alan_alda's picture
Actor; Writer; Director; Host, PBS program Brains on Trial; Author, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself
Alda's Laws

The following is written by a non-scientist who supposes it might be entertaining for scientists to see what passes through the head of a curious layman while trying to understand the people who try to understand Nature.

Alda's First Law of Laws

All laws are local.

In other words, something is always bound to come along and make you rethink what you know by forcing you to look at it in a broader context. I've arrived at this notion after interviewing hundreds of scientists, and also after being married for 46 years.

I don't mean that laws are not true and useful, especially when they have been verified by experiment. But they are likely to continue to be true only within a certain frame, once another frame is discovered.

Some scientists will probably find this idea heretical and others may find it obvious. According to this law, they'll both be right (depending on the frame they're working in).

Another way of saying this is that no matter how much we know about something, it is just the tip of the iceberg. And most disasters occur by coming in contact with the other part of the iceberg.

Alda's Second Law of Laws

A law does not know how local it is.

Citizens of Lawville do not realize there are city limits and are constantly surprised to find out they live in a county.

When you're operating within the frame of a law, you can't know where the edges of the frame are—where dragons begin showing up.

I've just been interviewing astronomers about dark matter and dark energy in the universe. These two things make up something like 96% of the universe. The part of the universe we can see or in some way observe is only about 4%. That leaves a lot of universe that needs to be rethought. And some people speculate that dark energy may be leaking in from a whole other universe; an even bigger change of frame, if that turns out to be the case.

It’s now known that vast stretches of DNA once thought to be Junk DNA because they don’t code for proteins actually regulate or even silence conventional genes. The conventional genes—what we used to think were responsible for everything we knew about heritability—account for only 2% of our DNA. Apparently, it’s not yet known how much of the other 98% is active, but I think the frame has just shifted here.

Welcome to Lawville; you are now leaving Lawville.