10x Curiosity
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10x Curiosity

Eponymous Laws and Principles

Memorable rules to live by

An eponym is a person, place, or thing after whom or which someone or something is, or is believed to be, named. Wikipedia

As an engineer I learnt all about laws named after famous dead people (normally men). Bernoulli’s principle, Henry’s law, Faraday’s law, Boyle’s law are some examples. I find I rarely use these in day to day life however and have become much more drawn to another set of more modern laws — eponymous law that are sharp generalisations of the world around us. Here is a summary of my favourites as taken from Wikipedia

First law: 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.

Second law: The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

  • Conway’s law: Any piece of software reflects the organizational structure that produced it.
  • Cunningham’s Law: “the best way to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question, it’s to post the wrong answer.” (A relative, for sure, of “Why wasn’t I consulted?”) — When a wrong answer brings out the right answer
  • Demarco Second law of bad management — Don’t put yourself in as your own utility infielder
  • Dilbert principle: “the most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage: management.”
  • Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number, but a commonly cited approximation is 150.
  • Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average.
  • Eroom’s law, the observation that drug discovery is becoming slower and more expensive over time, despite improvements in technology. The name “Eroom” is “Moore” spelled backward, in order to contrast it with Moore’s law.
  • Gall’s law: “A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked.”
  • Gérson’s law: “An advantage should be taken in every situation, regardless of ethics.”
  • Godwin’s law, an adage in Internet culture: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”
  • Goodhart’s law:

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

  • Hanlon’s razor is a corollary of Finagle’s law, named in allusion to Occam’s razor, normally taking the form “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”
  • Hebb’s law: “Neurons that fire together wire together.”
  • Hick’s law, in psychology, describes the time it takes for a person to make a decision as a function of the number of possible choices.
  • Humphrey’s law: The user will never know what they want until after the system is in production (and maybe not even then)
  • Jevons paradox: Increasing the efficiency with which a resource is used increases the usage of that resource.
  • Littlewood’s Law: in the course of any normal person’s life, miracles happen at a rate of roughly one per month.
  • Metcalfe’s law, in communications and network theory: the value of a system grows as approximately the square of the number of users of the system.
  • Moore’s law is an empirical observation stating that the complexity of integrated circuits doubles every 24 months.
  • Murphy’s law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”
  • Occam’s razor: When two or more explanations are offered for a phenomenon, the simplest full explanation is preferable.
  • Orgel’s rules, “Evolution is cleverer than you are.”
  • Osbourne Effect —the Osborne effect is a social phenomenon of customers canceling or deferring orders for the current soon-to-be-obsolete product as an unexpected drawback of a company’s announcing a future product prematurely.
  • Pareto principle: for many phenomena 80% of consequences stem from 20% of the causes.
  • Parkinson’s law: “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” Corollary: “Expenditure rises to meet income.”

Parkinson’s law of triviality: “The time spent on any agenda item will be in inverse proportion to the sum of money involved.”

  • Peter principle: “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”
  • Pournelle’s iron law of bureaucracy: “In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely.”
  • Law of Propinquity — the probability of two people communicating is inversely proportional to the distance between them
  • Sagan standard: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Segal’s law: “A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure.”

  • Shirky principle: “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”
  • Streisand effect: Any attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely.
  • Twyman’s law: “Any figure that looks interesting or different is usually wrong”, following the principle that “the more unusual or interesting the data, the more likely they are to have been the result of an error of one kind or another”.
  • Wrights law — aims to provide a reliable framework for forecasting cost declines as a function of cumulative production. Specifically, it states that for every cumulative doubling of units produced, costs will fall by a constant percentage.

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Tom Connor

Always curious - curating knowledge to solve problems and create change