Clarke's three laws

Clarke's Three Laws are three "laws" of prediction formulated by the British writer and scientist 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.



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).[1]

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".[2] 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)[citation needed], 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.

See also


  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.

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Three laws — The Three Laws may refer to:*Three Laws of Robotics, written by Isaac Asimov ** Three Laws of Robotic Sexuality , parodies Isaac Asimov s Three Laws of Robotics *Laws of thermodynamics, describe the specifics for the transport of heat and work… …   Wikipedia

  • Three Laws of Robotics — In science fiction, the Three Laws of Robotics are a set of three rules written by Isaac Asimov, which almost all positronic robots appearing in his fiction must obey. Introduced in his 1942 short story Runaround , although foreshadowed in a few… …   Wikipedia

  • Clarke (name) — Family name name =Clarke imagesize= caption= pronunciation = meaning = clerk region = Ireland origin = related names =Clark footnotes =Clarke is an Irish surname from County Galway that spread to County Donegal and County Dublin. The name is… …   Wikipedia

  • Clarke (surname) — This article is about surname Clarke. For other uses, see Clarke. Clarke Family name Meaning clerk Region of origin Ireland Related names Clark Clarke is an Irish surname from …   Wikipedia

  • Clarke Carlisle — Personal information Full name …   Wikipedia

  • Arthur C. Clarke — Arthur Clarke redirects here. For other uses, see Arthur Clarke (disambiguation). Sir Arthur C. Clarke, CBE Arthur C. Clarke at his home office in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 28 March 2005 Born 16 December 1917(1917 12 16) …   Wikipedia

  • List of eponymous laws — This list of eponymous laws provides links to articles on laws, adages, and other succinct observations or predictions named after a person. In some cases the person named has coined the law – such as Parkinson s law. In others, the work or… …   Wikipedia

  • List of laws — A list of laws applied to various disciplines. These are often adages or predictions with the appellation Law , although they do not apply in the legal sense, cannot be scientifically tested, or are intended only as rough descriptions (rather… …   Wikipedia

  • Samuel Clarke — For other people named Samuel Clarke, see Samuel Clarke (disambiguation). Samuel Clarke Samuel Clarke (11 October 1675, Norwich – 17 May 1729, London) was an English philosopher and Anglican clergyman. Contents …   Wikipedia

  • John Henrik Clarke — (January 1, 1915 July 16, 1998), born John Henry Clark in Union Springs, Alabama to John ((Doctor)) and Willie Ella (Mays) Clarke, was a Pan Africanist, author, poet, historian, journalist, lecturer and teacher. Clarke was one of the most… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.