The Edge Annual Question 2004

The Edge Annual Question 2004 Q. What’s your law ?
Here’s a selection of my favourite answers; Interesting how many are about meaning and communication, and more specifically about wishing to believe.

Schank’s Law
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.

Dennett’s Law of Needy Readers [an extension of Schank’s Law]
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 [desires to believe – see Blackmore below].

Rees’s Law
As cosmological theories advance, they will draw more concepts from biology …. we’ll need to draw on concepts from ecology and evolutionary biology …. life can eventually become pervasive and powerful enough to render the dynamics of the cosmic future as unpredictable as that of an organism or mind.

Rheingold’s Law [specially for Lilia]
Communication media that enable collective action on new scales, at new rates, among new groups of people, multiply the power available to civilizations and enable new forms of social interaction. The alphabet enabled empire and monotheism, the printing press enabled science and revolution, the telephone enabled bureaucracy and globalization, the Internet enabled virtual communities and electronic markets, the mobile telephone enabled smart mobs and tribes of urban info-nomads.

Dawkins’s Law of the Conservation of Difficulty
Obscurantism in an academic subject expands to fill the vacuum of its intrinsic simplicity.

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

Blackmore’s First Law
People’s desire to believe [doxastic hunger – see Dennett above] in the paranormal is stronger than all the evidence that it does not exist.

Blackmore’s Second Law
Humans are not in control of the web; the memes are.

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