Murphy's law is an adage or epigram that is typically stated as: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong".
The perceived perversity of the universe has long been a subject of comment, and precursors to the modern version of Murphy's law are not hard to find. The concept may be as old as humanity.[ citation needed ] Recent significant research in this area has been conducted by members of the American Dialect Society. Society member Stephen Goranson has found a version of the law, not yet generalized or bearing that name, in a report by Alfred Holt at an 1877 meeting of an engineering society.
It is found that anything that can go wrong at sea generally does go wrong sooner or later, so it is not to be wondered that owners prefer the safe to the scientific .... Sufficient stress can hardly be laid on the advantages of simplicity. The human factor cannot be safely neglected in planning machinery. If attention is to be obtained, the engine must be such that the engineer will be disposed to attend to it.
Mathematician Augustus De Morgan wrote on June 23, 1866:"The first experiment already illustrates a truth of the theory, well confirmed by practice, what-ever can happen will happen if we make trials enough." In later publications "whatever can happen will happen" occasionally is termed "Murphy's law," which raises the possibility—if something went wrong—that "Murphy" is "De Morgan" misremembered (an option, among others, raised by Goranson on the American Dialect Society list).
American Dialect Society member Bill Mullins has found a slightly broader version of the aphorism in reference to stage magic. The British stage magician Nevil Maskelyne wrote in 1908:
It is an experience common to all men to find that, on any special occasion, such as the production of a magical effect for the first time in public, everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Whether we must attribute this to the malignity of matter or to the total depravity of inanimate things, whether the exciting cause is hurry, worry, or what not, the fact remains.
In 1948, humorist Paul Jennings coined the term resistentialism , a jocular play on resistance and existentialism, to describe "seemingly spiteful behavior manifested by inanimate objects",where objects that cause problems (like lost keys or a runaway bouncy ball) are said to exhibit a high degree of malice toward humans.
The contemporary form of Murphy's law goes back as far as 1952, as an epigraph to a mountaineering book by John Sack, who described it as an "ancient mountaineering adage":
Anything that can possibly go wrong, does.
According to the book A History of Murphy's Law by author Nick T. Spark, 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. The phrase was coined in adverse reaction to something Murphy said when his devices failed to perform and was 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. These conflicts (a long running interpersonal feud) were unreported until Spark researched the matter. His book expands upon and documents an original four part article published in 2003 (Annals of Improbable Research (AIR)) on the controversy: Why Everything You Know About Murphy's Law is Wrong.
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 sled 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 sled, 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. In an interview conducted by Nick Spark, George Nichols, another engineer who was present, stated 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. Others, including Edward Murphy's surviving son Robert Murphy, deny Nichols' account (interviewed by Spark), and claim that the phrase did originate with Edward Murphy. According to Robert Murphy's account, his father's statement was along the lines of "If there's more than one way to do a job, and one of those ways will result in disaster, then he will do it that way."
The phrase first received public attention during a press conference in which Stapp was asked how it was that nobody had been severely injured during the rocket sled 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. Nichols believes Murphy was unwilling to take the responsibility for the device's initial failure (by itself a blip of no large significance) and is to be doubly damned for not allowing the MX981 team time to validate the sensor's operability and for trying to blame an underling when doing so in the embarrassing aftermath.
The association with the 1948 incident is by no means secure. Despite extensive research, no trace of documentation of the saying as Murphy's law has been found before 1951 (see above). The next citations are not found until 1955, when the May–June issue of Aviation Mechanics Bulletin included the line "Murphy's law: If an aircraft part can be installed incorrectly, someone will install it that way,"and Lloyd Mallan's book, Men, Rockets and Space Rats, referred to: "Colonel Stapp's favorite takeoff on sober scientific laws—Murphy's law, Stapp calls it—'Everything that can possibly go wrong will go wrong'." The Mercury astronauts in 1962 attributed Murphy's law to U.S. Navy training films.
Fred R. Shapiro, the editor of the Yale Book of Quotations , has shown that in 1952 the adage was called "Murphy's law" in a book by Anne Roe, quoting an unnamed physicist:
he described [it] as "Murphy's law or the fourth law of thermodynamics" (actually there were only three last I heard) which states: "If anything can go wrong, it will."
In May 1951, 169) to have occurred in or after June, 1949.Anne Roe gives a transcript of an interview (part of a Thematic Apperception Test, asking impressions on a drawing) with Theoretical Physicist number 3: "...As for himself he realized that this was the inexorable working of the second law of the thermodynamics which stated Murphy's law ‘If anything can go wrong it will’. I always liked 'Murphy's law.' I was told that by an architect" Anne Roe's papers are in the American Philosophical Society archives in Philadelphia; those records (as noted by Stephen Goranson on the American Dialect Society list 12/31/2008) identify the interviewed physicist as Howard Percy "Bob" Robertson (1903–1961). Robertson's papers are at the Caltech archives; there, in a letter Robertson offers Roe an interview within the first three months of 1949 (as noted by Goranson on American Dialect Society list 5/9/2009). The Robertson interview apparently predated the Muroc scenario said by Nick Spark (American Aviation Historical Society Journal 48 (2003) p.
The name "Murphy's law" was not immediately secure. A story by Lee Correy in the February 1955 issue of Astounding Science Fiction referred to "Reilly's law," which "states that in any scientific or engineering endeavor, anything that can go wrong will go wrong".Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Lewis Strauss was quoted in the Chicago Daily Tribune on February 12, 1955, saying "I hope it will be known as Strauss' law. It could be stated about like this: If anything bad can happen, it probably will."
Arthur Bloch, in the first volume (1977) of his Murphy's Law, and Other Reasons Why Things Go WRONG series, prints a letter that he received from George E. Nichols, a quality assurance manager with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Nichols recalled an event that occurred in 1949 at Edwards Air Force Base, Muroc, California that, according to him, is the origination of Murphy's law, and first publicly recounted by USAF Col. John Paul Stapp. An excerpt from the letter reads:
The law's namesake was Capt. Ed Murphy, a development engineer from Wright Field Aircraft Lab. Frustration with a strap transducer which was malfunctioning due to an error in wiring the strain gage bridges caused him to remark – "If there is any way to do it wrong, he will" – referring to the technician who had wired the bridges at the Lab. I assigned Murphy's law to the statement and the associated variations.
According to Richard Dawkins, so-called laws like Murphy's law and Sod's law are nonsense because they require inanimate objects to have desires of their own, or else to react according to one's own desires. Dawkins points out that a certain class of events may occur all the time, but are only noticed when they become a nuisance. He gives as an example aircraft noise interfering with filming. Aircraft are in the sky all the time, but are only taken note of when they cause a problem. This is a form of confirmation bias whereby the investigator seeks out evidence to confirm his already formed ideas, but does not look for evidence that contradicts them.
Similarly, David Hand, emeritus professor of mathematics and senior research investigator at Imperial College London, points out that the law of truly large numbers should lead one to expect the kind of events predicted by Murphy's law to occur occasionally. Selection bias will ensure that those ones are remembered and the many times Murphy's law was not true are forgotten.
There have been persistent references to Murphy's law associating it with the laws of thermodynamics from early on (see the quotation from Anne Roe's book above).In particular, Murphy's law is often cited as a form of the second law of thermodynamics (the law of entropy) because both are predicting a tendency to a more disorganised state. Atanu Chatterjee investigated this idea by formally stating Murphy's law in mathematical terms. Chatterjee found that Murphy's law so stated could be disproved using the principle of least action.
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!,
Yhprum's law, where the name is spelled backwards, is "anything that can go right, will go right" — the optimistic application of Murphy's law in reverse.
Peter Drucker, the management consultant, with a nod to Murphy, formulated "Drucker's Law" in dealing with complexity of management: "If one thing goes wrong, everything else will, and at the same time."
Mrs. Murphy's Law is a corollary of Murphy's Law. It states that things will go wrong when Mr. Murphy is away, as in this formulation:
Anything that can go wrong will go wrong while Murphy is out of town.
Finagle's law of dynamic negatives is usually rendered as "Anything that can go wrong, will—at the worst possible moment."
Hanlon's razor is an aphorism "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity", known in several other forms. It is a philosophical razor which suggests a way of eliminating unlikely explanations for human behavior. Similar statements have been recorded since at least the 18th century. It is probably named after Robert J. Hanlon, a person who submitted the idea to a joke book.
The Selfish Gene is a 1976 book on evolution by the biologist Richard Dawkins, in which the author builds upon the principal theory of George C. Williams's Adaptation and Natural Selection (1966). Dawkins uses the term "selfish gene" as a way of expressing the gene-centred view of evolution, popularising ideas developed during the 1960s by W. D. Hamilton and others. From the gene-centred view, it follows that the more two individuals are genetically related, the more sense it makes for them to behave selflessly with each other.
Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) is a United States Air Force installation located in Kern County in Southern California, about 22 miles (35 km) northeast of Lancaster, 15 miles (24 km) east of Rosamond and 5.5 miles (8.9 km) south of California City.
Sod's law is a British culture axiom that "if something can go wrong, it will", sometimes also made to include that it will happen at "the worst possible time". The term is commonly used in the United Kingdom, though in North America the eponymous "Murphy's law" is more popular.
The Annals of Improbable Research (AIR) is a bimonthly magazine devoted to scientific humor, in the form of a satirical take on the standard academic journal. AIR, published six times a year since 1995, usually showcases at least one piece of scientific research being done on a strange or unexpected topic, but most of their articles concern real or fictional absurd experiments, such as a comparison of apples and oranges using infrared spectroscopy. Other features include such things as ratings of the cafeterias at scientific institutes, fake classifieds and advertisements for a medical plan called HMO-NO, and a very odd letters page. The magazine is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Colonel John Paul Stapp, M.D., Ph.D., was an American career U.S. Air Force officer, flight surgeon, physician, biophysicist, and pioneer in studying the effects of acceleration and deceleration forces on humans. He was a colleague and contemporary of Chuck Yeager, and became known as "the fastest man on earth". His work on Project Manhigh pioneered many developments for the US space program.
Adrian Bejan is a Romanian-American professor who has made contributions to modern thermodynamics and developed what he calls the constructal law. He is J. A. Jones Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Duke University and author of the books The Physics of Life: The Evolution of Everything and Freedom and Evolution: Hierarchy in Nature, Society and Science.
Edward Aloysius Murphy Jr. was an American aerospace engineer who worked on safety-critical systems. He is best known for his namesake Murphy's law, which is said to state, "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong".
The Root of All Evil?, later retitled The God Delusion, is a television documentary written and presented by Richard Dawkins in which he argues that humanity would be better off without religion or belief in God.
Yhprum's law is the opposite of Murphy's law. The simple formula of Yhprum's law is: "Everything that can work, will work." "Yhprum" is "Murphy" spelled in reverse.
Arthur Bloch is an American writer, author of the Murphy's Law books. He has also written a self-help satire called Healing Yourself with Wishful Thinking. Since 1986 he has been the producer and director of the Thinking Allowed PBS television series.
Nick T. Spark is an American documentary filmmaker and writer. Films he has written, directed or produced include Regulus: The First Nuclear Missile Submarines (2001) the Emmy award-winning The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club (2009) and Right Footed (2015). In addition to being a contributing editor to Wings and Airpower magazines, his articles have appeared in the Annals of Improbable Research, Naval History, the Journal of the American Aviation Historical Society, and Proceedings. People he has interviewed include President Gerald Ford, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Secretary of State Colin Powell, disability activist Jessica Cox and numerous test pilots including Charles "Chuck" Yeager. In 2007 Spark was interviewed on National Public Radio, concerning an article he wrote about the USS Panay incident, and he appeared on PBS' History Detectives in 2011 as an expert on the Navy's World War II drone, the TDR-1.
Research concerning the relationship between the thermodynamic quantity entropy and the evolution of life began around the turn of the 20th century. In 1910, American historian Henry Adams printed and distributed to university libraries and history professors the small volume A Letter to American Teachers of History proposing a theory of history based on the second law of thermodynamics and on the principle of entropy.
The quantum mind or quantum consciousness is a group of hypotheses proposing that classical mechanics cannot explain consciousness. It posits that quantum-mechanical phenomena, such as entanglement and superposition, may play an important part in the brain's function and could explain consciousness.
Growing Up in the Universe was a series of lectures given by Richard Dawkins as part of the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, in which he discussed the evolution of life in the universe.
The word energy derives from Greek ἐνέργεια (energeia), which appears for the first time in the work Nicomachean Ethics of 4th century BCE.
Muphry's law is an adage that states: "If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written." The name is a deliberate misspelling of "Murphy's law".
Several alternatives to the Ten Commandments have been promulgated by different persons and groups, which intended to improve on the lists of laws known as the Ten Commandments that appear in the Bible. Lists of these kinds exist in many different cultures and times. They are sometimes given names – for example, the Hindu Yamas.
A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing is a non-fiction book by the physicist Lawrence M. Krauss, initially published on January 10, 2012 by Free Press. It discusses modern cosmogony and its implications for the debate about the existence of God. The main theme of the book is how "we have discovered that all signs suggest a universe that could and plausibly did arise from a deeper nothing—involving the absence of space itself and—which may one day return to nothing via processes that may not only be comprehensible but also processes that do not require any external control or direction."
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