Meditations on “Five Laws of Human Nature” (from New Scientist)

From Michael Marshall, “Five Laws of Human Nature,” New Scientist (17 Nov. 2009)

Putting aside the Peter principle, which states that in any organisation “people reach the level of their own incompetence,” Marshall suggests five laws (his descriptions are cribbed from wikipedia for the most part, alas) . . .

1. Parkinson’s law (1955): that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion” (The Economist [19 Nov. 1955]), used to explain swelling bureaucracies, software bloat, expenses increasing to meet income or demand to meet supply—but not vice versa (he also invented the “law of triviality” [1957]: that the time an organisation spends discussing an issue—or the emotion invested in one—is inversely proportional to its importance), i.e. life seeks its limit (pace Freud)

Natura vacuum horret [Nature abhors a vacuum]” (Aristotle per Marsilius of Inghen)

2. Student syndrome (1994): that people tend to apply themselves to a task as close as possible to a deadline, despite buffers built into the process and spacing being more efficient (1997), often as a result of the planning fallacy: that we tend to underestimate how long it will take to do something, i.e. eustress exists, distress exits (fight-or-flight isn’t all bad)

“Procrastination is the thief of time” (Edward Young, “The Complaint: Night the First,” a.k.a., “Night Thoughts”)

3. Pareto principle (1906): that for most systems, 80% of events are triggered by just 20% of the causes, a.k.a the 80-20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity, i.e. nature short-circuits us, for better or worse

Or: 20% of the people end up with 80% of the wealth (the “champagne glass effect“)

4. Salem hypothesis (1998): that studying engineering predisposes a person to creationism—or religiosity in general, i.e. builders are believers—they cheat gravity

“[L]et us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven” (Genesis 11:4)

5. Maes-Garreau law (1993): that any prediction about a favourable future technology, e.g., the technological singularity (2045 for Kurzweil b. 1948), will fall just within the expected lifespan of the person making it (at the Maes-Garreau point), i.e. there is such a thing as a virtuous circle (if we know our limits)

Death is our limit (Aristotle, Ethics 6.6)


One thought on “Meditations on “Five Laws of Human Nature” (from New Scientist)

  1. Pingback: Le Cloud n’est pas futile | Beamap

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