Murphy’s Law: Will it go wrong?

-Written by Payal Jagda, reviewed by Ankush Banerjee

For all the non-science freaks out here like me, the above phrase simply associates with the best sci-fi movie we saw and remembered, Yeah! Interstellar.

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Let’s catch a bit harder on our information surrounding this beautiful masterpiece of physics. So basically, Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”

murphy's law
Murphy’s law equation

To give you a rather clear picture, the idea of this law lies in the maximum possibility of the occurrence of any phenomena or action if we make trials enough.

Association to Murphy:

Differing recollections years later by various participants make it impossible to pinpoint who first coined the saying Murphy’s Law. The law’s name supposedly stems from an attempt to use new measurement devices developed by Edward Murphy.

It is said that the phrase was coined in adverse reaction to something Murphy said when his devices failed to perform and were eventually cast into its present form prior to a press conference some months later the first ever (of many) given by Dr John Stapp, a U.S. Air Force colonel and Flight Surgeon in the 1950s.

From 1948 to 1949, Stapp headed research project MX981 at Muroc Army Air Field (later renamed Edwards Air Force Base) for the purpose of testing the human tolerance for g-forces during rapid deceleration. The tests used a rocket sledge mounted on a railroad track with a series of hydraulic brakes at the end. Initial tests used a humanoid crash test dummy strapped to a seat on the sledge, but subsequent tests were performed by Stapp, at that time an Air Force captain.

During the tests, questions were raised about the accuracy of the instrumentation used to measure the g-forces Captain Stapp was experiencing. Edward Murphy proposed using electronic strain gauges attached to the restraining clamps of Stapp’s harness to measure the force exerted on them by his rapid deceleration. Murphy was engaged in supporting similar research using high-speed centrifuges to generate g-forces. Murphy’s assistant wired the harness, and a trial was run using a chimpanzee.

The sensors provided a zero reading; however, it became apparent that they had been installed incorrectly, with some sensors wired backwards. It was at this point that a disgusted Murphy made his pronouncement, despite being offered the time and chance to calibrate and test the sensor installation prior to the test proper, which he declined somewhat irritably, getting off on the wrong foot with the MX981 team.

George Nichols, another engineer who was present, recalled in an interview that Murphy blamed the failure on his assistant after the failed test, saying, “If that guy has any way of making a mistake, he will.” Nichols’ account is that “Murphy’s law” came about through conversation among the other members of the team; it was condensed to “If it can happen, it will happen”, and named for Murphy in mockery of what Nichols perceived as arrogance on Murphy’s part.

However, The phrase first received public attention during a press conference in which Dr John Paul Stapp was asked how it was that nobody had been severely injured during the rocket sledge tests. Stapp replied that it was because they always took Murphy’s law under consideration; he then summarized the law and said that in general, it meant that it was important to consider all the possibilities (possible things that could go wrong) before doing a test and act to counter them. Thus Stapp’s usage and Murphy’s alleged usage are very different in outlook and attitude. One is sour, the other an affirmation of the predictable being surmountable, usually by sufficient planning and redundancy.

Much to the above argument, however, it does not specifically follow the idea around an adverse or negative outcome of the performed actions.

Variations of Murphy’s Law have been around for several years and come under several different titles, like Sod’s Rule, Finagle’s Law, the Fourth Thermodynamics Law, Newton’s Fourth Motion Law, and the Inverse Midas Contact. Most of them were in use long before the word Murphy’s Law became common.

From its initial public announcement, Murphy’s law quickly spread to various technical cultures connected to aerospace engineering. Before long, variants had passed into the popular imagination, changing as they went.

Author Arthur Bloch has compiled a number of books full of corollaries to Murphy’s law and variations thereof. The first of these was Murphy’s law and other reasons why things go wrong!. Peter Drucker, the management consultant, with a nod to Murphy, formulated “Drucker’s Law” in dealing with the complexity of management: “If one thing goes wrong, everything else will, and at the same time.”

Yhprum’s Law, where the name is spelt backwards, is “anything that can go right, will go right” – the optimistic application of Murphy’s law in reverse.

The logo of Murphy’s law

Taking a note of the same from our beloved Christopher Nolan movie, The 2014 Interstellar includes an alternate, optimistic interpretation of Murphy’s Law. Protagonist Joseph Cooper says to his daughter, named Murphy, that “A Murphy’s law doesn’t mean that something bad will happen. It means that whatever can happen, will happen.”

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1 Comment

  • Nicky
    Posted July 29, 2022 9:12 am 0Likes

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