An Edge Question: What’s Your Law?

On Falling Behind

When I returned to writing this blog after a bit of a hiatus, I made a faintly uttered promise to myself that I would try to write something once a week.

I am currently struggling heroically with an article on Philip Tetlock’s masterful book Superforecasting: The Art & Science of Prediction, but it will just not submit.

It’ll fall eventually, but in order to keep my promise for this week, I’ve had to resort to pinching material, very nearly wholesale, from the site. You’ll understand in a second when I say a candidate for Varey’s Law could be…

“Intellectual theft can be a good thing.”

The Edge Question, 2004: What’s Your Law?

Every year, John Brockman of poses a question to Edge contributors, and turns the responses into a book. In fact the group of Edge contributors contains some of the smartest people on the planet, mostly (but not exclusively) being made up of scientists from all fields.

In 2004, Brockman’s question was “What’s Your Law?”.

Here are some of the best responses…

Alan Alda

Alda’s First Law of Laws:

All laws are local

Alda’s Second Law of Laws:

A law does not know how local it is

Stewart Brand

Brand’s Law:

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

Rodney Brooks

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.

William H. Calvin

Calvin’s Law of Coherence:

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\[LongDash]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.

Paul Davies

Davies’ First Law:

Time does not pass.

Davies’ Second Law:

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

Richard Dawkins

Dawkins’s Law of Adversarial Debate: When two incompatible beliefs are advocated with equal intensity, the truth does not lie half way between them.

Daniel C. Dennett

Dennett’s Law of Needy Readers:

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.

David Deutsch

Deutsch’s Law:

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.

Daniel Gilbert

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.

W. Daniel Hillis

Hillis’ Law:

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.

Robert Sapolsky

Sapolsky’s Three Laws for Doing Science

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.

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