3 Laws to Live By

By Jill Tarter

As I get older I’ve been thinking more about Arthur C. Clarke’s three laws – Wikipedia renders them this way:

  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.

Sure, ACC was a science fiction writer, but he also held patents on geosynchronous satellite systems for global communication. A smart man indeed. Number 3 is important for our SETI searches, so we avoid becoming too prescriptive and miss other evidence of signals. It is also a reminder to encourage our grad students and postdocs, who are poring through vast quantities of data, to keep their eyes open for anomalies – the equivalents of Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s ‘little bits of scruff’. Number 1 weighs on me more heavily as I assume the mantle of “elderly scientist” – but then again ACC deliberately used the personal pronoun ‘he’ and I’m a she, so maybe folks will still pay attention to what I have to say; positive or negative.

Read the rest at AstronomersWithoutBorders