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Clarke's three laws

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Title: Clarke's three laws  
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Clarke's three laws

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.


  • Origins 1
  • Third Law and variants 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Clarke's First Law was proposed by 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] An earlier example 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." Even earlier, Rider Haggard's novel She (1886) expresses the sentiment multiple times, such as in chapter 17: "Fear not, my Holly, I shall use no magic. Have I not told thee that there is no such thing as magic, though there is such a thing as understanding and applying the forces which are in Nature?"

A fourth law has been added to the canon, despite Clarke's declared intention of not going one better than 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 Clarke's Profiles of the Future (new edition, 1999).

Third Law and variants

Clarke's Third Law ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic") has inspired many snowclones and other variations:

  • 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)[4] (Hanlon's razor)
  • Any sufficiently advanced cluelessness is indistinguishable from malice.[5] (Clark's law)
  • Any sufficiently advanced [6]

One contrapositive of Clarke's Third Law is

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

Clarke's Third Law has been

  • reversed for fictional universes involving magic: "Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science!"[7][8]
  • expanded for fictional universes focusing on science fiction: "Any technology, no matter how primitive, is magic to those who don't understand it."[9]
  • used to refer to unexplained archaeological finds and reconstructions of folk mysticism: "Any sufficiently ancient recovered wisdom or artifact is also indistinguishable from magic."

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.
  3. ^
    Rubin is referring to an earlier work of his:
  4. ^ Urban Dictionary: Grey's Law
  5. ^
  6. ^ Quote Details: James Klass: Any sufficiently advanced technology... - The Quotations Page
  7. ^ Girl Genius
  8. ^ Sufficiently Analyzed Magic - TV Tropes
  9. ^ Freefall 00255 November 12, 1999

External links

  • The origins of the Three Laws
  • "What's Your Law?" (lists some of the corollaries)
  • "A Gadget Too Far" at Infinity Plus
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