4th Law of Prediction (with apologies to Arthur C. Clarke)

May 24, 2014

A mini-furor has been raised by folks such as Glenn Beck who claim that a new book published by NASA is admitting that an ancient rock formation design might have been created by aliens. However, reading the actual NASA text makes it entirely clear that the NASA author was speaking figuratively — facetiously, even — to dramatize the concept that really really old things are nigh impossible to understand by a modern intelligence:

“We can say little, if anything, about what these patterns signify, why they were cut into rocks, or who created them. For all intents and purposes, they might have been made by aliens.”

In a sense, this is the reverse of Arthur C. Clarke’s third law of prediction: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Thus I propose a 4th law:

Any sufficiently old device is indistinguishable from an alien intervention.

As an example: Try to explain a 45 rpm “spacer” (the plastic record adaptor) to a teenager who thinks music comes from a downloaded file on a smart phone. When I show the 45 rpm graphic to my college students as a research challenge, their first reaction is invariably, “Illuminati!”
Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication, edited by Douglas A. Vakoch. The NASA History Series/NASA SP-2013-4413. http://www.nasa.gov/ebooks
Thanks to Sharon Hill at Doubtful News, “Never pass up some alien clickbait from NASA”, for the tip on this story.

2 comments on “4th Law of Prediction (with apologies to Arthur C. Clarke)

  1. Susan Vogt says:

    Actually, I think Illuminati is a quite clever response, although I think I have a few of these spacers around the house (haven’t given them away yet). Does this make me an alien?

    • jveeds says:

      I believe your problem may be more one of “spacing around the house.” Having a 45rpm spacer does not make one an alien any more than living next to, say, Noah’s Ark makes one an Arkadian…or, ahem, arkeologist.

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