james_j_odonnell's picture
Classics Scholar, University Librarian, ASU; Author, Pagans

O'Donnell's Law of Academic Administration

If it feels good, don't do it.

Because 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.

O'Donnell's Law of History

There are no true stories.

Story-tellers 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 to follow:

Luther's Law

Pecca fortiter.

Literally, "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.

howard_gardner's picture
Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education; Author, A Synthesizing Mind

Gardner's First Law

Don't ask how smart someone is; ask in what ways is he or she smart.

Gardner's Second Law

You can never go directly from a scientific discovery to an educational recommendation: all educational practices presuppose implicit or explicit value judgments.

william_h_calvin's picture
Theoretical Neurobiologist; Affiliate Professor Emeritus, University of Washington; Author, Global Fever

When 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.

bruce_sterling's picture
Science Fiction Author, Mirrorshades

Sterling's 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.

Sterling's Corollary to Clarke's Law

Any sufficiently advanced garbage is indistinguishable from magic.

george_dyson's picture
Science Historian; Author, Analogia

Dyson's 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.

john_d_barrow's picture
Cosmologist; Physicist; Professor of Mathematical Science, Director, Millennium Mathematics Project, University of Cambridge; Author, The Book of Universes

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
established QED.

roger_schank's picture
CEO, Socratic Arts Inc.; John Evans Professor Emeritus of Computer Science, Psychology and Education, Northwestern University; Author, Make School Meaningful-And Fun!

Because 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.

brian_goodwin's picture
Professor of Biology at Schumacher College

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.

joseph_traub's picture
Professor of Computer Science, Columbia University; coauthor, Complexity and Information

Traub's Law (Version 1)

The important things in life often happen by chance while we're agonizing over the trivia.

Traub's Law (Version 2)

The important events of a person's life are the products of chains of highly improbable occurrences.

kevin_kelly's picture
Senior Maverick, Wired; Author, What Technology Wants and The Inevitable

Kellys' First Law

Power, understanding, control. Pick any two.

Kellys' Second Law

Nobody is as smart as everybody.

daniel_gilbert's picture
Professor of Psychology at Harvard University

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.

keith_devlin's picture
Mathematician; Executive Director, H-STAR Institute, Stanford; Author, Finding Fibonacci

Devlin's First Law

Buyer beware: in the hands of a charlatan, mathematics can be used to make a vacuous argument look impressive.

Devlin's Second Law

So can PowerPoint.

john_mcwhorter's picture
Professor of Linguistics and Western Civilization, Columbia University; Cultural Commentator; Author, Words on the Move

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.

irene_pepperberg's picture
Research Associate & Lecturer, Harvard; Author, Alex & Me

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.

arnold_trehub's picture
Psychologist, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Author, The Cognitive Brain

For any experience, thought, question, or solution there is a corresponding analog in the biophysical state of the brain.

john_allen_paulos's picture
professor of mathematics at Temple University

People 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.

david_lykken's picture
Behavioral Geneticist and Emeritus Professor, University of Minnesota

Lykken's First Law

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 mental energy.

Lykken's Second Law

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.

michael_nesmith's picture
Existence is Non-Time, Non-Sequential, and Non-Objective

Nesmith's First Law

The Universe includes no contrary laws

Nesmith's Second Law

Mind is the Constant in all equations

freeman_dyson's picture
Physicist, Institute of Advanced Study; Author, Disturbing the Universe; Maker of Patterns

If 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.

This law applies also to scientific review articles.

( Thanks for including the Doctor Moreau quote, which describes us very well.

Hauser's First Law

Every 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 earth.

Hauser's Second Law

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 to be.

david_g_myers's picture
Professor of Psychology, Hope College; Co-author, Psychology, 11th Edition

Myers' Law of Truth

The 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 instrument."

Myers' Law of Self-Perception

Most 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 drivers–even most drivers who have been hospitalized after accidents–believe 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

Anything that can be misunderstood will be.

richard_nisbett's picture
Theodore M. Newcomb Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan; Author, Thinking: A Memoir

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.

howard_rheingold's picture
Communications Expert; Author, Smart Mobs

Communication 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.

timothy_taylor's picture
Jan Eisner Professor of Archaeology, Comenius University in Bratislava; Author, The Artificial Ape

There are no laws of human behavior.

todd_siler's picture
Founder and director of Psi-Phi Communications

Siler's First Law

The brain is what the brain creates. Its workings reflect the workings of everything it creates.

Siler's Second Law

Genius is everywhere, everyday, in everyone, in every way imaginable.

carlo_rovelli's picture
Theoretical Physicist; Aix-Marseille University, in the Centre de Physique Théorique, Marseille, France; Author, Helgoland; There Are Places in the World Where Rules Are Less Important Than Kindness

Time 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."

Space 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.

garniss_curtis's picture
Geochronologist Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley

Curtis' First Law

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.

Curtis' Second Law

If you try all the keys again, there is only a fifty/fifty chance you will be successful.

karl_sabbagh's picture
Producer; Founder, Managing Director, Skyscraper Productions; Author, The Antisemitism Wars: How the British Media Failed Their Public

Sabbagh's First Law

Never assume.

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.

Sabbagh's Second 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 managers at
the moment.)

marvin_minsky's picture
Mathematician; computer scientist; Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, MIT; cofounder, MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory; author, The Emotion Machine

Minsky's First Law

Words should be your servants, not your masters.

Minsky's Second Law

Don't just do something. Stand there

douglas_rushkoff's picture
Media Analyst; Documentary Writer; Author, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus

A 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

True communication can only occur between people with equal access to the medium in which the communication is taking place.

stuart_pimm's picture
Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology, Duke University; Author, The World According to Pimm: a Scientist Audits the Earth

Pimm's First Law

No language spoken by fewer than 100,000 people survives contact with the outside world, while no language spoken by more than one million people can be eliminated by such contact.

Pimm's Second Law

With every change in language (including first contact with humanity), a region's biodiversity shrinks by 20%.

piet_hut's picture
professor of astrophysics at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton

Hut's First Law

Any attempt to define what is science is doomed to failure

Scientists often attack what they consider irrational creeds by first defining what counts as science and then showing that those creeds don't fit within the limits specified. While their motive is often right, their approach is totally wrong. Science has no method. It is opportunistic in the extreme, with theory adapting with admirable agility to the most amazing experimental discoveries, no matter what previous 'corner stones' have to be given up: quantum mechanics is the most striking example. This opportunism is the only reason that science has remained alive and well, notwithstanding the human tendency for stagnation that is exemplified so clearly through more than a dozen successive generations of individual scientists.

Hut's Second Law

In scientific software development, research = education

When writing a large software package or a whole software environment, the most efficient way to produce a robust product is to write documentation simultaneously with the computer codes, on all levels: from comment lines to manual pages to narrative that explains the reasons for the many choices made. Having to explain to yourselves and your coworkers how you choose what why when is the best guide to quickly discovering hidden flaws and better alternatives, minimizing the need to
backtrack later. Therefore, the most efficient way to write a large coherent body of software as a research project is to view it as an educational project.

I have come across similar endorsements of documentation in various places, including Donald Knuth's idea of literate programming, and Gerald Sussman's advice to write with utmost clarity for humans first, and for computers as an afterthought.

john_r_skoyles's picture
researcher in the evolution of human intelligence in the light of recent discoveries about the brain

Skoyles' Law of Culture and the Brain

Human 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.

Skoyles' Law of Literacy

A 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. 

robert_provine's picture
Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Author, Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond


Provine's Motor Precocity Principle

Organisms spond before they respond (act before they react).

This principle of neurobehavioral development and evolution describes the tendency of the nervous system to produce motor output before it receives sensory input. Because motor systems often evolve and develop before sensory systems, sensory input cannot have the dominant influence on neural structure and function predicted by some psychological and neurological theories.

The evolutionary precocity of motor relative to sensory systems also argues against the classical reflex as a primal step in neurobehavioral evolution. Spontaneously active motor processes are adaptive and can emerge through natural selection unlike sensory processes that are not adaptive without a behavior to guide. Sensory systems evolved to control already existing movement.

Another argument against the primacy of reflexes is that they require the unlikely simultaneous evolution of a sensory and a motor process. The tendency of organisms to "spond before they respond" requires the re-evaluation of many other traditional neurobehavioral concepts and processes.

Provine's Self/Other Exclusionary Principle

The "self," the most basic sense of personhood, is defined as that which is not "other." "Other," the most primitive level of social entity, is defined as a non-self, animate stimulus on the surface of your skin.

Self is distinguished from other by a neurological cancellation process. These definitions are attractive because they permit a neurologically and computationally based approach to problems that are traditionally mired in personality and social theory. Although our sense of identity involves more than self/non-self discrimination, such a mechanism may be at its foundation and a first step toward the evolution of personhood and the neurological computation of its boundaries. For a demonstration of this mechanism, consider your inability to tickle yourself. Tickle requires stimulation by a non-self animate entity on the surface of your skin. Similar, self-produced stimulation is cancelled and is not ticklish.

Without such a self/non-self discriminator, we would be constantly be tickling ourselves by accident, and the world would be filled with goosey people lurching their way through life in a chain reaction filled with tactile false alarms. Developing a similar machine algorithm may lead to "ticklish" robots whose performance is enhanced by their capacity to distinguish touching from being touched, and, provocatively, a computationally based construct of machine personhood.

stewart_brand's picture
Founder, the Whole Earth Catalog; Co-founder, The Well; Co-Founder, The Long Now Foundation, and Revive & Restore; Author, Whole Earth Discipline

Information wants to be free.

The rest of Brand's Law
Information also wants to be expensive.

Brand's Pace Law
In haste, mistakes cascade. With deliberation, mistakes instruct

Brand's Asymmetry
The past can only be known, not changed. The future can only be changed, not known.

Brand's Shortcut
The only way to predict the future is to make sure it stays exactly the same as the present.

sir_john_maddox's picture
Editor (Emeritus), Nature; Royal Commissions on environmental pollution and genetic manipulation

Maddox's First Law

Those 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.

Maddox's Second Law

Reviewers 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 of typos.

Maddox's Third Law

Just 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 understood.

arthur_de_vany's picture
Professor Emeritus of Economics and Mathematical Behavioral Sciences, University of California

The future is over-forecasted and underpredicted.

Epstein's First Law

Know when you are winning.

Epstein's Second Law

The key question is not what can I gain but what do I have to lose.

alison_gopnik's picture
Psychologist, UC, Berkeley; Author, The Gardener and the Carpenter

The ability to learn is inversely proportional to years of school, adjusted for hormones.

Gopnik's Gender Curves

The male curve is an abrupt rise followed by an equally abrupt fall. The female curve is a slow rise to an extended asymptote. The areas under the curves are roughly equal. These curves apply to all activities at all time scales (e.g. attention to TV programs, romantic love, career scientific productivity).

stephen_m_kosslyn's picture
Founding Dean, Minerva Schools at the Keck Graduate Institute

Kosslyn's First Law

Body and mind are not as separate as they appear to be. Not only does the state of the body affect the mind, but vice-versa.

Kosslyn's Second Law

The individual and the group are not as separate as they appear to be. A part of each mind spills over into the minds of other people, who help us think and regulate our emotions.

raphael_kasper's picture
physicist, is Associate Vice Provost for Research at Columbia University and was Associate Director of the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory

One should never blindly accept things as they are.

Jose Saramago writes in The Cave with his usual quirky punctuation and sentence structure:

"... we often hear it said, or we say it ourselves, I'll get used to it, we say or they say, with what seems to be genuine acceptance ..., what no one asks is at what cost do we get used to things."

Kasper's Second Law

Try to know where and how your thoughts arise and always give credit to your teachers.

jay_ogilvy's picture
a cofounder of GBN, a Partner in the Monitor Group of Companies

Many well defined manifolds lack unifying centers that define or control them.

• Just because some things are genuinely sacred does not mean that there is a god.

• Just because a corporation or a country seems to be hierarchically structured does not mean that any single leader is really in charge.

• Just because some behavior is conscious and intentional does not entail a "ghost in the machine," a homunculus, or a central intender.

• Just because evolution appears to be directional, from less order and complexity toward greater order and complexity, that does not presuppose either an alpha-designer or an omega-telos.

Precursors to Ogilvy's Law:

1. Derridean Deconstruction, which is not about taking things apart, but showing how they were never all that unified in the first place

2. Wittgenstein's replacement of Platonic Ideas‹e.g., that one thing which all instances of 'game' or 'justice' have in common‹with the much looser notion of "family resemblances"

Lemma to Ogilvy's Law:

Demythologizing false unities does not degrade the values to be found in their respective manifolds.


• Nietzsche's announcement of the death of god does not mean that nothing is sacred.

• Skepticism regarding conspiracy theories does not entail naiveté regarding power or the impossibility of effective leadership.

• Seeing through Cartesianism in the cognitive sciences does not entail eliminative materialism, a lack of intentionality, or the reduction of mind to matter.

• Dismissing teleology does not deny a manifest directionality to evolution.
In each of these cases and many others like them, the deconstructive turn should not be confused with nihilism or deflationary debunking. The value of Ogilvy's Law lies in its ability to help predict which valleys harbor real value, and which peaks are better left undefended

susan_blackmore's picture
Psychologist; Visiting Professor, University of Plymouth; Author, Consciousness: An Introduction

Blackmore's First Law

People's desire to believe in the paranormal is stronger than all the evidence that it does not exist.

Blackmore's Second Law

Humans are not in control of the web; the memes are.

scott_atran's picture
Anthropologist; Emeritus Research Director, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Institut Jean Nicod, Paris; Co-Founder, Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict, University of Oxford; Author, Talking to the Enemy

Atran's Power Law of History

(a 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.

Atran's Law of Bare Counterintuition

(for 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 and trustworthy.

stanislas_dehaene's picture
Neuroscientist; Collège de France, Paris; Author, How We Learn

Dehaene's First Law

Every successful human invention such as arithmetic or the alphabet has a "neuronal niche"—a set of cerebral processors that evolved for a distinct purpose, but can be recycled to implement the new function.

Two corollaries:

The difficulty of learning a new concept or technique is directly related to the amount of recycling needed—the distance between the evolutionary older function and the new one.

When the old and the new functions are closely related (isomorphic), an evolutionary old cerebral processor can provide a fast, unconscious and unexpected solution to a recent cultural problem—this is what we call

Dehaene's Second Law

The confusability of two ideas, however abstract, is a direct function of the overlap in their neuronal codes.

esther_dyson's picture
Investor; Chairman, EDventure Holdings; Executive Founder, Wellville; Author: Release 2.0

Do 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 thatexpects 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 command.")

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.

richard_rabkin's picture

Nothing is a simple as it seems.

Rabkin's Dictum

If you don't understand something, it's because you aren't aware of its context.

david_bunnell's picture
Founder, PC Magazine, PC World, Macworld, Macworld Expo, New Media and BioWorld

Bunnell's First Law of Retrievability

Everything is retrievable.

Bunnell's Second Law of Retrievability

Everything is stored somewhere. The secret to retrieving things is simply finding out where they are stored.

donald_d_hoffman's picture
Cognitive Scientist, UC, Irvine; Author, The Case Against Reality

Hoffman's First Law

A theory of everything starts with a theory of mind.

Quantum measurement hints that observers may create microphysical properties. Computational theories of perception hint that observers may create macrophysical properties. The history of science suggests that counterintuitive hints, if pursued, can lead to conceptual breakthroughs.

Hoffman's Second Law

Physical universes are user interfaces for minds.

Just as the virtual worlds experienced in VR arcades are interfaces that allow the arcade user to interact effectively with an unseen world of computers and software, so also the physical world one experiences daily is a species-specific user interface that allows one to survive while interacting with a world of which one may be substantially ignorant.

charles_arthur's picture
Freelance Technology Journalist

Arthur's First Law

Nothing 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

More data is good, and drives out the bad.

nassim_nicholas_taleb's picture
Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering, New York University School of Engineering ; Author, Incerto (Antifragile, The Black Swan...)

Taleb's First Black Swan Law

The risk you know anything about today is not the one that matters. What will hurt you next has to look completely unplausible today. The more unplausible the event the more it will hurt you.

Consider that had the WTC attack been deemed a reasonable risk then we would have had tighter control of the skies and it would have not taken place. It happened because it was improbable. The awareness of a specific danger makes you protect yourself from its precise effect and may prevent the event itself from occurring.

Taleb's Second Black Swan Law (corollary)

We don't learn that we don't learn. 

We don't learn the First Black Swan Law from experience, yet we think that we learn something from it. Abstract subject matters (and metarules) do not affect our risk avoidance mechanisms; only vivid images do. People did not learn from the WTC (and the succession of similar events in history such as the formation of financial bubbles) that we have a horrible track record in forecasting such occurrences. They just learned the specific task to avoid tall buildings and Islamic terrorists—after the fact.

philip_w_anderson's picture
Nobel Laureate; Physicist

More is different.

geoffrey_miller's picture
Evolutionary psychologist, NYU Stern Business School and University of New Mexico; author of The Mating Mind and Spent

Miller's Law of Strange Behavior

To understand any apparently baffling behavior by another human, ask: what status game is this individual playing, to show off which heritable traits, in which mating market?

Miller's Iron Law of Iniquity

In principle, there is an evolutionary trade-off between any two positive traits. But in practice, every good trait correlates positively with every other good trait.

Miller's First Law of Offspring Ingratitude

People who don't understand genetics attribute their personal failings to the inane role models offered by their parents.

Miller's Second Law of Offspring Ingratitude

People who do understand genetics attribute their personal failings to the inane mate-choice decisions made by their parents.

pamela_mccorduck's picture
Author, Machines Who Think, The Universal Machine, Bounded Rationality, This Could Be Important; Co-author (with Edward Feigenbaum), The Fifth Generation

A linear projection into the future of any science or technology is like a form of propaganda — often persuasive, almost always wrong.

j_craig_venter's picture
A leading scientist of the 21st century for Genomic Sciences; Co-Founder, Chairman, Synthetic Genomics, Inc.; Founder, J. Craig Venter Institute; Author, A Life Decoded

Venter's First Law

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.

michael_shermer's picture
Publisher, Skeptic magazine; Monthly Columnist, Scientific American; Presidential Fellow, Chapman University; Author, Heavens on Earth

Shermer's Last Law

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 an ETI! 

Shermer's Three Principles of Provisional Morality and Evolutionary Ethic

1. 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.

(These 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.)

richard_dawkins's picture
Evolutionary Biologist; Emeritus Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, Oxford; Author, Books Do Furnish a Life

Dawkins's Law of the Conservation of Difficulty

Obscurantism in an academic subject expands to fill the vacuum of its intrinsic simplicity.

Dawkins's Law of Divine Invulnerability

God cannot lose.

Lemma 1

When comprehension expands, gods contract—but then redefine themselves to restore the status quo.

Lemma 2

When things go right, God will be thanked. When things go wrong, he will be thanked that they are not worse.

Lemma 3

Belief in the afterlife can only be proved right, never wrong.

Lemma 4

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

Dawkins's Law of Adversarial Debate

When two incompatible beliefs are advocated with equal intensity, the truth does not lie half way between them.

ernst_p_ppel's picture
Head of Research Group Systems, Neuroscience and Cognitive Research, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Germany; Guest Professor, Peking University, China

I refer to my "laws" as "Pöppel's Paradox", and "Pöppel's Universal". Actually the names have been invented by others.

Pöppel's Paradox

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.

Pöppel's Universal

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 music.

david_finkelstein's picture
Professor Emeritus, School of Physics, Georgia Institute of Technology

Finkelstein's First Law

Everything is relative.

Finkelstein's Second Law

Everything (which is relative).

robert_aunger's picture
Biological Anthropologist; Author, Gaining Control

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 Evolution

As the rate of technological innovation increases, so too does the inertia from ancillary institutions, but not as much.

mark_jay_mirsky's picture
writer and founder and editor of Fiction Magazine

Imagination precedes reality.

To imagine the universe is to fear it, even as one feels the power and pleasure of trying to find its furthest boundaries. To meet that fear one has to seek consolation whether in scientific theory or intuitive vision.

As a corollary to that, the return of past time in the present, as death comes steadily closer, if not unique to the human mind, is certainly one of the consolations of consciousness, and of the shadow realm of dream. If there is hope it is in our ability as men and women to imagine ourselves not only in other worlds but as an "other," as an opposite. Robert Musil, Proust, Kafka, Shakespeare, Dante Alighieri together with the anonymous scribes of the religious epics, Gilgamesh, the Old Testament, were uncanny in their ability to imagine in this way.

Imagination precedes what we call reality. I would propose this as a law of daily life and suspect that it plays a large part in our evolution. Trying to preserve and recreate what was best in my past and the past of distant ancestors is part of what keeps me balanced before a future in which I want to hope.

To imagine is not just to exist, but to prolong existence. At the last moment Spinoza could not surrender the idea that somehow memory of what had happened would not be lost in the vastness of the universe. Spinoza needed that consolation. Whether it does or not, we need to believe that memory persists, and that we are capable of influencing just what memory will be valued and given predominance.

paul_davies's picture
Theoretical physicist; cosmologist; astro-biologist; co-Director of BEYOND, Arizona State University; principle investigator, Center for the Convergence of Physical Sciences and Cancer Biology; Author, The Eerie Silence and The Cosmic Jackpot

Davies' First Law

Time does not pass.

Davies' Second Law

Never let observation stand in the way of a good theory.

john_horgan's picture
Director, Center for Science Writings, Stevens Institute of Technology

Horgan's First Law

If science has limits—and science tells us that it does—the only question is when, not if, it reaches them.

Horgan's Second Law

Every garbage-removal 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. 

david_m_buss's picture
Professor of Psychology, University of Texas, Austin; Author, When Men Behave Badly

Buss’s Third Law of Human Mating

For every mating adaptation in one sex, there exists at least one co-evolved adaptation in the other sex designed to manipulate and exploit it.

Buss’s Fourth Law of Human Mating

For every co-evolved exploitative mating adaptation, there exists at least one co-co-evolved defensive adaptation designed to circumvent being manipulated and exploited.

Buss’s Seventh Law of Human Mating

Never reveal your first two laws of mating, lest they be used to manipulate and exploit you.

steve_grand's picture
Founder, Cyberlife Research; author, Creation: Life and How to Make It

Grand's First Law

Things that persist, persist; things that don't, 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 the non-self-maintaining
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

The more carefully one makes contingency plans, the more bizarre the actual
circumstances will turn out to be.

seth_lloyd's picture
Professor of Quantum Mechanical Engineering, MIT; Author, Programming the Universe

Lloyd's It From Qubit Law

The 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.

eberhard_zangger's picture
Managing director of science communications

Zangger's First Law

Most scientific breakthroughs are nothing else than the discovery of the obvious.

Zangger's Second Law

Truly 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 fly!"

• 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 Schliemann’s excavation of Bronze Age Mycenae and Tiryns in Greece was considered by English archaeologists inThe 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."

Scientific 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."

david_deutsch's picture
Physicist, University of Oxford; Author, The Beginning of Infinity; Recipient, Edge Computation Science Prize

Every problem that is interesting is also soluble.

Corollary #1

Inherently insoluble problems are inherently boring.

Corollary #2

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.

Corollary #3

The problem of why every problem that is interesting is also soluble, is soluble.

jaron_lanier's picture
Computer Scientist; Musician; Author, Who Owns The Future?

The following are Lanier's Laws for Putting Machines in their Place, distilled from comments I've posted on Edge over the years. They are all stolen from earlier laws that predate the appearance of computers by decades or centuries.

Lanier's First Law

Humans change themselves through technology.

Example: Lanier's Law of Eternal Improvement for Virtual Reality: Average human sensory perception will gain acuity over successive generations in tandem with the improving qualities of pervasive media technology.

Lanier's Second Law

Even though human nature is dynamic, you must find a way to think of it as being distinct from the rest of nature.

You can't have a categorical imperative without categories. Or, You can't have a golden rule without gold. You have to draw a Circle of Empathy around yourself and others in order to be moral. If you include too much in the circle, you become incompetent, while if you include too little you become cruel. This is the "Normal form" of the eternal liberal/conservative dichotomy.

Lanier's Third Law

You can't rely completely on the level of rationality humans are able to achieve to decide what to put inside the circle. People are demonstrably insane when it comes to attributing nonhuman sentience, as can be seen at any dog show.

Lanier's Fourth Law

Lanier's Law of AI Unrecognizability.

You can't rely on experiment alone to decide what to put in the circle. A Turing Test-like experiment can't be designed to distinguish whether a computer has gotten smarter or a person interacting with that computer has gotten stupider (usually by lowering or narrowing standards of human excellence in some way.)

Lanier's Fifth Law

If you're inclined to put machines inside your circle, you can't rely on metrics of technological sophistication to decide which machines to choose. These metrics have no objectivity.

For just one example, consider Lanier's retelling of Parkinson's Law for the Post-dot-com Era: Software inefficiency and inelegance will always expand to the level made tolerable by Moore's Law. Put another way, Lanier's corollary to Brand's Laws: Whether Small Information wants to be free or expensive, Big Information wants to be meaningless.

Lanier's Sixth Law

When one must make a choice despite almost but not quite total uncertainty, work hard to make your best guess.

Best guess for Circle of Empathy: Danger of increasing human stupidity is probably greater than potential reality of machine sentience. Therefore choose not to place machines in Circle of Empathy.

maria_spiropulu's picture
Shang-Yi Ch’en Professor of Physics, California Institute of Technology; Founder, AQT/INQNET

Maria's 1st Law

The anthropic principle in cosmology is just a (silly) corollary of the anthropic principle in religion: We are, therefore god is.

Maria's 2nd Law

We are not the source of the laws of nature. Nature is, whether we are or not.

Maria's 3rd Law

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.

rodney_a_brooks's picture
Panasonic Professor of Robotics (emeritus); Former Director, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (1997-2007); Founder, CTO, Robust.AI; Author, Flesh and Machines

Brooks' First Law

A 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 of thinking.

Brooks' Second Law

If you don't have a solid example then your theory is not a good theory.

charles_seife's picture
Professor of Journalism, New York University; Former Journalist, Science Magazine; Author, Hawking Hawking

Seife's First Law

A scientific revolution is a complete surprise. Especially to its authors.

Seife's Second Law

Each generation's scientific neologisms adorn the labels of the next generation's quack cures.

julian_barbour's picture
Theoretical physicist; Author, The Janus Point

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 of incongruence.

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 and fields.

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.

gary_marcus's picture
Professor of Psychology, Director NYU Center for Language and Music; Author, Guitar Zero

Marcus' First Law

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 of evolution.

andy_clark's picture
Professor of Cognitive Philosophy, Department of Philosophy and Department of Informatics, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK; Author, Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind

Everything leaks.

There are no clear-cut level distinctions in nature. Neural software bleeds into neural firmware, neural firmware bleeds into neural hardware, psychology bleeds into biology and biology bleeds into physics. Body bleeds into mind and mind bleeds into world. Philosophy bleeds into science and science bleeds back.The idea of levels is a useful fiction, great for hygienic text-book writing and quick answers that defend our local turf but seldom advance scientific understanding).

tor_n_rretranders's picture
Writer; Speaker; Thinker, Copenhagen, Denmark

Nørretranders' 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, simply strange.

verena_huber_dyson's picture
1923-2016; Emeritus Professor, Formerly, Philosophy Department. University of Calgary, Alberta Canada

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 of truth.

Verena's Law of Constructive Proof
Every sound argument can and ought to be turned into a construction that embodies and explains its conclusion

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

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.

philip_campbell's picture
Editor-in-Chief of Nature since 1995; Beginning summer 2018, he will become Editor-in-Chief of Springer Nature’s portfolio of journals, books and magazines

Campbell's First Law

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.

Campbell's Second Law

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.)

scott_sampson's picture
President & CEO, Science World British Columbia; Dinosaur paleontologist and science communicator; Author, How To Raise A Wild Child

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.

christopher_j_anderson's picture
Curator, TED conferences, TED Talks; author, TED Talks

Anderson's Law of Causal Instinct

Humans are engineered to seek for laws, whether or not they're actually there.

Anderson's Law of Skepticism

Most proposed laws, including this one, will probably turn out to be vacuous.

steven_r_quartz's picture
Neuroscientist; Professor of Philosophy, Caltech; Co-author, Cool

Quartz's Law of The Primacy of Feeling

In 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.

Quartz's 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.

colin__blakemore's picture
Chief Executive, Medical Research Council;Waynflete Professor of Physiology, University of Oxford

Blakemore's First Law

People 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.

Author of Cybernetics of the Sacred) and Video Mind, Earth Mind

Once the mind is freed to think positionally without orientation, a logic of relationships naturally ensues.

anton_zeilinger's picture
Nobel laureate (2022 - Physics); Physicist, University of Vienna; Scientific Director, Institute of Quantum Optics and Quantum Information; President, Austrian Academy of Sciences; Author, Dance of the Photons: From Einstein to Quantum Teleportation

Zeilinger's Fundamental Law

There is no Fundamental Law.

Zeilinger's Law on Reality, Space and Time

Information is the most Fundamental Concept, it's all we have.

rupert_sheldrake's picture
biologist and author

The "laws" of nature are more like habits.

Sheldrake's Reformulation of a Traditional Theory of Vision

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.

clifford_pickover's picture
Author, The Math Book, The Physics Book, and The Medical Book trilogy

I am having difficulty formulating a law to give you. Through the millennia, even the most brilliant minds rarely generated great and profound "laws." Probably every "law" ever made had been broken or will crumble after a time. Perhaps Edge is asking the wrong question. Knowledge moves in an ever-expanding, upward-pointing funnel. From the rim, we look down and see previous knowledge from a new perspective as new theories are formed. Today's conjectures mutate, new theories evolve, and yesterday's impossibilities become part of everyday life.

adam_bly's picture
Head of Advanced Analytics, Spotify

Bly's First Law

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.

steven_levy's picture
Senior Editor for Newsweek

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.

nancy_etcoff's picture
Psychologist and faculty member of the Harvard Medical School and of Harvard University

Be wary of scientific dualisms.

Approach them with caution, the way demolition experts regard bombs, likely to explode, in this case into unproductive argument and the obscuring of truth. "Opposing forces" are the scientific version of the original dualism—good vs evil and darkness vs. light. Instead, of acting in opposition, in nature two forces are likely to dependent, interactive and interwoven; sometimes they are merely two names for the same thing. 

For example:

Brain vs Mind
Mind vs Body
Emotion vs Reason
Nature vs Nurture
Us vs Them

Seek unity.

Remember always that it is easy to be in possession of some facts, extraordinarily difficult to know the truth.

dave_winer's picture
Blogging and RSS Software Pioneer; Editor, Scripting News Weblog

Productive 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.

howard_lee_morgan's picture
Vice Chairman of idealab! the Pasadena

Morgan's First Law

To a first approximation, no deals close. 

Morgan's Second Law

To a first approximation all appointments are canceled.

Morgan's Third Law

Events of probability zero happen—they are the ones that change the world.

These laws are actually the engineering approximations to life.

ray_kurzweil's picture
Principal Developer of the first omni-font optical character recognition

Evolution applies positive feedback in that the more capable methods resulting from one stage of evolutionary progress are used to create the next stage. Each epoch of evolution has progressed more rapidly by building on the products of the previous stage.

Evolution works through indirection: evolution created humans, humans created technology, humans are now working with increasingly advanced technology to create new generations of technology. As a result, the rate of progress of an evolutionary process increases exponentially over time.

Over time, the "order" of the information embedded in the evolutionary process (i.e., the measure of how well the information fits a purpose, which in evolution is survival) increases.

A comment on the nature of order.

The concept of the "order" of information is important here, as it is not the same as the opposite of disorder. If disorder represents a random sequence of events, then the opposite of disorder should imply "not random." Information is a sequence of data that is meaningful in a process, such as the DNA code of an organism, or the bits in a computer program. Noise, on the other hand, is a random sequence. Neither noise nor information is predictable. Noise is inherently unpredictable, but carries no information. Information, however, is also unpredictable. If we can predict future data from past data, then that future data stops being information. We might consider an alternating pattern ("0101010. . . .") to be orderly, but it carries no information (beyond the first couple of bits).

Thus orderliness does not constitute order because order requires information. However, order goes beyond mere information. A recording of radiation levels from space represents information, but if we double the size of this data file, we have increased the amount of data, but we have not achieved a deeper level of order.

Order is information that fits a purpose. The measure of order is the measure of how well the information fits the purpose. In the evolution of life-forms, the purpose is to survive. In an evolutionary algorithm (a computer program that simulates evolution to solve a problem) applied to, say, investing in the stock market, the purpose is to make money. Simply having more information does not necessarily result in a better fit. A superior solution for a purpose may very well involve less data.

The concept of "complexity" is often used to describe the nature of the information created by an evolutionary process. Complexity is a close fit to the concept of order that I am describing, but is also not sufficient. Sometimes, a deeper order—a better fit to a purpose—is achieved through simplification rather than further increases in complexity. For example, a new theory that ties together apparently disparate ideas into one broader more coherent theory reduces complexity but nonetheless may increase the "order for a purpose" that I am describing. Indeed, achieving simpler theories is a driving force in science. Evolution has shown, however, that the general trend towards greater order does generally result in greater complexity.

Thus improving a solution to a problem—which may increase or decrease complexity—increases order. Now that just leaves the issue of defining the problem. Indeed, the key to an evolution algorithm (and to biological and technological evolution) is exactly this: defining the problem. 

We may note that this aspect of "Kurzweil’s Law" (the law of accelerating returns) appears to contradict the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which implies that entropy (randomness in a closed system) cannot decrease, and, therefore, generally increases. However, the law of accelerating returns pertains to evolution, and evolution is not a closed system. It takes place amidst great chaos, and indeed depends on the disorder in its midst, from which it draws its options for diversity. And from these options, an evolutionary process continually prunes its choices to create ever greater order. Even a crisis, such as the periodic large asteroids that have crashed into the Earth, although increasing chaos temporarily, end up increasing—deepening—the order created by an evolutionary process.

• A primary reason that evolution—of life-forms or of technology—speeds up is that it builds on its own increasing order, with ever more sophisticated means of recording and manipulating information. Innovations created by evolution encourage and enable faster evolution. In the case of the evolution of life forms, the most notable early example is DNA, which provides a recorded and protected transcription of life’s design from which to launch further experiments. In the case of the evolution of technology, ever improving human methods of recording information have fostered further technology. The first computers were designed on paper and assembled by hand. Today, they are designed on computer workstations with the computers themselves working out many details of the next generation’s design, and are then produced in fully-automated factories with human guidance but limited direct intervention. 

• The evolutionary process of technology seeks to improve capabilities in an exponential fashion. Innovators seek to improve things by multiples. Innovation is multiplicative, not additive. Technology, like any evolutionary process, builds on itself. This aspect will continue to accelerate when the technology itself takes full control of its own progression. 

• We can thus conclude the following with regard to the evolution of life-forms, and of technology: the law of accelerating returns as applied to an evolutionary process: An evolutionary process is not a closed system; therefore, evolution draws upon the chaos in the larger system in which it takes place for its options for diversity; and evolution builds on its own increasing order. Therefore, in an evolutionary process, order increases exponentially.

• A correlate of the above observation is that the "returns" of an evolutionary process (e.g., the speed, cost-effectiveness, or overall "power" of a process) increase exponentially over time. We see this in Moore’s law, in which each new generation of computer chip (now spaced about two years apart) provides twice as many components, each of which operates substantially faster (because of the smaller distances required for the electrons to travel, and other innovations). This exponential growth in the power and price-performance of information-based technologies—now roughly doubling every year—is not limited to computers, but is true for a wide range of technologies, measured many different ways. 

• In another positive feedback loop, as a particular evolutionary process (e.g., computation) becomes more effective (e.g., cost effective), greater resources are deployed towards the further progress of that process. This results in a second level of exponential growth (i.e., the rate of exponential growth itself grows exponentially). For example, it took three years to double the price-performance of computation at the beginning of the twentieth century, two years around 1950, and is now doubling about once a year. Not only is each chip doubling in power each year for the same unit cost, but the number of chips being manufactured is growing exponentially. 

• Biological evolution is one such evolutionary process. Indeed it is the quintessential evolutionary process. It took place in a completely open system (as opposed to the artificial constraints in an evolutionary algorithm). Thus many levels of the system evolved at the same time. 

• Technological evolution is another such evolutionary process. Indeed, the emergence of the first technology-creating species resulted in the new evolutionary process of technology. Therefore, technological evolution is an outgrowth of—and a continuation of—biological evolution. Early stages of humanoid created technology were barely faster than the biological evolution that created our species. Homo sapiens evolved in a few hundred thousand years. Early stages of technology—the wheel, fire, stone tools—took tens of thousands of years to evolve and be widely deployed. A thousand years ago, a paradigm shift such as the printing press, took on the order of a century to be widely deployed. Today, major paradigm shifts, such as cell phones and the world wide web were widely adopted in only a few years time. 

• A specific paradigm (a method or approach to solving a problem, e.g., shrinking transistors on an integrated circuit as an approach to making more powerful computers) provides exponential growth until the method exhausts its potential. When this happens, a paradigm shift (a fundamental change in the approach) occurs, which enables exponential growth to continue. 

• Each paradigm follows an "S-curve," which consists of slow growth (the early phase of exponential growth), followed by rapid growth (the late, explosive phase of exponential growth), followed by a leveling off as the particular paradigm matures. 

• During this third or maturing phase in the life cycle of a paradigm, pressure builds for the next paradigm shift, and research dollars are invested to create the next paradigm. We can see this in the enormous investments being made today in the next computing paradigm—three-dimensional molecular computing—despite the fact that we still have at least a decade left for the paradigm of shrinking transistors on a flat integrated circuit using photolithography (Moore’s Law). Generally, by the time a paradigm approaches its asymptote (limit) in price-performance, the next technical paradigm is already working in niche applications. For example, engineers were shrinking vacuum tubes in the 1950s to provide greater price-performance for computers, and reached a point where it was no longer feasible to shrink tubes and maintain a vacuum. At this point, around 1960, transistors had already achieved a strong niche market in portable radios. 

• When a paradigm shift occurs for a particular type of technology, the process begins a new S-curve. 

• Thus the acceleration of the overall evolutionary process proceeds as a sequence of S-curves, and the overall exponential growth consists of this cascade of S-curves. 

• The resources underlying the exponential growth of an evolutionary process are relatively unbounded.

• One resource is the (ever-growing) order of the evolutionary process itself. Each stage of evolution provides more powerful tools for the next. In biological evolution, the advent of DNA allowed more powerful and faster evolutionary "experiments." Later, setting the "designs" of animal body plans during the Cambrian explosion allowed rapid evolutionary development of other body organs, such as the brain. Or to take a more recent example, the advent of computer-assisted design tools allows rapid development of the next generation of computers.

• The other required resource is the "chaos" of the environment in which the evolutionary process takes place and which provides the options for further diversity. In biological evolution, diversity enters the process in the form of mutations and ever- changing environmental conditions. In technological evolution, human ingenuity combined with ever-changing market conditions keep the process of innovation going. 

• If we apply these principles at the highest level of evolution on Earth, the first step, the creation of cells, introduced the paradigm of biology. The subsequent emergence of DNA provided a digital method to record the results of evolutionary experiments. Then, the evolution of a species that combined rational thought with an opposable appendage (the thumb) caused a fundamental paradigm shift from biology to technology. The upcoming primary paradigm shift will be from biological thinking to a hybrid combining biological and nonbiological thinking. This hybrid will include "biologically inspired" processes resulting from the reverse engineering of biological brains. 

• If we examine the timing of these steps, we see that the process has continuously accelerated. The evolution of life forms required billions of years for the first steps (e.g., primitive cells); later on progress accelerated. During the Cambrian explosion, major paradigm shifts took only tens of millions of years. Later on, Humanoids developed over a period of millions of years, and Homo sapiens over a period of only hundreds of thousands of years. 

• With the advent of a technology-creating species, the exponential pace became too fast for evolution through DNA-guided protein synthesis and moved on to human-created technology. Technology goes beyond mere tool making; it is a process of creating ever more powerful technology using the tools from the previous round of innovation, and is, thereby, an evolutionary process. As I noted, the first technological took tens of thousands of years. For people living in this era, there was little noticeable technological change in even a thousand years. By 1000 AD, progress was much faster and a paradigm shift required only a century or two. In the nineteenth century, we saw more technological change than in the nine centuries preceding it. Then in the first twenty years of the twentieth century, we saw more advancement than in all of the nineteenth century. Now, paradigm shifts occur in only a few years time. 

• The paradigm shift rate (i.e., the overall rate of technical progress) is currently doubling (approximately) every decade; that is, paradigm shift times are halving every decade (and the rate of acceleration is itself growing exponentially). So, the technological progress in the twenty-first century will be equivalent to what would require (in the linear view) on the order of 200 centuries. In contrast, the twentieth century saw only about 20 years of progress (again at today’s rate of progress) since we have been speeding up to current rates. So the twenty-first century will see about a thousand times greater technological change than its predecessor.

neil_gershenfeld's picture
Physicist, Director, MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms; Co-author, Designing Reality

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, just abandoned.

Gershenfeld's Goal

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.

lee_smolin's picture
Physicist, Perimeter Institute; Author, Einstein's Unfinished Revolution

Smolin's First Law

Genuine advances are rarely made by accident; in fact, the outcome of a scientific investigation is usually less dramatic than originally hoped for. Therefore, if you want to do something really significant in science, you must aim high and you must take genuine risks.

Smolin's Second Law

In every period and every community there is something that everybody believes, but cannot justify. If you want to understand anything, you have to start by ignoring what everyone believes, and thinking for yourself.

This was advice given to me by my father when I was a child. Feynman said something very similar: "Science is the organized skepticism in the reliability of expert opinion."

Smolin's Third Law

Time does exist.

Smolin's Zeroth Law

A measure of our ignorance about nature is the extent to which our theories depend on background structures, which are entities necessary to define the quantities in the theory, that do not themselves refer to anything which evolves dynamically in time. Our understanding can always be deepened by bringing such fixed, background structures into the domain of dynamical law. By doing so, we convert absolute properties, defined with respect to background structures, into relational properties, defined in terms of relationships among dynamical degrees of freedom.

izumi_aizu's picture
Executive Director, Institute for HyperNetwork Society; Senior Research Fellow & Professor, Institute for InfoSocinomics, Tama University, Japan

Aizu's First Law

Using is believing.

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.

Aizu's Second Law

What 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.

al_seckel's picture
Cognitive neuroscientist; Author, Optical Illusions: The Science of Visual Perception

Seckel's First Law

Visual Perception is Essentially an Ambiguity Solving Process.

Most of us take vision for granted. After all, it comes to us so easily. With normal vision we are able to navigate quickly and efficiently through a visually rich three-dimensional world of light, shading, texture, and color—a complex world in motion, with objects of different sizes at differing distances. Looking about we have a definite sense of the "real world".

In fact, our visual system is so successful at building an accurate representation of the real world (our perception) that most of us do not realize what a difficult task our brain is performing. Without conscious thought, our visual system gathers and interprets complex information, providing us with a seamless perception of our environment. The complexities of how we perceive are cleverly concealed by a successful visual system.

It might seem reasonable for us to assume that there is a one-to-one mapping between the real world and what you perceive—that your visual system "sees" the retinal image, in much the way that a digital camera records what it "sees."

Although it seems like a useful analogy, there is no real comparison between our visual system and a camera beyond a strictly surface level. Furthermore, this comparison trivializes the accomplishments of our visual system. This is because a camera records incoming information, but our brain interprets incoming information. Furthermore, it feels to us as if a photograph reproduces a three-dimensional world, but it doesn't. It onlysuggests one. The same visual system that interprets the world around us also interprets the photograph to make it appear as a three-dimensional scene.

Our perceptions are not always perfect. Sometimes our brain will interpret a static image on the retina in more than one way. A skeleton cube, known as a Necker cube, is a classic example of a single image that is interpreted in more than one way. If you fixate on this cube for any length of time, it will spontaneously reverse in depth, even though the image on the retina remains constant. Our brain interprets this image differently because of conflicting depth cues.

The great 19th century German physicist and physiologist Hermann Von Helmholtz first discovered the basic problem of perception over one hundred years ago. He correctly reasoned that the visual information from our world that is projected onto the back of the retina is spatially ambiguous. Helmholtz reasoned that there can be an infinite variety of shapes that can give rise to the same retinal image, as long as they subtend the same visual angle to the eye.

However, the concept of visual ambiguity is far deeper than what Helmholtz originally proposed, because it turns out that any one aspect of visual information, such as brightness, color, motion, etc, could have arisen from infinitely many different conditions. It is very hard to appreciate this fact at first, because what we perceive in a normal viewing environment is not at all ambiguous.

If all visual stimuli are inherently ambiguous, how does our visual/perceptual system discard the infinite variety of possible conditions to settle on the correct interpretation almost all the time, and in such a quick and efficient manner? The problem basically stated is, how does the visual system "retrieve" all of the visual information about the 3D world from the very limited information contained in the 2D retinal image? This is a basic and central question of perception.

Studying the visual system only at one level will never result in a full understanding of visual perception. Many of the underlying mechanisms that mediate vision may be even "messier" than previously thought, with cross-feedback from more than one level of visual processing contributing to processing at another level. UCSD vision scientist V.S. Ramachandran is correct when he believes that it is time to "open the black box in order to study the responses of nerve cells," but he is also probably right to promote his Utilitarian Theory of Perception, which argues for a clever "bag of tricks" that the human visual system has evolved over millions of years of evolution to resolve the inherent ambiguities in the visual image. Visual perception is largely an ambiguity-solving process.

The task of vision scientists, therefore, is to uncover these hidden and underlying constraints, rather than to attribute to the visual system a degree of simplicity that it simply does not possess.

Seckel's Second Law

Our Visual/Perceptual System is Highly Constrained.

Sometimes our perceptions are wrong. Often these errors have been classified as illusions, dismissed by many as failures of the visual system, quirky exceptions to normal vision.

If illusions are not failures of the visual system, then, what are they? After all, we do categorize a number of different perceptual experiences as "illusions". What makes them fundamentally different than those we perceive as normal?

One difference is a noticeable split between your perception and conception. With an illusion, your perception is fooled but your conception is correct—you're seeing something wrong (your mis perception), but youknow it's wrong (your correct conception). Initially, your conception may be fooled too, but at that point you are unaware that you are encountering an illusion. It is only when your conception is at odds with your perception that you are aware that you have encountered an illusion.

Furthermore, in almost all pictorial illusions (where the meaning of the image is not ambiguous), your perceptions will continue to be fooled, even though your conception is fine, no matter how many times you view the illusion. It does not matter how old you are, how smart you are, how cultured you are, or how artistic you are, you will continue to be fooled by these illusions over and over again. In fact, you cannot "undo" your incorrect perceptions, even with extended experiences, worldly knowledge, or training. It is more important for your visual system to adhere to these constraints than to violate them because it has encountered something unusual, inconsistent, or paradoxical. This indicates that your visual/perceptual system is highly constrained on how it interprets the world.

It is not my intention to cause the reader to think that visual perception is unreliable and untrustworthy. This would be a mistake as, for the most part, our perceptions of the world are veridical. However, how we perceive the world is not a mirror image of reality, but an actively and intelligently constructed one that allows us to have the best chances for survival in a complicated environment.

jamshed_bharucha's picture
Psychologist; President Emeritus, Cooper Union

To understand what people are thinking and feeling, look beyond what they say. Language does not capture the full range and grain of thought and experience, and its unique power enables us as easily to mask our thoughts and feelings as it does to express them.

gino_segre's picture
Professor of Physics & Astronomy, University of Pennsylvania; Author, The Pope of Physics: Enrico Fermi and the Birth of the Atomic Age

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.

Segre’s Second Law

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.

randolph_nesse's picture
Research Professor of Life Sciences, Director (2014-2019), Center for Evolution and Medicine, Arizona State University; Author, Good Reasons for Bad Feelings

Aversive 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 are regulated.

Nesse's First Law

An 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 catastrophe. 

Nesse's Second Law

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.

Many 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 responses.

rudy_rucker's picture
Mathematician; Computer Scientist; Cyberpunk Pioneer; Novelist, Infinity and the Mind, Postsingular, and (with Bruce Sterling) Transreal Cyberpunk.

Most biological, social, and psychological systems are based on interactions between an activator and an inhibitor. The patterns which emerge depend upon the relative rates at which the activator and inhibitor spread. Three main cases occur, depending on whether the activator's diffusion rate is much less than, roughly equal to, or greater than the rate at which the inhibition spreads. In these three cases we observe, respectively, isolated patches like zebra stripes or leopard spots, moving complex patterns like Belusov-Zhabontinsky scrolls, or seething chaos. Applying this to the activator-inhibitor patterns in the human brain, if you inhibit new thoughts, you are left with a few highly stimulated patches: obsessions and fixed ideas. If you manage to create new thought associations at about the same rate you inhibit them, you develop creative complexity. And too high a rate of activation leads to unproductive mania. Exercise: apply this notion to spread of good and bad news in society.

samuel_barondes's picture
Professor of Neurobiology and Psychiatry, UCSF; Author, Making Sense of People

Barondes' First Law

Science abhors contradictions; scientist's minds are replete with them.

Barondes' Second Law

Self-understanding is inherently inaccurate because most of our knowledge comes from specific behavioral experiences that are often inconsistent; and our mechanisms of learning are designed to store memories whether or or not their implications are formally contradictory.

henry_warwick's picture
artist, composer, and scientist

Warwick's First Law

Art 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 way.

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.

Warwick's Second Law

Art tells the jokes that science insists on explaining.

robert_sapolsky's picture
Neuroscientist, Stanford University; Author, Behave

Sapolsky's First Law

Think logically, but orthogonally.

Sapolsky's Second Law

It's okay to think about nonsense, as long as you don't believe in it.

Sapolsky's Third Law

Often, the biggest impediment to scientific progress is not what we don't know, but what we know.

delta_willis's picture
Paleontologist; Author, Hominid Gang

There are three sides to every story.

The Greek letter delta is a symbol for change in formulas. This triangle can be taken personally to create a philosophy that can be used as laws. For example, the 3 points of a triangle create a possibility space for change. Two points in a debate provide nothing more than a tyranny of dichotomies, whereas adding a third possibility is always more interesting, and closer to the true complexity of life. This rule of favoring 3s instead of 2s also works in any design to please the eye, such as three pictures on a wall instead of two. A couple become more interesting when they go beyond their own twosome to create a third focal point, whether a child, a book or a business. As Yale paleontologist Dolf Seilacher put it, Symmetry is boring. The next time you are confronted with only two choices, create a third, and see the possibility space expand.

w_brian_arthur's picture
External Professor, Santa Fe Institute; Visiting Researcher, Intelligent Systems Lab, PARC; Inaugural Recipient, Lagrange Prize; Author, The Nature of Technology

Arthur's First Law

High-tech markets are dominated 70-80% by a single player—product, company, or country.

The reason: Such markets are subject to increasing returns or self-reinforcing mechanisms. Therefore an initial advantage—often bestowed by chance—leads to increasing advantage and eventually heavy market domination. (Absent government intervention, of course).

Arthur's Second Law

As technology advances it becomes ever more biological.

We are leaving an age of mechanistic, fixed-design technologies, and entering an age of metabolic, self-reorganizing technologies. In this sense, as technology becomes more advanced it becomes more organic—therefore more "biological." Further, as biological mechanisms at the cellular and DNA levels become better understood, they become harnessed and co-opted as technologies. In this century, biology and technology will therefore intertwine.

Arthur's Third Law

The modularization of technologies increases with the extent of the market.

Just as it pays to create a specialized worker if there is sufficient volume of throughput to occupy that specialty, it pays to create a standard prefabricated assembly, or module, if its function recurs in many instances. Modularity therefore is to a technological economy what the division of labor is to a manufacturing one—it increases as the economy expands.

simon_baron_cohen's picture
Professor of Developmental Psychopathology, University of Cambridge; Fellow, Trinity College, Cambridge; Director, Autism Research Centre, Cambridge; Author, The Pattern Seekers

In 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 females.

Baron-Cohen's Law of Autism

What 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.

gerald_holton's picture
Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Professor of the History of Science, Emeritus, Harvard University; Author, Einstein for the 21st Century: His Legacy in Science, Art, and Modern Culture

Holton's First Law

The 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

The 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

In 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.

paul_j_steinhardt's picture
Albert Einstein Professor in Science, Departments of Physics and Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University; Coauthor, Endless Universe

Good science creates two challenging puzzles for each puzzle it resolves.

Corollary 1

Contrary to some prognostications, science is not coming to an end. Good science is growing every day.

Corollary 2

The Anthropic Principle does not resolve any puzzles and creates no new ones. Hence, ...

(Exercise left for the reader—fill in the blank. For hint, see Steinhardt's Law.)

daniel_c_dennett's picture
Philosopher; Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Co-Director, Center for Cognitive Studies, Tufts University; Author, From Bacteria to Bach and Back

is an extension of Schank's Law

On any important topic, we tend to have a dim idea of what we hope to be true, and when an author writes the words we want to read, we tend to fall for it, no matter how shoddy the arguments. Needy readers have an asymptote at illiteracy; if a text doesn't say the one thing they need to read, it might as well be in a foreign language. To be open-minded, you have to recognize, and counteract, your own doxastic hungers.

christine_finn's picture
Archaeologist; Journalist; Author, Artifacts, Past Poetic

Uncertainty is the final test of innovation.

That 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.

niels_diffrient's picture
Industrial designer

The improvements derived from technological advances have an equal and opposite effect on culture and the environment magnified by time and scale.

eduardo_punset's picture
Scientist; Spanish Television Presenter; Author, The Happiness Trip

Punset's First Law

If fully conscious, don´t trust your brain.

The brain is very good at managing automated, unconscious processes such as breathing, digesting or transpiring. But so far neuroscience has not produced the slightest evidence that flipping a coin to decide on important matters such as marriage, taking up a job, or traveling is any worst than a formal, conscious, discriminatory decision made by the brain. This should not surprise anybody. If we leave aside the individual brain, and look at the evolution of social primates as a whole, few would question that the history of civilization equals the history of successive and cumulative automatization in fields such as agriculture, industry or information. Why should it be different for the individual brain?

Punset's Second Law

When in doubt, please ask Nature, not people. After all, this is the stuff scientists are made of. 

This Law has to do with Darwinian Theory and Business Practice. There is a huge amount of money to be made by just applying basic science to ordinary business. In the Universe as a whole—according to Physics—95% of reality is invisible. Most businessmen, however, are convinced that 95% of what is going on in their firms, workshops or projects can be seen at first sight. No wonder that it takes on average over three failures for an innovation to succeed.

matt_ridley's picture
Science Writer; Fellow, Royal Society of Literature and the Academy of Medical Sciences; Author,The Evolution of Everything

Ridley's First Law

Science is the discovery of ignorance. It is not a catalog of facts.

Ridley's Second Law

Experience affects an organism largely by switching genes on and off. (Nurture works through nature.)

Ridley's Third Law

Neither the number of base pairs nor the number of genes in an organism's genome bears much if any relation to that organism's size or complexity.

leonard_susskind's picture
Felix Bloch Professor in Theoretical Physics, Stanford; Author, The Theoretical Minimum series

Don't 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 100 percent.

The 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?"

I 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.

art_kleiner's picture
co-author (with Pete Senge et al.) of the best-selling Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, The Dance of Change, and Schools That Learn; and author of Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Priviledge, and Success

Every organization always operates on behalf of the perceived needs and priorities of some core group of key people. This purpose will trump every other organizational loyalty, including those to shareholders, employees, customers, and other constituents.

stuart_a_kauffman's picture
Professor of Biological Sciences, Physics, Astronomy, University of Calgary; Author, Reinventing the Sacred

The 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 so.

terrence_j_sejnowski's picture
Computational Neuroscientist; Francis Crick Professor, the Salk Institute; Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Co-author (with Patricia Churchland), The Computational Brain

For every important function that a cell needs to carry out Nature has created a gadget to make it more efficient.

(Gadgets are macromolecular complexes made from proteins, RNA, and DNA and often have hundreds of parts.)

haim_harari's picture
Physicist, former President, Weizmann Institute of Science; Author, A View from the Eye of the Storm

The faster Science and Technology advance—the more important it is to teach and to learn the basics of Math and Science and the less important it is to teach and to learn the latest developments.

Harari’s Law of Particle Physics

The electron, its replicas (muon and tau), the quarks and the neutrinos are all composed of the same set of more fundamental objects, which will become the newly accepted basic building blocks of all of nature.

Harari’s Law of Scientific Fads and Bandwagons

Every scientific discovery is first made by one person or by a few people. At the time of the discovery, they are the only ones aware of it. It follows logically that democratic votes, public opinion polls, majority views of scientists and scientific fads do not necessarily represent scientific truth. Only correct experimental results do.

sherry_turkle's picture
Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology, MIT; Internet Culture Researcher; Author, The Empathy Diaries

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 ourselves.

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 Gaze

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 different thing.

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.

mark_hurst's picture
Founder of Internet consulting firm Creative Good

Any unbounded bitstream tends to irrelevance.

Bits are so easy to create, copy, and send that without some filtering process, the worth of the entire bitstream decays
rapidly. A good example is the e-mail inbox. Many e-mail users have no discipline about deleting or filtering their mail, and thus the bits that flow in—spam and legitimate mail together—clutter the inbox to an extent that the worth of the inbox overall tends to zero.

Stated another way, the worth of a bitstream is proportional to the accuracy and usage of the filters and meta-bits applied to the bitstream.

jordan_pollack's picture
Professor and Chairman of Computer Science, Brandeis University

Progress requires the Pareto Optimization of Competitiveness and Informativeness

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.

The Pollack

A measurement of innovation rate.

There is no measure of the rate at which processes like art, evolution, companies, and computer programs innovate.

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 Pinball Machines.

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 mechanical parts?

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.

leo_m_chalupa's picture
Neurobiologist; Professor of Pharmacology and Physiology, George Washington University

Chalupa's First Law

No matter how good or bad things are at any given point in time (in science as in life), remember that "this too shall pass."

This is key for attaining longevity in this business... people who "violate" or are unaware of this rule are doomed to failure. In other words, it is vitally important how one deals with success and failure in doing cutting edge science. Failure is the rule even among the most successful working scientists (since 90% of grant application are typically rejected and the top journals reject even a higher percentage); and with respect to success, in all but a few exceptional cases, institutional memory is exceedingly fleeting (i.e., yesterday's superstars are unrecognized by today's grad students, postdocs, junior faculty). So you've got to keep pitching if you want to stay in the science game.

Chalupa's Second Law

Don't underestimate the importance of fashion in doing science.

Another key for success in science...if you're too far ahead of the herd (with very few exception) you're not going to get funded by NIH/NSF or published in the premier journals. This is in spite of the fact that they claim that they fund innovative research. Anyone who has spend as much time on grant review committees as I have will recognize the power of this rule. In other words, there is a price to pay for originality and every working scientist knows this is the case.

george_lakoff's picture
Fellow at The Rockridge Institute; Author, The Little Blue Book

Lakoff's First Law

Frames trump facts.

All of our concepts are organized into conceptual structures called "frames" (which may include images and metaphors) and all words are defined relative to those frames. Conventional frames are pretty much fixed in the neural structures of our brains. In order for a fact to be comprehended, it must fit the relevant frames. If the facts contradict the frames, the frames, being fixed in the brain, will be kept and the facts ignored.

We see this in politics every day. Consider the expression "tax relief" which the White House introduced into common use on the day of George W. Bush's inauguration. A "relief" frame has an affliction, an afflicted party, a reliever who removes the affliction and is thereby a hero, and in the frame anyone who tries to stop the reliever from administering the relief is a bad guy, a villain. "Tax relief" imposes the additional metaphor that Taxation Is an Affliction, with the entailments that the president is a hero for attempting to remove this affliction and the Democrats are bad guys for opposing him. This frame trumps many facts: Most people wind up paying more in local taxes, payments for services cut, and debt servicing as a result of the Bush's tax cuts.

There is of course another way to think about taxes: Taxes are what you pay to live in America—to have democracy, opportunity, government services, and the vast infrastructure build by previous taxpayers—the highways, the internet, the schools, scientific research, the court system, etc. Taxes are membership fees used to maintain and expand services and the infrastructure. But however true this may be, it is not yet an established frame inscribed in the synapses of our brains.

This has an important consequence. Political liberals have inherited an assumption from the Enlightenment, that The facts will set us free, that if the public is just given the facts, they will, being rational beings, reach the right conclusion. It is simply false. It violates Lakoff's Law.

Lakoff's Second Law

Voters vote their identities, not their self-interest.

Because of the way they frame the world, voters vote in a way that best accords with their identities and not in accord with their self-interest. That is why it is of no use for Democrats to keep pointing out that Bush's tax cuts go to the top 1 percent, not to most voters. If they identify with Bush because they share his culture and his world view, they will vote against their self-interest.

We saw this in California in the recall election, when, for example, union members overwhelming favored Gray Davis' policies as being better for them, yet voted for Schwarzenegger.

judith_rich_harris's picture
Independent Investigator and Theoretician; Author, The Nurture Assumption; No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality

Harris's First Law

Good 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

Bad things go together, too.

Harris's Third Law

People think they know why good things go together, and why bad things go together, but they are wrong.

k_eric_drexler's picture
Researcher; Policy Advocate; Author, Engines of Creation

Drexler's First Law

Physical technology evolves toward limits set by physical law.

Drexler's Second Law

A technology approaching the limits set by physical law must build with atomic precision.

dylan_evans's picture
Founder and CEO of Projection Point; Author, The Utopia Experiment

Evans' First Law

For every intelligent agent, there is a Turing-machine that provides an exhaustive description of its mind.

Evans' Second Law

When 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 in hardware.

stuart_hameroff's picture
Professor, Anesthesiology and Psychology Associate Director, Center for Consciousness Studies The University of Arizona Tucson, Arizona

The sub-conscious mind is to consciousness what the quantum world is to the classical world.

The vast majority of brain activity is non-conscious; consciousness is "the tip of an iceberg" of neural activity. Yet the threshold for transition from pre-, non-, or sub-conscious processes into conscious awareness is unknown. The sub-conscious mind as revealed in dreams has been described by Matte Blanco as a place where "paradox reigns, and opposites merge to sameness". Reality is seemingly described by two separate sets of laws. In our everyday classical world, Newton's laws and Maxwell's equations accurately portray reality. However at small scales, the bizarre laws of quantum mechanics rule: particles are distorted in space and time (uncertainty), exist in multiple states or locations simultaneously (superposition) and remain connected in opposite states over distance (nonlocal entanglement). In the quantum world "paradox reigns and opposites merge to sameness".

The boundary, or threshold between the quantum and classical worlds (i.e. quantum state reduction, collapse of the wave function, measurement, decoherence) remains mysterious. Early quantum theorists attributed reduction/collapse to observation: "consciousness collapses the wave function". Modern physics attributes reduction/collapse to any interaction with the classical environment ("decoherence"). Neither solves the problem of isolated quantum superpositions which are nonetheless useful in quantum computation.

In quantum computation, information may be represented as isolated superpositions (e.g. as quantum bits—"qubits"—of both 1 AND 0) which interact/compute by nonlocal entanglement, and eventually reduce/collapse to classical solutions.

Based on a 1989 suggestion by Sir Roger Penrose, he and I have put forth a specific model of consciousness involving quantum computation in microtubules within the brain's neurons. Superpositions of multiple possible pre-/sub-conscious perceptions or choices reach threshold for self-collapse (by Roger's "objective reduction" due to properties of fundamental spacetime geometry), and select/reduce to particular classical perceptions or choices. Each reduction is a conscious event, a series of which gives a "stream of consciousness".

The main scientific objection to our proposal has been that the brain is too warm for quantum computation which in the technological realm seems to require ultra cold temperatures to avoid thermal decoherence. However recent evidence shows that quantum processes in biological molecules are enhanced by increased temperature. Evolution has had billion of years to solve the problem of decoherence. Consciousness may be a particular form of quantum state reduction: a process on the edge between the quantum and classical worlds.

edward_o_laumann's picture
Distinguished Service Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago

Laumann's First Proposition

Moderation in levels of partnered sex activity is the mode for the bulk of humankind and is consistent with high levels of subjective well-being.

Laumann's Second Proposition

Low levels of subjective sexual well-being is associated with poor physical, emotional, and mental health.

These propositions (they are empirical associations and not established as causal) are based on my extensive international work on human sexuality. They are based on surveys I have conducted in the United States and China as well as the Pfizer-funded Global Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Behavior (N = 27,500) which interviewed equal numbers of men and women 40 to 80 years old in 29 countries world wide. The real question is the nature of the causal link between these variables. 

ivan_amato's picture
Freelance print and radio Writer; Editor of the Pathways of Discovery essay series for Science Magazine

Amato's First Law of Awe

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

Transcending our 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.)

beatrice_golomb's picture
Professor of Medicine at UCSD

Everything in biology is more complicated than you think it is, even taking into account Golomb's Law.

kai_krause's picture
Software Pioneer; Philosopher; Author, A Realtime Literature Explorer

I think....

Kai's Exactness Dilemma

93.8127 % of all statistics are useless.

Kai's Example Dilemma

A good analogy is like a diagonal frog.

allan_snyder's picture
Director of The Centre for the Minds

Snyder's First Law

The most creative science is wrong, but the deception ultimately leads to the benefit of mankind. Think Freud!

Snyder's Second Law

Everyone steals ideas from everyone else, but they do so unconsciously. This has evolved for our very survival. It maximizes the innovative power of society.

david_berreby's picture
Journalist; Author, Us and Them

Berreby's First Law

Human kinds exist only in human minds.

Human differences and human similarities are infinite, therefore any assortment of people can be grouped together according to a shared trait or divided according to unshared traits. Our borders of race, ethnicity, nation, religion, class etc. are not, then, facts about the world. They are facts about belief. We should look at minds, not kinds, if we want to understand this phenomenon.

Berreby's Second Law

Science which seems to confirm human-kind beliefs is always welcome; science that undermines human-kind belief is always unpopular.

To put it more cynically, if your work lets people believe there are "Jewish genes'" (never mind that the same genes are found in Palestinians) or that criminals have different kinds of brains from regular people (never mind that regular people get arrested all the time), or that your ancestors 5,000 years ago lived in the same neck of the woods as you (never mind the whereabouts of all your other ancestors), well then, good press will be yours. On the other hand, if your work shows how thoroughly perceptions of race, ethnicity, and other traits change with circumstances, well, good luck. Common sense will defend itself against science.

charles_simonyi's picture
Software Engineer, Computer Scientist, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist

Simonyi's Law of Guaranteed Evolution

Anything that can be done, could be done "meta".

gregory_benford's picture
Emeritus Professor of Physics and Astronomy, UC-Irvine; Novelist, The Berlin Project

Any technology that does not appear magical is insufficiently advanced.

steve_lohr's picture
Senior Writer and Technology Reporter, The New York Times; Author, Data-ism

The future is merely the past with a twist—and better tools.

paul_w_ewald's picture
Professor of Biology, Amherst College; Author, Plague Time

Ewald's First Law

The defining characteristic of science—the one that gives sciences its extraordinary explanatory power—is the objective use of evidence to distinguish between alternative guesses.

Corollary 1

Most of religion is antithetical to science.

Corollary 2

Much of Western Medicine is antithetical to science.
Corollary 3

Quite a bit of Science is antithetical to science.

Ewald's Second Law

When the practice of medicine finally obtains a balanced perspective, Medicine and Evolutionary Medicine will be one and the same.

lisa_randall's picture
Physicist, Harvard University; Author, Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs

Randall's First Law

Non-existence "theorems", 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 research

Randall's Second Law

Studies confirming Baron-Cohen's First Law will always reflect the bias of the investigator.

gerd_gigerenzer's picture
Psychologist; Director, Harding Center for Risk Literacy, Max Planck Institute for Human Development; Author, How to Stay Smart in a Smart World

The world cannot function without partially ignorant people.

The ideal of omniscience fuels the many disciplines and theories that envision godlike humans. Much of cognitive science, and Homo economics as well, assume the superiority of a mind with complete, veridical representations of the outside world that remain stable and available throughout a lifetime. The Law of Indispensable Ignorance, in contrast, says that complete information is neither realistic nor generally desirable. What is desirable are partially (not totally) ignorant people.

Justice is blindfolded; jurors are not supposed to know the criminal record of the defendant; trial consultants hunt for "virgin minds" rather than academics as jurors. Academics in turn review papers anonymously under the veil of ignorance about the authors; trust in experiments demands double-blind procedures; economic fairness encourages sealed bids. The efficient market hypothesis implies that knowledge of future stock prices is impossible, and the Greek skeptics taught their students that they knew nothing.

When watching a pre-recorded football game, we do not want to know the result in advance; knowledge would destroy suspense. The estimated 5 to 10% of children and their fathers who falsely believe that they are related might not lead a happier life by becoming less ignorant; knowledge can destroy families. And few of us would want to know the day we will die; knowledge can destroy hope. 

Zero-intelligence traders who submitted random bids and offers in double auctions were as good as experts. Pedestrians who chose stocks by mere name recognition outperformed market experts and the Fidelity Growth Fund--and even more successfully when they were from abroad and more ignorant of the stock names. Expert ball players made better decisions about where to pass the ball when they had less time. Recreational tennis players who had only heard of half of the professional players in Wimbledon 2003 and simply bet that those they had not heard of would lose predicted the outcomes of the matches better than the official ATP-rankings and the seeding. Adam Smith's invisible hand is a metaphor for how collective wisdom emerges from the uninformed masses. 

We can prove that situations exist in which a group does best by following its most ignorant member rather than the consensus of their informed majority, and we can prove that a heuristic that ignores all information except for one reason will make better predictions than a multiple regression with a dozen reasons. Mnemonists, who have virtually unlimited memory, are swamped by details and find it difficult to abstract and reason, while ordinary people's working memory limitations maximize the ability to detect correlations in the world. Limited memory facilitates acquisition of language, in infants and computers alike; the more complex the species, the longer the period of infancy. 

Theories that respect the Law of Indispensable Ignorance incorporate a more realistic picture of people as being partially ignorant. Omniscience is dispensable.

helena_cronin's picture
Co-director of LSE's Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science; Author, The Ant and the Peacock: Altruism and Sexual Selection from Darwin to Today

Adaptations stockpile information in environments as well as in genes.

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 evolutionary time. 

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?

Cronin's law of adaptations and environments

What 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 adaptive needs. 

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.

steven_pinker's picture
Johnstone Family Professor, Department of Psychology; Harvard University; Author, Rationality

Pinker's First Law

Human intelligence 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 complex ones.

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%.

john_markoff's picture
Pulitzer Prize-winning Reporter, The New York Times; Author, Whole Earth

Technology once trickled down from supercomputers to PCs. Now new computing technology comes to game machines first.


The companies who make the fastest computers are the ones that make things that go under Xmas trees.

antonio_damasio's picture
Professor of Psychology and Neurology, David Dornsife Chair in Neuroscience, USC Dornsife

Damasio's First Law

The body precedes the mind.

Damasio's Second Law

Emotions precede feelings.

Damasio's Third Law

Concepts precede words.

marti_hearst's picture
Computer Scientist, UC Berkeley, School of Information; Author, Search User Interfaces

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.

martin_rees's picture
Former President, The Royal Society; Emeritus Professor of Cosmology & Astrophysics, University of Cambridge; Fellow, Trinity College; Author, From Here to Infinity

As cosmological theories advance, they will draw more concepts from biology.

The part of the universe astronomers can observe is probably only a tiny part of the aftermath of 'our' big bang, which in turn may be one of an infinity of 'bangs' in which the physics may be very different from in ours. To analyze how our own cosmic habitat relates to this ensemble, we'll need to draw on concepts from ecology and evolutionary biology ('fitness landscapes', etc).

So we'll need biological ideas to understand the beginning. But biology may control the far future too. In some 'universes' (ours perhaps among them) life can eventually become pervasive and powerful enough to renders the dynamics of the cosmic future as unpredictable as that of an organism or mind.

brian_eno's picture
Artist; Composer; Recording Producer: U2, Coldplay, Talking Heads, Paul Simon; Recording Artist

Eno's First Law

Culture 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

Science 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.

w_daniel_hillis's picture
Physicist, Computer Scientist, Co-Founder, Applied Invention.; Author, The Pattern on the Stone

The representation becomes the reality.

Or 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.

nicholas_humphrey's picture
Emeritus Professor of Psychology, London School of Economics; Visiting Professor of Philosophy, New College of the Humanities; Senior Member, Darwin College, Cambridge; Author, Soul Dust

In a dangerous world there will always be more people around whose prayers for their own safety have been answered than those whose prayers have not.

[Think about it.]

eric_s_raymond's picture
Observer-participant anthropologist in the Internet hacker culture

Raymond's Law of Software

Given a sufficiently large number of eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.

Raymond's Second Law 

Any sufficiently advanced system of magic would be indistinguishable from a technology.

The 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."

Raymond's 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.

david_gelernter's picture
Computer Scientist, Yale University; Chief Scientist, Mirror Worlds Technologies; Author, America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled our Culture (and ushered in the Obamacrats)

Gelernter's First Law

Computers make people stupid.

Gelernter's Second Law

One expert is worth a million intellectuals. (This law is only approximate.)

Gelernter's Third Law

Scientists know all the right answers and none of the right questions.

joseph_yossi_vardi's picture
chairman of International Technologies

Experts predictions are always correct.


1. A certain portion of all predictions made by experts will be correct. 
2. Human memory is short. 
3. Make lot of forecasts, most of the people will remember the correct ones. 
4. A good hedge: make contradictory predictions with intervals between them.

andrian_kreye's picture
Editor-at-large of the German Daily Newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Munich

When devaluated information makes opinion an added value, the law of literalism is permanently questioned, while remaining the last resort of reason.

The 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.

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.

Belief 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.

Literalism 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.

albert_l_szl_barab_si's picture
Complex Network Scientist; Distinguished Professor and Director of Northeastern University's Center for Complex Network Research; Author, Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do

Program development ends when the program does what you expect it to do—whether it is correct or not.

frank_tipler's picture
Professor of Mathematical Physics, Tulane University; Coauthor (with John Barrow), The Anthropic Cosmological Principle

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?

sara_lippincott's picture
Freelance editor of books on science

God is evolving. So if you're an atheist, you'd better hope that the arrow of time only goes in one direction.

dan_sperber's picture
Social and Cognitive Scientist; CEU Budapest and CNRS Paris; Co-author (with Deirdre Wilson), Meaning and Relevance; and (with Hugo Mercier), The Enigma of Reason

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).

dennis_overbye's picture
Deputy Science Editor of The New York Times

"There's always a faster gun."

alun_anderson's picture
Senior Consultant (and former Editor-in-Chief and Publishing Director), New Scientist; Author, After the Ice

Anderson's First Law (of the Experienced Science Journalist)

Science may be objective but scientists are not.

Anderson's Second Law (of the Experienced Science Journalist)

A scientist who can speak without jargon is either an idiot or a genius.

Anderson's Third Law (on Subjectivity and Objectivity from the Interface of Neuroscience and Computers)

The bigger the brain, the better the stories it fabricates for us.


The more technology gives us the power to record and store everything, the less it captures reality.

laws on subjectivity and objectivity from the interface of Neuroscience and Computers

Anderson's Fourth Law (for ordinary folk)

Science can produce knowledge but it cannot produce wisdom.

Anderson's Fifth Law (Based on An Ancient Zen Saying to An Untutored Monk Seeking Wisdom)

If you can tell the false from the true you are already a scientist.

mike_godwin's picture
Contributing Editor at Reason

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one. 

william_poundstone's picture
Journalist; Author, How Do You Fight a Horse-Sized Duck?: Secrets to Succeeding at Interview Mind Games and Getting the Job You Want; Nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize

Poundstone's First Law

Independent discoverers of great ideas emerge in proportion to the time spent looking for them. The history of science is a fractal, with co-discoverers emerging like crinkles in the Norwegian coastline.

Poundstone's Second Law

The fractal dimension of scientific discovery increases with time. Where people once marveled at the simultaneous discovery of calculus, we now marvel when a Nobel science prize goes to one person.

john_rennie's picture
Editor-In-Chief, Scientific American

Rennie's 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.