of life aren't restricted
to an exclusive club - this just happens to be the intellectual
company Brockman keeps.
They're not sitting around looking at their work in awe and
wonder," he says. "They're looking at experiments
and empirical results and asking, `Where do we go from here?'"
... As for choosing a favorite among the crop of submissions,
Brockman invokes a law of his own: "Nobody knows, and
you can't find out."
By Sharon Begley, January 2 , 2004
Who Give Their Minds to Study, Can Give Names, Too
Heisenberg has one, and so do Boyle and Maxwell: A scientific
principle, law or rule with their moniker attached.... It isn't
every day that a researcher discovers the uncertainty principle,
an ideal gas law, or the mathematical structure of electromagnetism.
And ours is the era of real-estate moguls, phone companies and
others slapping their name on every building, stadium and arena
in sight.... So, John Brockman, a New York literary agent, writer
and impresario of the online salon Edge, figures it is time
for more scientists to get in on the whole naming thing....
As a New Year's exercise, he asked scores of leading thinkers
in the natural and social sciences for "some bit of wisdom,
some rule of nature, some law-like pattern, either grand or
small, that you've noticed in the universe that might as well
be named after you."...The responses, to be posted soon
on Mr. Brockman's Web site www.edge.org, range from the whimsical
to the somber, from cosmology to neuroscience...You
can find other proposed laws of nature on the Edge Web site.
Who knows? Maybe one or more might eventually join Heisenberg
in the nomenclature pantheon.
Week in Books: Core principles are needed in the muddled business
Boyd Tonkin, 02
literary agent John Brockman, who makes over significant
scientists into successful authors, has posted an intriguing
question on his Edge website. He seeks suggestions for
contemporary "laws", just as Boyle, Newton, Faraday and
other pioneers gave their names to the rules of the physical
universe. (That eminent pair, Sod and Murphy, soon followed
suit.) Brockman advises his would-be legislators to stick
to the scientific disciplines, and you can find their
responses at www.edge.org.
First Law (of the Experienced Science Journalist)
may be objective but scientists are not.
Second Law (of
the Experienced Science Journalist)
scientist who can speak without jargon is either
an idiot or a genius.
Third Law (on Subjectivity and Objectivity from
the Interface of Neuroscience and Computers)
bigger the brain, the better the stories it fabricates
more technology gives us the power to record and
store everything, the less it captures reality.
on subjectivity and objectivity from the interface of
Neuroscience and Computers
Fourth Law (for
can produce knowledge but it cannot produce wisdom.
Fifth Law (Based on An Ancient Zen Saying to
An Untutored Monk Seeking Wisdom)
you can tell the false from the true you are already
Law of Credibility
Scientists don't always know best about matters of science-but they're more likely
to be right than the critics who make that argument.
1st Corollary to the Law of Credibility
The first job of any scientific fraud is to persuade the public that science
is itself unscientific.
2nd Corollary to the Law of Credibility
Any iconoclast with a scientifically unorthodox view who reminds you that Galileo
was persecuted too…ain't Galileo.
Rennie's Law of Evolutionary Biology
The most important environmental influences on any organism are always the other
organisms around it.
Corollary to the Law of Evolutionary Biology
Species do not occupy ecological niches; they define them.
Law of Guaranteed Evolution
Anything that can be
done, could be done "meta".
defining characteristic of science—the one that gives
sciences its extraordinary explanatory
power—is the objective use of evidence to distinguish
between alternative guesses.
Most of religion is antithetical to science.
Much of Western Medicine is antithetical
Quite a bit of Science is antithetical
Ewald's Second Law
When the practice of medicine
finally obtains a balanced perspective, Medicine and
Evolutionary Medicine will be one and the same.
law of dual information storage
stockpile information in environments as well as
The Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos used to describe himself as a "machine
for turning coffee into theorems". In much the same way, genes are machines
for turning stars into a bird's compass; carotenoids into males of dazzling
beauty; smells into love-potions; facial muscles into signals of friendship;
a glance into uncertainty of paternity; and oxygen, water, light, zinc, calcium
and iron into bears, beetles, bacteria or bluebells. More strictly, genes are
machines for turning stars into birds and thereby into more genes.
This reminds us that adaptations weld together two information-storage systems.
They build up a store of information in genes, meticulously accumulated, elaborated
and honed down evolutionary time. And, to match that store, they also stockpile
information in the environment. For genes need resources to build and run organisms;
and adaptations furnish genes (or organisms) with the information to pluck
those resources from the environment. So stars and carotenoids and glances
need to be there generation after generation no less reliably than the information
carried by genes.
Thus genes and environments are not in opposition; not zero-sum; not parallel
but separate. Rather, they are designed to work in tandem. Their interconnection
is highly intricate, minutely structured; and it becomes ever more so over
And thus, without environments to provide resources, genes would not be viable;
and without genes to specify what constitutes an environment, environments
would not exist. So how could biology not be an environmental issue? And, conversely,
how could environments not be—necessarily—a biological issue?
law of adaptations and environments
constitutes an organism's environment depends on
the species' adaptations.
What constitutes an organism's environment? The answer is that it is the organism's
adaptations that stake out which are the relevant aspects of the world. An
environment is not simply a given. It is the typical characteristics of a species,
its adaptations, that specify what constitutes the environment for that species.
Think of it this way. Adaptations are keys to unlocking the world's resources.
They are the means by which organisms harness features of the world for their
own use, transforming them from part of the indifferent world-out-there into
the organism's own tailor-made, species-specific environment, an environment
brimming with materials and information for the organism's own distinctive
And so to understand how any species interacts with its environment, we need
to start by exploring that species' adaptations. Only through adaptations was
that environment constructed and only through understanding adaptations can
we reconstruct it.
And, similarly, within a sexually reproducing species, differences between
the sexes should be the default assumption. In particular, the female's adaptations
should not be treated as mere adumbrations of the male's. On the contrary,
if a rule-of-thumb default is needed, turn to the female. After all, the 'little
brown bird' is what the entire species—males, females and juveniles—looks
like before sexual selection distorts her mate into a showy explosion of colour
and song. When it comes to environments, males perceive them as platforms for
status games. Females most certainly do not.
Damasio's First Law
The body precedes the mind.
Emotions precede feelings.
is everything we don't have to do
We have to eat, but we didn't have to invent Baked Alaskas and Beef Wellington.
We have to clothe ourselves, but we didn't have to invent platform shoes and
polka-dot bikinis. We have to communicate, but we didn't have to invent sonnets
and sonatas. Everything we do—beyond simply keeping ourselves alive—we
do because we like making and experiencing art and culture.
Eno's Second Law
is the conversation about how the world is. Culture
is the conversation about how else the world could
be, and how else we could experience it.
Science wants to know what can be said about the world, what can be predicted
about it. Art likes to see which other worlds are possible, to see how it would
feel if it were this way instead of that way. As such art can give us the practice
and agility to think and experience in new ways - preparing us for the new
understandings of things that science supplies.
Raymond's Law of Software
a sufficiently large number of eyeballs, all bugs
sufficiently advanced system of magic would be indistinguishable
from a technology.
first one is sometimes called "Raymond's Law" now,
though I originally called it "Linus's Law" when I
formulated it. Second one. Hmmm. Several people have since invented
this one independently, but I came up with it more than twenty
years ago. It's a reply to Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law, "Any
sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Law of Consequences
The road to hell has often been paved with good intentions. Therefore, evil
is best recognized not by its motives but by its methods.
Law of Literalism
devaluated information makes opinion an added value,
the law of literalism is permanently questioned,
while remaining the last resort of reason.
inflation of available information has devaluated
word and image to mere content. The resulting perception
fatigue is increasingly met with the overused rhetorical
tool of polarizing opinion. It’s based on an
old trick used by street vendors. In the intellectual
food court of mass media, opinion appeals to reflexes
just as the fried fat and sugar smells of snackfood
outlets activate age-old instincts of hunting and
gathering. In the average consumer opinion triggers
an illusion of enlightenment and understanding that
ultimately clouds the reason of literalism.
is freedom from credo, dogma and philosophical pessimism.
It’s the process of finding reality driven
by an optimistic faith in its existence. It tries
to transcend the limits of the word, by permanently
questioning any perception of reality.
and ideology, the strongest purveyors of opinion,
have long known the language of science and reason.
Creationists use secular reasoning to demand that
schools stop teaching the laws of evolution. Right-wing
radicals and religious fundamentalists of all creeds
tone down their world visions to fit into an opinionated
consensus. Economic and political forces use selective
findings to present their interests as fact.
can become an exhausting effort to defend the principles
of fact and reason in a polarized world. The complex
and often boring nature of factual reality makes
it an unglamorous voice amid a choir of sparkling
witticisms and provocations. Devoid of the ecstasies
and spiritual cushioning of religion it denies age
old longings. It can be decried as heresy or simultaneously
accused of treason by all sides. It must sustain
the insecurities brought on by the absence of ultimate
truth. Having been the gravitational center of enlightenment,
it must be defended as the last resort of reason.
Tipler's Law of Unlimited Progress
The laws of physics place no limits
on progress, be it scientific, economic, cultural, or
intellectual. In fact, the laws of physics require
the knowledge and wealth possessed by intelligent beings
in the universe to increase without limit, this knowledge
and wealth becoming literally infinite by the the end
of time. Intelligent life forms must inevitably expand
out from their planets of origin, and convert the entire
universe into a biosphere. If the laws of physics be
for us, who can be against us?
Thanks for the invitation, but this
time I will pass: I am too much of an anarchist: the
only laws I like are scientific ones, and the idea of
some normative statement being labeled, even if just
for fun, "Sperber's Law", makes me shudder.
Sorry! (But I will enjoy reading the "laws"
of other people).
Godwin 's Law
As an online discussion
grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving
Nazis or Hitler approaches one.
Snyder's First Law
most creative science is wrong, but the deception ultimately
leads to the benefit of mankind. Think Freud!
Everyone steals ideas from everyone
else, but they do so unconsciously. This has evolved
for our very survival. It maximizes the innovative power
Benford's Modified Clarke Law
Any technology that does not appear magical
is insufficiently advanced.
which state something cannot happen, are untrustworthy; they are only
statements about what we have seen or thought of so far. Non-existence
theorems often appear in physics. They are useful guidelines, but there
are often loopholes. Sometimes you find those loopholes by looking—and
sometimes you find them by accident through superficially unrelated
Randall's Second Law
confirming Baron-Cohen's First Law will always reflect the bias of
is a product of analogy and combinatorics.
Analogy allows the mind to use a few
innate ideas—space, force, essence,
goal—to understand more abstract domains. Combinatorics allows
an a finite set of simple ideas to give rise to an infinite set of
Pinker's Second Law
Human sociality is a product of conflicts and confluences of genetic
interests. Our relationships with our parents, siblings, spouses, friends,
trading partners, allies, rivals, and selves have different forms because
they instantiate different patterns of overlap of ultimate interests.
History, fiction, news, and gossip are endlessly fascinating because
the overlap is never 0% or 100%.
A public figure is often condemned for an action that is taken unfairly
out of context but nevertheless reflects, in a compelling and encapsulated
manner, an underlying truth about that person.
The representation becomes the reality.
more precisely: Successful representations of reality
become more important than the reality they represent.
Dollars become more important than gold.
The brand becomes more important than the company.
The painting becomes more important than the landscape.
The new medium (which begins as a representation of
the old medium) eclipses the old.
The prize becomes more important than the achievement.
The genes become more important than the organism.
Gelernter's First Law
Computers make people stupid.
One expert is worth a million intellectuals. (This law
is only approximate.)
Scientists know all the right answers and none of the right questions.