Clarke's three laws

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Clarke's Three Laws are three "laws" of prediction formulated by the British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. They are:

  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.
  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.


Clarke's First Law was proposed by Arthur C. Clarke in the essay "Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination", in Profiles of the Future (1962).[1]

The second law is offered as a simple observation in the same essay. Its status as Clarke's Second Law was conferred by others. In a 1973 revision of Profiles of the Future, Clarke acknowledged the Second Law and proposed the Third. "As three laws were good enough for Newton, I have modestly decided to stop there".

The Third Law is the best known and most widely cited, and appears in Clarke's 1973 revision of "Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination". It echoes a statement in a 1942 story by Leigh Brackett: "Witchcraft to the ignorant, ... simple science to the learned".[2] Even earlier examples of this sentiment may be found in Wild Talents (1932) by the author Charles Fort, where he makes the statement: "...a performance that may some day be considered understandable, but that, in these primitive times, so transcends what is said to be the known that it is what I mean by magic."

A fourth law has been added to the canon, despite Sir Arthur Clarke's declared intention of not going one better than Sir Isaac Newton. Geoff Holder quotes: "For every expert, there is an equal and opposite expert" in his book 101 Things to Do with a Stone Circle (The History Press, 2009), and offers as his source Arthur C. Clarke's Profiles of the Future (new edition, 1999).

Snowclones and variations of the third law[edit]

There exist a number of snowclones and variations of the third law

  • Any sufficiently advanced act of benevolence is indistinguishable from malevolence.[3] (referring to artificial intelligence)
  • Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice. (Grey's law)[citation needed]
  • Any sufficiently advanced cluelessness is indistinguishable from malice. [4] (Clark's law)
  • Any sufficiently advanced troll is indistinguishable from a genuine kook.[who?] (Poe's law)
  • Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.[5]

and its contrapositive:

  • Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced. (Gehm's corollary)[citation needed]

The third law can be reversed in fictional universes involving magic:

  • Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science![6][7]

Or expanded on in fictional universes focusing on science fiction:

  • Any technology, no matter how primitive, is magic to those who don't understand it.[8]

The law can also be used to show similarities in contrasting instances, and vice versa (where 'ignorant' is unlearned, and 'stupid' is inability to learn):

  • Any sufficiently ignorant person is indistinguishable from stupid.[9]

The law can also refer to the lost advances of the past, unexplained archaeology and reconstructions of folk mysticism :

  • Any sufficiently ancient recovered wisdom or artifact is also indistinguishable from magic[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "'Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination'" in the collection Profiles of the Future: An Enquiry into the Limits of the Possible (1962, rev. 1973), pp. 14, 21, 36.
  2. ^ "The Sorcerer of Rhiannon", Astounding February 1942, p. 39.
  3. ^ Rubin, Charles T. (5 November 2008). "What is the Good of Transhumanism?". In Chadwick, Ruth; Gordijn, Bert. Medical Enhancement and Posthumanity. Springer. p. 149. ISBN 9789048180059. Archived from the original on 16 October 2014. Retrieved 17 October 2014. 
    Rubin is referring to an earlier work of his:
    Rubin, Charles T. (1996). "First contact: Copernican moment or nine day’s wonder?". In Kingsley, Stuart A.; Lemarchand, Guillermo A. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) in the Optical Spectrum II: 31 January-1 February 1996, San Jose, California, Band 2704. Proceedings of SPIE - the International Society for Optical Engineering. Bellingham, WA: SPIE—The International Society for Optical Engineering. pp. 161–184. ISBN 9780819420787. 
  4. ^ J. Porter Clark (16 November 1994). "Clark's Law". Retrieved 10 December 2014. They were apologetic and seemed sincere, but sufficiently advanced cluelessness is indistinguishable from malice. 8-) 
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^

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