Talk:Clarke's three laws

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Where?[edit]

Can anyone remember where Clarke stated his Three Laws? —Paul A 03:10 25 Jun 2003 (UTC)

I believe they were developed at different times. I could be wrong, but I think the Third Law came about from Rendezvous with Rama. -- Darac 15:30, 8 Jan 2004 (UTC)

I've tracked down an article I remembered seeing about the origin of the Laws. It says that all three are from the essay "Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination". [1]Paul A 01:18, 9 Jan 2004 (UTC)

The article gives 1973 as the source date. However, when I was in school in 1968, we had a reader called Man's Search For Values, which contained an article by Clarke with the "law" in it, so it must pre-date 1968. So the question is: What is the original publication date of "Hazards of Prophecy"? 24.81.19.230 (talk) 07:22, 31 January 2010 (UTC)

Amendment to third law[edit]

Lee M's amendment to Clarke's Third Law:

Technology, no matter how advanced, is always distinguishable from magic, insofar as technology works and magic doesn't. Lee M 19:40, 9 Feb 2004 (UTC)

I believe you have failed to capture the gist of that law. Take a cellphone back 200 years and you'll see what he means... if you successfuly escape the people with the pitchforks and torches. Arikb 22:41, 17 May 2006 (UTC)
Bad example ... there's no one to talk with back then; no cell towers. Better example ... go back to any date before the Industrial Revolution with a Zippo lighter ... or visit any of the "forgotten" stone-age tribes in the Amazon rainforest or Mindanao in today's world. Dennette 05:27, 18 May 2006 (UTC)
An aircraft carrier. Would it be seen as a boat, or as a magical floating island that can summon giant birds of destruction? MMetro (talk) 08:03, 2 January 2008 (UTC)
I don't know for sure, but I think the latter, as it would be difficult to conceive of an aircraft carrier as a simple boat, like a dugout canoe made from a log. I got to see the Sea-based X-band Radar up close and personal in 2006 and I felt like a caveman, so I can imagine how someone might feel seeing something like this for the first time. Viriditas (talk) 11:19, 18 February 2014 (UTC)

Langford reference[edit]

In the interests of accountability, I am going to credit "Clarke's Third Law for Science-Fiction Writers" to David Langford (rather than, as the anon. contributor has done, to Clarke himself), on the grounds that

  1. I have found no other reference to Clarke having said it; and
  2. I have found a reference to Langford having said it under circumstances that suggest he made it up.

If you find an earlier reference than mine, feel free to correct me. --Paul A 01:30, 2 Nov 2004 (UTC)

Redundant[edit]

So, we have both

Raymond's Second Law: Any sufficiently advanced system of magic would be indistinguishable from a technology.

...and...

Terry Pratchett refers to the law in his Discworld books by having wizard Ponder Stibbons state that "Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology."

Seems like it's stating the same thing twice, no? Perhaps these should be combined somehow, or at the very least, placed next to each other in the list. Rhomboid 00:33, 2005 Mar 6 (UTC)

"Seems like it's stating the same thing twice, no?" No. Raymond's formulation is more precise, and, to be blunt, shows signs of having had some thought put into it, whereas "Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology" is a rather obvious joke that was around years before Pratchett used it. That said, I agree that they're too similar to really be listed separately. --Paul A 03:12, 9 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Tracing source[edit]

I've been trying to trace "any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice" for this page and failing. If anyone can find the source, then it belongs --Po8crg 09:40, 7 September 2005 (UTC)

Gehm's corollary[edit]

The corollary "Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced", attributed to Gregory Benford on the basis of its appearance in his 1997 novel, was actually created quite a few years earlier by Barry Gehm, a scientist and science fiction fan. Buttons with this quote, attributing it to Gehm, were sold at Midwestern science fiction conventions in the 1980s, and Stanley Schmidt used it as a filler item in Analog around 1991, also attributing it to Gehm. An archived discussion from 1994 on the EFF website (see [2])includes this sig file: '"Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced."- Dr. Barry Gehm's corollary to Clarke's law' — Preceding unsigned comment added by 70.182.119.150 (talk) 20:42, 26 October 2005

Asimov used it himself in "Foundation and Earth" --Roguebfl (talk) 04:48, 2 December 2008 (UTC)

Apology[edit]

A retroactive apology for the admittedly vain addition of my corollary to the list, removed by Mdob. Sorry! -- Ben 10:43, 15 Dec 2005 (GMT)

Slashdot pastische[edit]

Another parody has appeared as a sig on slashdot :

  • Sufficiently advanced satire is indistinguishable from reality

Should I add it ? (I can trace the origins... maybe...) (note : sorry, forgot to sign in...) — Preceding unsigned comment added by 83.79.66.137 (talk) 17:31, 23 January 2006

Picard thought to be a god[edit]

"References in other works" includes this: "In another [Star Trek] episode a race of Bronze Age humanoids see Federation technology and conclude that Picard is a god." That is not a specific reference to one of Clarke's laws. At best, it's an example of something vaguely resembling the Third Law. (I say "vaguely" because "god" is not a synonym for "magic"). I'm deleting it. Pat Berry 20:17, 9 August 2006 (UTC)

True, but the episode ("Who Watches the Watchers") does illustrate the Third Law quite well, as the magic referred to has more to do with the ability of Picard's crew to heal the injured and the inability of the Mintakan people to understand this technology without appealing to god-like powers. Viriditas (talk) 11:24, 18 February 2014 (UTC)

References[edit]

I think many of the "references" are similarly vauge as the Picard one above- anything not directly relating to the actual law or Clarke should be deleted. I will copy the deleted ones into here for reference. Master z0b 04:21, 19 March 2007 (UTC)

  1. In the Tales of Phantasia series of RPGs, there are frequent references to Magictechnology, Magitech, or MysTek.
  2. In the Final Fantasy series of RPGs, there are also frequent references to Magitechnology, and much of the magic used in the games is later explained as originally having technological origins.
  3. In the Futurama episode When Aliens Attack, Professor Farnsworth attempts to explain to Fry why a television signal from the 20th century reached the planet Omicron Persei 8 in the 31st century. However, just as the professor begins to explain the limitations of electromagnetic waves, Fry dismissively replies "Magic. Got it."
  4. The television series Stargate SG-1 uses Clarke's third law as its central theme. The advanced Goa'uld race uses technology in the guise of magic to conquer and enslave humans.
  5. The television series Spellbinder (TV series) involves a ruling class who are trained in technology which is kept hidden from the working class. These Spellbinders refer to this technology as "magic".

I have deleted all of these for the reasons above. Master z0b 04:27, 19 March 2007 (UTC)

Asimov's Corollary to Clarke's First Law[edit]

"When, however, the lay public rallies round an idea that is denounced by distinguished but elderly scientists and supports that idea with great fervour and emotion -- the distinguished but elderly scientists are then, after all, probably right."

I've added this to the references section, at the head of the list. I'm not sure that it deserves this prominence, but it does have the advantage of being an explicit reference (with Clarke specifically named). In fact, given the friendship between Clarke and Asimov, I would be surprised if Clarke had not seen this corollary, although I haven't seen any record of his response to it.

I obtained the quotation of Asimov's corollary from a usenet post (http://groups.google.com.au/group/rec.arts.sf.misc/msg/e4185210a85826fc), but it matches up with my (alas, not word-perfect) memory of having read it myself. The post gives the original source for the quotation: an essay entitled "Asimov's Corollary", published in the February 1977 issue of 'F&SF' (which I believe refers to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction), and was also reproduced in the collection "Quasar, Quasar, Burning Bright" (1978, Doubleday). I'd add this reference to the page itself, but I'm afraid that my knowledge of wikicode is lacking. -- Random wikipedia user. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by 192.43.227.18 (talk) 06:07, 4 April 2007 (UTC).

Just a Thought[edit]

Perhaps there is no practical distinction between technology and magic? If it works, fine. If you know how it works it's technology. If you don't, it's magic. We might also add, if it doesn't work but you have an explanation of how it works, it's religion. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 62.49.6.17 (talk) 09:59, 20 November 2007 (UTC)

  • adding an engineer's perspective on this - there's a presupposition that one would recognize magic which in turn presupposes experience with magic. A thorough reading of the first two editions of Clarke's POTF does not give much in the way of clarification of his definition of magic beyond "obvious violation of the laws of physics". His mention of two languages, one for feeling and one for thinking may give a clue to what he was getting at which seems consistent to the usage in that fantasy story set on mars. (Jon Townsend)

The Logical Fallacy of the Third Law[edit]

Should it not be mentioned somewhere in the article that Clarke’s Third Law is fatally flawed? Neatly constructed as it is, neat-sounding as it is, it's still little more than a first order example of Circular Reasoning. In fact it's such a tight example it's a tautology, a mere Truism (such as is noted in Wikipedia as, “a claim that is so obvious or self-evident as to be hardly worth mentioning, except as a reminder or as a rhetorical or literary device).

The flaw in the law lies in the weasel word qualifier “sufficiently” - which raises (or should raise) in the alert mind a basic question: sufficiently unto what?

To determine that, begin by slightly altering the word order; as in this version:

Any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic.”

This brings no change in meaning, but us to more readily to consider - what is the test for "sufficiently"?

Without any other reference, the only test for the postulated advanced technology is that it be advanced sufficiently to ... to... to ...

To be indistinguishable from magic.

Which means that a full rendition of the law would read:

Any technology sufficiently advanced to be indistinguishable from magic is indistinguishable from magic.

Circular reasoning in its most basic form, as tautological as “A is A” or “It aint over till it’s over.” And as such, an essentially meaningless truism. —Preceding unsigned comment added by JTGILLICK (talkcontribs) 05:34, 21 March 2008 (UTC)

Circular truisms aren't useless. They can remind us of the obvious. In this case, what it reminds us of is how we see remarkable things that we don't understand. User:narfanator Jun 23 —Preceding unsigned comment added by 208.125.161.185 (talk) 03:46, 24 June 2008 (UTC)
Yes - as in "It ain't over till it's over." However, this one, Clarke's Third, while on first view serves that function, its real purpose is not emphasis of the overlooked/bypassed obvious, but, rather, a shot at a mot juste - a target it misses by a rather wide margin. —Preceding unsigned comment added by JTGILLICK (talkcontribs) 20:50, 8 July 2008 (UTC)

The Inverse is True[edit]

Do we have a source date for the Foglio comic stating the inverse of the third law. I'm sure that Chaote Pete Carroll reversed it sometime in the late nighties so unless the comic predates this he should get the mention. 194.165.29.88 (talk) 16:20, 13 February 2009 (UTC)

Not really—believe misinterpreted[edit]

Coming upon this thread several years later, I disagree with JTGILLICK's idea of what the "sufficiently" is tested against, and with the idea that there's circular reasoning here. I believe that most people correctly take it to imply (i.e., mean without stating explicitly) that the level of technology required to meet the "sufficiently" threshold is dependent on the awe-struck observers' own current technological milieu. Thus the Wright Flyer would have been "sufficiently" advanced for a Neanderthal audience, whereas only some kind of secret stealth aircraft that zipped around like a UFO would be "sufficiently" advanced today, with us as the audience. I think the reason that Clarke didn't have to spell this out explicitly is that most people understand it right off the bat as their first interpretation. — ¾-10 21:56, 10 May 2011 (UTC)
The best way to think of Clarke's Third Law is as a definition for magic, so in that sense it is a tautology. As implied in the above comment, a more formal way of expressing the idea in the third law is: For a given level of technology, magic is a technology that can not be described with the given technologies. A needed definition/clarification: A level of technology is a set of technologies, and a desirable property of description: For any technology level, the described technologies form a new technology level L, and all technologies described by L are contained in L. You will still need to specify how to describe technology from other technology, and that definition will have a significant impact on what is and is not magic, and then you still need to figure out what technology is, but we are starting to fall down the rabbit hole of language, so I will stop trying to come up with canonical definitions.
Assuming you define everything you need, the first open, interesting question that comes from the definition of magic is: "Does there exist a level of technology for which there is no magic?" And for those who know a little mathematics, I believe that the model I have started to outline puts technology as a partially ordered set with a least value (i.e., nothing known) where a described technology is a technology in an interval between the least technology and a known technology. The original question can then be studied by analyzing the structure of the overall poset. --74.66.231.159 (talk) 05:46, 14 May 2011 (UTC)

Pared list items[edit]

I significantly cropped the list of references in other works by removing the following items:

  • Dave Lebling also wrote in the 1986 interactive fiction game Trinity, "Any sufficiently arcane magic is indistinguishable from technology."
  • A character in S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire describes a certain technology as "Something so far beyond ours we can't understand it, and it looks like magic."
  • The narrator in Dean Koontz's novel The Taking quotes Clarke's third law more than once. She also says that the reverse may be true: in an age when faith in science is ascendant, supernatural phenomena may be mistaken for advanced technology.
  • In the farcical online RPG Kingdom of Loathing there is an enemy named the MagiMechTech MechaMech. The description of this monster states that it is made of magic and technology, but since the sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic it is impossible to discern how much of each is present. There is also a clockwork sword, which sometimes states: "Something inside your clockwork sword goes *click*, and it begins to vibrate, healing you. Somehow. I guess it's true what they say about sufficiently advanced technology." Another reference is in the El Vibrato Megadrone familiar's description where the haiku states "Strange ancient magic, or is it technology? It's probably both."
  • The television series Stargate SG-1 uses Clarke's third law as its central theme. The advanced Goa'uld race and the Ori use technology in the guise of magic to conquer and enslave humans.
  • The television series Babylon 5 features an enigmatic group known as the "Technomages". Operating in the 23rd century, they openly admit that their "powers" are based on technology, but live by the very principle of Clarke's Law that their advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic; as a result they act much like classical wizards. One technomage tries to relate this by saying that a space station in deep space could only be explained to primitive people in terms of magic, and similarly their technology outstrips that of other contemporary spacefarers enough that it seems like magic.
  • In Charles Sheffield's Heritage Universe series of novels, a character quotes an alien adage that "Any sufficiently antique technology is indistinguishable from magic.".
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 setting, the Imperium of Man regards it's own technology with superstitious reverence, with only the Adeptus Mechanicus of Mars having the vaguest notion of how it works.
  • In Part Three of the Doctor Who story "Battlefield," the Seventh Doctor asks Ace if she remembers Clarke's Law (that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic) and explains that the same can be held true in reverse (any sufficiently arcane magic is indistinguishable from technology) while justifying the possibility of a dimensional spaceship which has been grown, not built.
  • A quest in the computer game expansion The Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal involves reactivating an ancient piece of technology that controls weather to simulate magically controlling it.
  • Robert L. Forward's book Indistinguishable from Magic draws its name from Clarke's third law, and the laws are stated in the book's foreword.
  • The band Yello in their song Beyond Mirrors on an album Pocket Universe cite "According to Arthur C. Clarke any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."'
  • In The webcomic Order of the Stick, the elven wizard Vaarsuvius comments that "yes, i grasp that any sufficiently advanced — and, in particular, reliable — magic would be indistinguishable from technology, I simply find the implementation here haphazard, at best".
  • In the game, Civilization IV, the quote for the technology Fusion is Clarke's Third Law, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
  • Rick Cook's Wizardry series makes reference to Clarke's Third Law, as well as numerous variations and corollaries.
  • Ivan Stang of the Church of the SubGenius has stated that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from coincidence.
  • monochrom use the quote "Any sufficiently advanced statistics is indistinguishable from magic" in their live shows.
  • In the Torchwood novel Trace Memory Captain Jack Harkness mentions Clarke's Third Law in reference to an alien artefact.
  • A practical demonstration of the Third Law (despite pre-dating it by several decades) can be seen in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain, when the protagonist uses, in sequence, a touch of astronomy and some applied chemistry to appear a great and powerful wizard, able to trump the petty magics of Merlin.

I also removed the sentence "A few years later in "Who Watches the Watchers" after viewing Federation technology, a primitive society thinks Captain Picard is able to perform magic," from the item on Star Trek, because it's not as much a reference as an instance of the principle illustrated by the law. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Skeptical scientist (talkcontribs) 10:08, 24 July 2008 (UTC)

I feel like I have left enough of the list intact to provide a good feel for the references. I tried to leave those references whose sources were the most well-known (e.g. simpsons, star trek) or which provided a novel reinterpretation or corollary (e.g. Asimov's corollary to the first law, or Terry Pratchett's reinterpretation for a universe where magic is studied by scientists in research universities much in the manner particle physics is in ours). I also left the Neil Stephenson reference, which my sensibilities told me should probably be removed, on the grounds that it made me laugh.

I removed the Mark Twain list item because it doesn't belong in a list of references to Clarke's laws (Mark Twain being quite a bit older than Clarke); I do however think it would make sense to include it as an illustration of the law earlier on in the article. skeptical scientist (talk) 10:02, 24 July 2008 (UTC)

Deleted non-referential "References in other works" reference[edit]

I deleted the following items:

  • Isaac Asimov wrote a corollary to Clarke's First Law, stating
    "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."

This does not evidence any reference to the Third Law or to Magic or to Technology or to any relationship between the two. JTGILLICK (talk) 15:04, 27 July 2008 (UTC)

sufficiently advanced magic?[edit]

Gwern, did you mean to move 'sufficiently advanced' along with 'technology'? Because 'sufficiently advanced magic' seems a bit odd to me.Jeffrywith1e (talk) 16:37, 9 August 2008 (UTC)

It is odd, but I think that's the original. Both the article on Niven's (other) laws and the Wikiquote article claim Niven's law is a 'converse' or 'inverse' of Clarke's third law, and besides, it makes no sense for Niven's law == Clarke's third law. --Gwern (contribs) 17:58 9 August 2008 (GMT)
The converse of Clarke's third law would be that "If something is indistinguishable from magic then it is a sufficiently advanced technology," and it's inverse would be "No sufficiently advanced technology is distinguishable from magic," both of which seem pretty obviously false. However, the current formulation of Niven's law in the article resembles a converse of Clarke's third law. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Eebster the Great (talkcontribs) 01:39, 6 October 2008 (UTC)

4th law ?[edit]

does anyone have a reference where Clarke attributes the so-called 4th law: "For every expert, there is an equal and opposite expert." to himself?

In a quick web search I see that quote attributed to anonyymous and various other people beside Clarke. In the one piece of writing of Clarke's where I found that quote, Clarke attributed it to Late 20th-century folklore. * also found attribed to Thomas Sowell 1995.

I am going to revert the 4th law till a good reference is found. Crumley (talk) 05:52, 17 December 2008 (UTC)

Read this article more carefully. --Gwern (contribs) 20:51 17 December 2008 (GMT)

Author, Jasper Fforde in his most recent The Thursday Next Series book entitled: One Of Our Thursdays Is Missing [printed & copyrighted in 2011] this law is mentioned as Clarke's Second Law of Egodynamics in Chapter 17 The Council of Genres. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 74.171.134.7 (talk) 13:36, 24 April 2011 (UTC)

Page move[edit]

Flying sheep (talk · contribs) just moved this page to a slightly different name, using a fancy Unicode apostrophe. I regard this as entirely gratuitous and plan on moving it back if no one objects. --Gwern (contribs) 23:25 7 June 2010 (GMT)

Suggested Introduction[edit]

Suggested new introduction:

Arthur C. Clarke formulated the following three "laws" of prediction:
  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.
These laws are based on multiple works from Clarke. They have been collected into a set only in hindsight, unlike Newton's or Azimov's "three laws". Of the three, the last is more widely circulated. The laws have been referenced by other high profile science fiction writers. Clarke has also designated a fourth law. --RossO (talk) 19:46, 19 July 2010 (UTC)

Opinion[edit]

This is regarding the parenthesized "Hallmark of "bad" science fiction" in the article. What makes "bad" science fiction is down to personal preference, and mentioning it in the way it is here is unarguably POV. I'm not sure whether it's meant to include works that try to explain the fake "science" in dry technical detail (in which case I agree, but I also think that even with real science you shouldn't get too technical in fiction) or works that use fictionalized science in general (such as time-travel stories or space operas with FTL travel) without trying to explain the fake science in detail. There are many respected writers in the field that definitely don't/didn't write "hard" SF, so it's obviously not a rule that all SF authors and fans follow. So, unless you write the article in a way that it's presented as Clarke's own opinion or the opinion of Clarke's followers (instead of the general Wikipedia opinion), I don't think it should be present in the article, as it reads like Clarke worship. I'm going to take that line off (been here for years without any citation, surprisingly). If someone wants to include it in a way so that it doesn't seem like a Wikipedian's personal opinion, go ahead Brc2000 (talk) 09:29, 5 February 2012 (UTC)

First law[edit]

Clarke's First Law is an example of Stigler's law of eponymy. It is a paraphrase of Alfred Russel Wallace:

The whole history of science shows us that whenever the educated and scientific men of any age have denied the facts of other investigators on a priori grounds of absurdity or impossibility, the deniers have always been wrong.

--Pawyilee (talk) 14:09, 27 March 2012 (UTC)

I dunno... It sounds like Wallace was talking about people denying the results of others' studies, rather than the potential for future innovations. Do you have a source, or is this synthesis? --Sneftel (talk) 18:20, 25 August 2012 (UTC)
...the deniers have always been wrong.

Missing from intro[edit]

There really needs to be some more specific information on to what these laws refer in the opening paragraph. I personally don't have the expertise, but one could begin reading, not knowning who Arthur C. Clarke is, and believe this was applicable to the real world. In such a light, Clarke looks like a fool. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 184.88.202.213 (talk) 20:53, 5 November 2012 (UTC)

Jonny Quick's Corollary to Clarke's 3rd Law[edit]

"To the Stupid, Intelligence and Insanity are Indistinguishable" Here's to hoping I'm someday famous...Jonny Quick (talk) 07:40, 19 January 2013 (UTC)

69th Law?[edit]

Found on page 123 of Clarke, Arthur C.; Hyams, Peter (1985). The Odyssey File. Granada. ISBN 0-586-06605-5.  an account of the making of 2010.

69th Law: Reading computer manuals without the hardware is as frustrating as reading sex manuals without the software.

Worth adding?

Graham1973 (talk) 15:36, 18 February 2013 (UTC)

Alfred Russel Wallace[edit]

Alfred Russel Wallace:

I thus learnt my first great lesson in the inquiry into these obscure fields of knowledge, never to accept the disbelief of great men or their accusations of imposture or of imbecility, as of any weight when opposed to the repeated observation of facts by other men, admittedly sane and honest. The whole history of science shows us that whenever the educated and scientific men of any age have denied the facts of other investigators on a priori grounds of absurdity or impossibility, the deniers have always been wrong.[1]

  1. ^ Wallace, Alfred. "Notes on the Growth of Opinion as to Obscure Psychical Phenomena During the Last Fifty Years". The Alfred Russel Wallace Page hosted by Western Kentucky University. Retrieved 20 April 2007. 

Pawyilee (talk) 14:04, 3 December 2013 (UTC)