Law, n.

Once Law was sitting on the bench,
   And Mercy knelt a-weeping.
‘Clear out!’ he cried, ‘disordered wench!
   Nor come before me creeping.
Upon your knees if you appear,
’Tis plain you have no standing here.’

Then Justice came. His Honour cried –
   ‘Your status? – devil seize you!’
Amica curiae,’ she replied –
   ‘Friend of the court, so please you.’
‘Begone!’ he shouted – ‘there’ s the door –
I never saw your face before!’

The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911

  1. A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given 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 Laws.

Isaac Asimov. "Runaround". 1942

And when Asimov meets thermodynamics...

Brad Thomas : Hmmm. This incredibly complex and ordered universe with the myriad of well developed and adapted life on earth was a) created by an intelligent Being. b) happened by sheer chance in violation of the law of entropy.

Jim Lovejoy : Please, not the 2nd law argument.

Avram Grumer : God must obey the orders given him by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law?

rec.arts.sf.written, May 2000

See also:

  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 very probably wrong.

Arthur C. Clarke. "Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination". Profiles of the Future. 1962
restated in: "Technology and the Future". Report on Planet Three. 1972

Asimov’s Corollary to Clarke’s Law:
When, however, the lay public rallies round an idea that is denounced by distinguished but elderly scientists and supports that idea with great fervor and emotion – the distinguished but elderly scientists are then, after all, probably right.

Isaac Asimov. F&SF. Feb 1977

  1. The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.

— Arthur C. Clarke. "Technology and the Future". Report on Planet Three. 1972

  1. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

— Arthur C. Clarke. "Technology and the Future". Report on Planet Three. 1972

Gehm’s Corollary to Clarke’s Third Law:
Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.

— Barry Gehm. Analog. 1991?

Originally I, like many others, had this called “Benford’s Corollary”, and credited as “Gregory Benford. Foundation’s Fear. 1997”. Clark B. Wierda emailed me in Dec 2006 and pointed me to the following item on The MT Void, 23(19) 2004:

Bill Higgins points out that "Any technology that does not appear magical is insufficiently advanced," given as Benford’s Modified Clarke Law, is actually [Barry] Gehm’s Corollary to Clarke’s Third Law. Stan Schmidt published it in ANALOG, attributed to Barry, around 1991. According to Google, many sources appear to take it from Benford’s 1997 novel FOUNDATION’S FEAR.

And Professor Gehm adds, "Strictly speaking, my version was ‘Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced,’ but I think they’re close enough that I’d be justified in claiming priority. My version seems to have traveled widely as various people (some of whom I know and some I don’t) have used it as a .sig file (the cockleburrs of cyperspace)."

Our apologies to Professor Gehm.

Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.

Arlan Andrews, Sr., "Indian Summa", Analog, January 1989.

Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature.

— Rich Kulawiec

on space exploration:

Like all revolutionary new ideas, the subject has had to pass through three stages, which may be summed up by these reactions: (1) ‘It’s crazy — don’t waste my time.’ (2) ‘It’s possible, but it’s not worth doing.’ (3) ‘I always said it was a good idea.’

— Arthur C. Clarke. "Next—The Planets!", Report on Planet Three. 1972


All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed; Second, it is violently opposed; and Third, it is accepted as self-evident.

— Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788-1860 (attrib)

Every great scientific truth goes through three stages. First, people say it conflicts with the Bible. Next they say it had been discovered before. Lastly they say they always believed it.

— Louis Agassiz (Swiss naturalist), 1807-1873

It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions.

— Thomas Henry Huxley, 1825-1895
The Coming of Age of The Origin of Species, 1880

First, you know, a new theory is attacked as absurd; then it is admitted to be true, but obvious and insignificant; finally it is seen to be so important that its adversaries claim that they themselves discovered it.

William James. Pragmatism, lecture 6. 1907

Four stages of acceptance:
   i) this is worthless nonsense;
   ii) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view;
   iii) this is true, but quite unimportant;
   iv) I always said so.

J. B. S. Haldane. Journal of Genetics 58, p.464. 1963

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

Richard Dawkins. A Devil’s Chaplain, p8. 2003

no loop should be written down without providing a proof for termination nor without stating the relation whose invariance will not be destroyed by the execution of the repeatable statement

— Edsger Dijkstra. The Humble Programmer. ACM Turing Lecture 1972. EWD340

program testing can be a very effective way to show the presence of bugs, but is hopelessly inadequate for showing their absence.

— Edsger Dijkstra. The Humble Programmer. ACM Turing Lecture 1972. EWD340

  1. You can’t win
  2. You can’t break even
  3. You can’t quite the game

This is a riff on the laws of thermodynamics, which can be summarised as:
  1. Energy is conserved.
  2. Entropy increases.
  3. Absolute zero is unobtainable.

Freeman’s Commentary on Ginsberg’s Theorem:
Every major philosophy that attempts to make life seem meaningful is based on the negation of one part of Ginsberg’s Theorem:
  1. Capitalism is based on the assumption that you can win.
  2. Socialism is based on the assumption that you can break even.
  3. Mysticism is based on the assumption that you can quit the game.

Ontogenesis, or the development of the individual is a short and quick recapitulation of phylogenesis, of the development of the tribe to which it belongs, determined by the laws of inheritance and adaptation

— Ernst Heinrich Haeckel. The History of Creation, 1868

summarised as:

ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny

I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now, my own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.

J. B. S. Haldane. "Possible Worlds" 1927

Alternative Universes tend to have more Zeppelins.

— Ken Hite

[Remember this rule: it could be an essential objective function for your search heuristic when you are lost in a maze of Alternate Universes trying to find your way home.]

It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

Gödel, Escher, Bach, chapter 5, 1979

The presence in the text of an element that does not carry information relevant to any feature of the problem. Variants: redundancy; remorse.
The existence of a feature of the problem that is not covered by any element of the text.
The presence in the text of an element that corresponds not to a feature of the problem but to features of a possible solution.
The presence in the text of two or more elements that define a feature of the system in an incompatible way.
The presence in the text of an element that makes it possible to interpret a feature of the problem in at least two different ways.
Forward reference:
The presence in the text of an element that uses features of the problem not defined until later in the text.
Wishful thinking:
The presence in the text of an element that defines a feature of the problem in such a way that a candidate solution cannot realistically be validated with respect to this feature.

Bertrand Meyer, IEEE Software, Jan 1985

Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem

— William of Ockham. 1280?–1349

Entities ought not to be multiplied except from necessity
... or ...
Keep it as simple as possible

Ninety percent of everything is crud

Ted Sturgeon
World Science Fiction Convention, Philadelphia, 1953

as related in the anecdote:

"When people talk about the mystery novel," Ted said, as I remember, "they mention The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. When they talk about the western, they say there’s The Way West and Shane. But when they talk about science fiction, they call it ‘that Buck Rogers stuff,’ and they say ‘ninety percent of science fiction is crud.’ Well, they’re right. Ninety percent of science fiction is crud. But then ninety percent of everything is crud, and it’s the ten percent that isn’t crud that is important. And the ten percent of science fiction that isn’t crud is as good as or better than anything being written anywhere."

James Gunn
The New York Review of Science Fiction #85, September 1995

Corollary to Sturgeon’s Law: The Golden Age looks so good because we’ve forgotten the 90% that’s crap.

— Lee Ann Rucker, rec.arts.sf.written, Jan 2001