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(c) Thomas Eakins

"You defy the laws of humanity "
- Lucky Fonz III

There aren't too many social scientists looking for actual, binding, quantitative Laws of Human Behaviour anymore, thank christ.

Sociologists, philosophers, science-fictioneers and other aphorists have continued to form more-or-less ironic, more-or-less hyperbolic "Laws", though. They generally just take the form of modern proverbs. They form an important part of Nerdy Modernity, too; don't doubt it.

  • Arthur C Clarke:

    "1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right; when he states that something is impossible, he is probably wrong.

    2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

    3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

    4. For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert. (see also Kolakowski)"


  • Theodore Sturgeon

    Sturgeon's Law: "Nothing is always absolutely so".
    Sturgeon's Revelation: "Ninety percent of everything is crap".

  • Shermer's Last Law: "Any sufficiently advanced Extraterrestrial Intelligence is indistinguishable from God."

    • Isaac Asimov's are internal to his fictional world, but are actually a good philosophical ruleset for trying to stop strong-AI robotics from destroying us:

    "1. A robot may do nothing that, to its knowledge, will harm a human being; nor, through inaction, knowingly allow a human being to come to harm.

    2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

    3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

    4. A robot must reproduce, as long as such reproduction does not interfere with the First or Second or Third Law. (from Harry Harrison)

    5. "A robot must know it is a robot." (from Nikola Kesarovski)"

    Of course, it's the military that will be the first to build such a creature, so there's no fucking chance of these sane protocols being built-in. More likely (all from David Langford):

    "1. A robot will not harm authorized Government personnel but will terminate intruders with extreme prejudice.

    2. A robot will obey the orders of authorized personnel except where such orders conflict with the Third Law.

    3. A robot will guard its own existence with lethal antipersonnel weaponry, because a robot is bloody expensive."

    And, at the other extreme, Mark Tilden gives a ruleset for letting hegemonistic, hyper-Darwinian robots replace us, and spread exponentially:

    "1. A robot must protect its existence at all costs.
    2. A robot must obtain and maintain access to its own power source.
    3. A robot must continually search for better power sources."

    (His faith in the optimizing power of evolution/markets is disturbing and misplaced.)


    • Hofstadter's Law: "It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law."

    • Mike Godwin
      "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis approaches one."

    • Larry Niven

      No.4 is complete nonsense, 7 wrong, and 13c reactionary nonsense, but these are quite clever otherwise:

      a. Never throw shit at an armed man.
      b. Never stand next to someone who is throwing shit at an armed man.

      2. Never fire a laser at a mirror.

      3. Mother Nature doesn't care if you're having fun.

      4. F×S = k. The product of Freedom and Security is a constant. To gain more freedom
      of thought and/or action, you must give up some security, and vice versa.

      5. Psi and/or magical powers, if real, are nearly useless.

      6. It is easier to destroy than create.

      7. Any damn fool can predict the past.

      8. History never repeats itself.

      9. Ethics will change with technology.

      10. Anarchy is the least stable of social structures. It falls apart at a touch.

      11. There is a time and place for tact.

      12. The ways of being human are bounded but infinite.

      13. The world's dullest subjects, in order:
      a. Somebody else's diet.
      b. How to make money for a worthy cause.
      c. Special Interest Liberation.

      14. The only universal message in science fiction: There exist minds that think as well as you do, but differently.

      15. Fuzzy Pink Niven's Law: Never waste calories.

      16. There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.

      17. No technique works if it isn't used.

      18. Not responsible for advice not taken.

      19. Old age is not for sissies.


    • Heinlein:

    Hanlon's Razor: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

    • Best for students is Cyril Northcote Parkinson's Law:

      "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."
      Data expands to fill the space available for storage.
      "Nature abhors a vacuum." (Aristotle)

    • there's a corollary of Parkinson's Law, the "Jevons paradox" which is genuinely important (and depressing for ecologists):

      "The demand upon a resource tends to expand to match the supply of the resource. The reverse is not true."

    i.e. that

    "It is a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth."
    - Jevons