Clarke's three laws
- 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.
- The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
- Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
The first of the three laws, previously termed Clarke's Law, was proposed by Arthur C. Clarke in the essay "Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination", in Profiles of the Future (1962).
The second law is offered as a simple observation in the same essay; its status as Clarke's Second Law was conferred on it by others.
In a 1973 revision of his compendium of essays, Profiles of the Future, Clarke acknowledged the Second Law and proposed the Third in order to round out the number, adding "As three laws were good enough for Newton, I have modestly decided to stop there". Of the three, the Third Law is the best known and most widely cited. It may be an echo of a statement in a 1942 story by Leigh Brackett: "Witchcraft to the ignorant, .... Simple science to the learned". Even earlier examples of this sentiment may be found in Wild Talents by 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."
Clarke's Third Law codifies perhaps the most significant of Clarke's unique contributions to speculative fiction. A model to other writers of hard science fiction, Clarke postulates advanced technologies without resorting to flawed engineering concepts (as Jules Verne sometimes did) or explanations grounded in incorrect science or engineering (a hallmark of "bad" science fiction), or taking cues from trends in research and engineering (which dates some of Larry Niven's novels). Accordingly, the powers of any future superintelligence or hyperintelligence which Clarke often described would seem astonishing.
In novels such as The City and the Stars and the story "The Sentinel" (upon which 2001: A Space Odyssey was based) Clarke presents ultra-advanced technologies developed by hyperintelligences limited only by fundamental science. In Against the Fall of Night the human race has mysteriously regressed after a full billion years of civilization. Humanity is faced with the remnants of its past glories: for example, a network of roads and sidewalks that flow like rivers. Although physically possible, it is inexplicable from their perspective.
- List of eponymous laws
- Finagle's law
- First contact (anthropology)
- Futures studies
- Niven's laws
- Search for extraterrestrial intelligence
- Shermer's last law
- Sturgeon's Law
- Three Laws of Robotics
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