Full record for Clarke's Second Law n.

Definition "The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible."
OED requirements antedating 1962
Earliest cite Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future
Comment Fred Bacon submitted a cite of this statement from a 1977 reprint of Clarke's "Profiles of the Future"; it was verified in the first edition by Mike Christie. The first edition doesn't name it as the second law; the sentence is merely part of the text.

Scott Neugroschl submitted a cite from 1972 from "The Lost Worlds of 2001" that refers to it indirectly as Second (in a list); it doesn't use the phrase "Clarke's Second Law" directly. Fred Bacon submitted a cite from a 1977 reprint of "Profiles of the Future" that refers directly to "Clarke's Second Law", and that makes it clear that the law was first so called in the French edition of "Profiles of the Future": Clarke subsequently used the phrase in reprints of "Profiles". We would like a cite of the relevant French text, and a cite of any earlier reprints of "Profiles of the Future" which contain the phrase.

Talin sent in a cite from Clarke's 1972 "Report on Planet Three" in a chapter "Technology and the Future", in which Clarke explicitly names and numbers the laws. (this article is described as edited from a transcription of tapes of a lecture given to the American Institute of Architects in May 1967.)

Bill Mullins sent a cite from a review (in the London Times, Dec 6 1962) of Profiles of the Future, which described the first two of the Laws, but did not number them; that source named the Second Law as "Clarke's Law"

Last modified 6 July, 2008

Citations for Clarke's Second Law n.

click here for more information about the citation list

1962 A. C. Clarke Profiles of Future (1977) 39 But the only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible. [Footnote begins] 1) The French edition of this book rather surprised me by calling this Clarke's Second Law. (See page 25 for the First, which is now rather well-known.) I accept the label, and have also formulated a Third: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ As three laws were good enough for Newton, I have modestly decided to stop there. [Footnote ends]
1962 A. C. Clarke Profiles of Future 31 But the only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
1972 A. C. Clarke Lost Worlds of 2001 189 The other is Clarke's Third [Footnote begins] Oh, very well. The First: ‘When a distinguished but elderly scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong.’(Profiles of the Future) The Second: ‘The only way of finding the limits of the possible is by going beyond them into the impossible.’ [Footnote ends] Law: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’
1972 A. C. Clarke Report on Planet Three 129 Clarke's 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 to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible. Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.