Is Murphy’s Law really true?

You finally get to have the weekend off and decide to have a picnic with your family, only it rains. You sped past a slow driver, but you were immediately greeted by a cop. You put your hair in the shower, and at that moment the hot water turns off. Congratulations, you’ve just enjoyed Murphy’s infamous law, which can be summed up in the phrase “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong”. A more cursed version of Murphy’s Law claims “If anything can happen, it will, and at the worst possible time. ”

But is Murphy’s law really true or is it just a product of our human mind’s bias toward pessimism? Let’s dive right in.

Where does Murphy’s law come from? Yes, there really is a Murphy.

It was 1949, and just two years before that, a Bell X-1 rocket-powered research plane became the first aircraft to fly at supersonic speeds. At Edwards Air Force Base in California, engineers knew they could go even faster. Sure, it’s technologically possible to fly an airplane at many times the speed of sound, but there’s one bottleneck that’s giving them a headache: the human body.

Air Force researchers have begun a project to see how much G-forces, a measure of acceleration or deceleration, humans can withstand before going black. MX981. The mission consisted of a series of tests in which human pilots would pilot a rocket sled, dubbed “Gee Whiz”, to simulate the type of G-force experienced on a jet fighter by sudden deceleration. Test subjects bravely hop onto a rocket launcher on rails, traveling more than 200 miles per hour down a short stretch, before abruptly stopping in less than a second.

Colonel John Paul Stapp, a doctor in the Air Force, is one of the volunteers who have endured many such grueling trips. The brave subject suffered multiple concussions, ruptured blood vessels in his eyes, and even broken several bones, all in the name of science so that the pilot could fly safely at the scene.

Dr Stapp tested the human G-force exposure limit on a rocket sled. Credit: Public Domain.

Each rocket sled test must pass its own safety checks, and one of the key people responsible for these tests is a Force captain and reliability engineer. Air Force named Edward A. Murphy, Jr. From this point on, the details of the story tend to vary depending on the source, but a common thread is that Murphy was trying one day to fit a sensor into Dr. Stapp’s harness. with rockets. These sensors are designed to measure the exact amount of G-force to which the test subject is subjected.

However, on the first test run, the sensors gave a zero reading, while Stapp’s scarred face said otherwise. Upon closer inspection, Murphy discovered that all 16 gauges were malfunctioning because they were connected incorrectly. There are only two ways to connect the sensors, and each is installed incorrectly.

Murphy blamed his technician, grumbling something along the lines of “If there’s any way they can do it wrong, they will. ”

Not long after the incident, Murphy returned to Wright Airfield where he had been stationed since he had been temporarily transferred at Edwards for this particular job. But Murphy’s odd remark made Stapp, known for his sense of humor and quick wits, realize its universal appeal.

Stapp’s efforts and sacrifices went unnoticed, becoming the subject of numerous news reports. So it happened that during a fateful press conference, one of the reporters asked the flight surgeon about the dangers of the MX981, and Stapp replied that he was confident in the safety of the project. judgment thanks to the group’s perception of what he calls Murphy’s Law. Explaining what he meant by that, Stapp said “Whatever can go wrong, goes wrong”.

It didn’t take long for the phrase to be picked up by aerospace publications, then radio and television, and before you know it, Murphy’s Law is ingrained in popular culture.

Is Murphy’s Law real?

Murphy’s law is not really a ‘law’, not in the sense in which we use the term in science, i.e. a statement about an observable phenomenon or a supported unified concept. by a large amount of experimental evidence. Instead, it should be seen as a maxim: things can go wrong, and they often do. No further explanation is needed as we have all experienced the false nature of Murphy’s law many times.

Besides, only a fool would try to prove or, heaven forbid, disprove Murphy’s Law. Washing the car to run has no effect and at the same time does not disprove Murphy’s Law.

“Murphy’s Law cannot be proven yet, because when you try to prove Murphy’s Law, you will find that the proof is incorrect. This is obviously due to Murphy’s Law, therefore Murphy’s Law is true and proven. ”

But even if Murphy’s Law is considered humorous, the statement is actually rooted in hard science, echoing the second law of thermodynamics, which deals with the concept of entropy. Simply put, entropy is a measure of the disorder of a system, and the second law of thermodynamics states that “entropy must always increase in the universe and any hypothetical isolated system outside of the universe.” in it.” A system can mean anything: a galaxy, the economy of a country, a house, even the human body.

The second law of thermodynamics predicts that, by itself (i.e. with no external energy input), systems tend to become more disordered. That’s not to say that your toast falls off the counter always because of entropy, but the fact that there are remarkable similarities between the two laws reminds us that everything around us are prone to catastrophic failure. Car breaks down on your way to an important meeting or bad weather over the weekend because things like this are bound to happen at some point – and when your day is ruined by a… a series of failures, it seems the universe is conspiring against you, it may just be your mind playing tricks on you.

Humans always have cognitive biases, and it is a fact that we tend to pay more attention to negative experiences than positive ones because such thinking helps us. we improve past survivability. For example, due to selection bias, we tend to remember the ‘bad things’ that happen to us more often than the good ones. Then there’s the problem of being aware of Murphy’s Law in the first place – due to confirmation bias, when something goes wrong in the end, we’re quick to point out – Aha, it’s Murphy again!

There’s a reason why your supermarket picks are often slow. Credit: Flickr.

But although Murphy’s Law can be explained by our wrong thinking, the reality may have a worthy part to popular wisdom, in that things can actually go wrong more often than not. with the plan. One factor I mentioned earlier is entropy, but there can be many more. For example, some things that look random are not at all random, since certain outcomes are statistically more likely than others.

People have taken Murphy’s principle and found it to have appropriate ramifications. In a 1997 paper in American Science, Robert AJ Matthews explains why we get Murphy’s Law of Queuing (the line next to you will usually finish first). While all queues should progress at more or less the same average rate – each row has an equal probability of random delays – when we visit the supermarket we are not dealing with an average globally over time. Matthews goes on to explain that the chance for us to choose the queue with the least delay is 1/N, where N is the total number of queues in the supermarket. Even if we were only interested in beating the queue on either side, two-thirds of the time either the left or the right row would beat us.

Murphy’s Law: the precautionary principle

Dr. Stapp may be inclined to share Murphy’s Law for one very simple reason: it may have saved his life. As it turns out, Murphy’s Law is a great design principle in engineering and any other field where a small mistake can have catastrophic consequences. Take, for example, NASA. Each of its ambitious missions often takes years to prepare and billions of dollars to finance, but all that hard work can be done in a flash, and there are plenty of such opportunities from within. an unsuccessful rocket launch to an electronic equipment malfunction could prevent a Mars rover from communicating with Earth, rendering the mission futile. This is why we have a backup system and a backup-backup system. The riskier the project, the more failed safes will be needed, and even then you’re not safe from Murphy’s Law.

Murphy’s original maxim “Whatever can go wrong, goes wrong” can be interpreted as less fatal than “If it can happen, it will happen”. That is, given enough time and exposure, even the least likely situations are bound to happen. This fact is well known to insurance brokers and risk management professionals who have devised complex systems for assessing risk and mitigating it accordingly.

Thanks to this approach to disaster, many lives have been saved by designing airplanes and nuclear power plants with the mindset that the entire universe is conspiring against us every day. It’s not the healthiest attitude to live, but it serves its purpose.

Also, it should be noted that Murphy’s Law should only become more valid over time. That’s because everyone accepts that the more complex a system is, the more likely it is to break. Today, we are surrounded by increasingly complex machines that are often interdependent and connected by networks like the internet. The complexities of 21st-century life are inviting Murphy’s Law to visit us more often than ever.

To conclude, here are some interesting alternative versions of Murphy’s Law saying universal ‘truths’:

  • You never find a lost article (like a key or a sock) until you replace it.
  • Smile. Tomorrow will be worse.
  • Sufficient research will tend to support your theory.
  • The luxury of the front office decor changes inversely to the company’s basic solvency.
  • Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he will believe you. Tell him a couch has wet paint and he’ll have to touch it to be sure.
  • Things get worse under pressure.
  • If you notice that there are four possible ways in which a process can go wrong and break these ways, the fifth, unprepared, will quickly develop.
  • If everything seems to be going well, you’ve clearly overlooked something.
  • Can’t do anything stupid because idiots are ingenious.
  • Every solution raises new problems.
  • If anything can’t be wrong on its own, someone will make it wrong.
  • Nature always has hidden flaws.
  • Mother Nature is a bitch. Is Murphy’s Law really true?

James Brien

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