Each year the Edge Foundation asks a big question, and a lot of people try to answer it.
This year, in response to Newton’s Laws, Murphy’s Law, and Burke’s Law, the question is “What is Your Law?” Here is a link to the introduction and the first of seven pages of answers.
Here are my fifteen favourites:
Henry Warwick: Art takes you out of town, and gives you a destination. Science builds the bus that takes you there. Art tells the jokes that science insists on explaining.
Leonard Susskind: Don’t ask what people think, ask what they do. It’s easy to have an opinion, but people vote with their feet. If someone’s actually working on something, that’s more important than a lot of people who just think it’s a good idea.
Jon Postel: Be liberal in what you accept and conservative in what you send. [This is consistent with my rule of blogging: Read much more than you write.]
Dave Winer: Large companies always try to make technology complicated to reduce competition.
Izumi Aizu: Using is believing. People deny the potential of things simply because they’ve never tried to use them. If everyone in business had tried blogging, blogs would be ubiquitous. What changes the world is communication, not information. Communication results in action, but information just piles up.
Daniel Dennett‘s Law of Needy Readers: On any important topic, we tend to have a rough idea of what we believe 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.
George Lakoff: 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. [This, in my view, explains the magic of stories — stories are fluid, malleable, and fit into a myriad of different frames.]
Stephen J. Gould (as interpreted by Scott Sampson): If one could rewind the tape of life and let events play out again, the results would almost certainly differ dramatically. Had the major extinction of the dinosaurs occurred earlier or later, for example, or had dinosaurs never evolved, subsequent biotas would have been wholly different, and we almost certainly wouldn’t be here to contemplate nature and meaning.
Marshall McLuhan: Learning creates ignorance. The medium is the message. Information is always trying to be free.
Alan Alda: All laws are local. A law does not know how local it is. When you’re operating within the frame of a law, you can’t know where the edges of the frame areówhere dragons begin showing up. Example One: 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. Example Two: 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 genesó what we used to think were responsible for everything we knew about heritabilityó 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.
Malcolm Gladwell (Law of Learned Helplessness): The things we have learned to fear are much less likely to occur than we fear they are (like being a victim of terrorists). We are dangerously ignorant of the things that are much more likely to occur, the things we should fear, and be doing something about (like global warming).
Esther Dyson‘s Law of Optimal Information Disclosure: Do ask. Don’t lie.
Alan Mulally: (cited by Karl Sabbagh) The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred.
Irene Pepperberg: 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.
Roger Schank: 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.
Here’s a stab at a couple of mine:
Pollard’s Law of Knowledge: Trust your instincts. Instinctive knowledge is both more reliable and more rooted in reality than either moral knowledge (what is ‘right’) or rational knowledge (what is ‘reasonable’).
Pollard’s Laws of Change:
(1) Technology (the application of innovation) changes quickly, because it responds to what is possible, whereas culture (belief and behaviour) changes slowly, because it responds only to what is needed.
(2) Self-organized communities are dynamic and change spontaneously, peer-to-peer, by consensus, whereas hierarchical organizations are intransigent and change reluctantly, and only when forced by disruptive innovation.
(3) Therefore, if you want to change the world, either (a) use technology to end-run cultural resistance, or (b) drive the change through self-organized communities, and undermine the hierarchies.
So what is your law?