January 13, 2004
Pool of Laws
Edge.org’s big question this year is: “What’s your law?”
Third culture impresario John Brockman explains:
There is some bit of wisdom, some rule of nature, some law-like pattern, either grand or small, that you’ve noticed in the universe that might as well be named after you. Gordon Moore has one; Johannes Kepler and Michael Faraday, too. So does Murphy.
Since you are so bright, you probably have at least two you can articulate. Send me two laws based on your empirical work and observations you would not mind having tagged with your name. Stick to science and to those scientific areas where you have expertise. Avoid flippancy. Remember, your name will be attached to your law.
Some are cynical (a la Murphy). Many are obtuse. But some are pretty cool.
Polymath Kai Krause:
Kai’s Example Dilemma
A good analogy is like a diagonal frog.
Philosopher 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.
Biologist and “bright” Richard Dawkins:
Dawkins’s Law of Divine Invulnerability
God cannot lose.
A.I. dude 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.
Cognitive scientist Steven Kosslyn:
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.
Howard Gardner, another cognitive scientist:
Gardner’s First Law
Don’t ask how smart someone is; ask in what ways is he or she smart.
Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired:
Kellys’ First Law
Power, understanding, control. Pick any two.
I gotta think of my law.
(And hey, if you haven’t been to Edge.org, you ought to check it out.)