Sunday, January 24, 2016

Murphy's Law and More, Pt 1

Back in 2010 I posted an item about Murphy’s Law, the adage that “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”.

You can read that item at:

I was reminded of this when I recently came across a couple of other ''laws of the universe'.

The adage became known as Murphy’s Law in about 1950 although similar expressions dated back to the 1800’s. The modern statement of the adage as above, and the name Murphy’s Law, are generally attributed to Captain Edward Murphy, an engineer working on Edwards Air Force Base in 1949. Murphy said of one technician “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.” Shortly afterwards the base MD, Dr Stapp, said at a press conference that the base safety record was due to a firm belief in Murphy's Law and in the need to try and circumvent it. From there it was quoted and became more widely known, eventually worldwide.

Murphy’s Law, and laws like Murphy’s, help to explain and make sense of both minor occurrences and the structure of the universe. More importantly, they do so in practical ways we all understand and relate to. Quote Newton’s Third Law of Motion – “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” – and you will have people scratching their heads and wondering of what practical benefit in any event. Quote Aigner’s Axiom – “No matter how well you perform your job, a superior will seek to modify the results” – and people will nod knowingly. Not only do they know it’s true, either from experience or because it intuitively feels true, it also a practical tool to deal with expectation and for not becoming discouraged.

These laws of the universe are descriptive and identifying, not causative. Thus we know that as soon as you wash your car, it will rain, but you cannot deliberately make it rain by washing your car.

The comments, writings and observations of people have sometimes been restated into Murphy’s Law format, thereby creating more laws of the universe. 

One of my favourites is Cecil Baxter’s Law of Conservation of Filth: “You don’t get anything clean without getting something else dirty.” We clean the kitchen counter with a wipe cloth or hose the waste off the driveway. But this is not removal, merely redistribution. The wipe cloth is washed and the waste goes down the drain, as does the driveway waste, often times with added chemical content. It is merely being sent to another destination, often oceans, lakes, reservoirs and rivers. In a widened context, as a corollary (which I will call Otto’s Law of Family Law, having invented it): “To give something you have to take it away from somewhere or someone  else.”

In weeks to come I will post instalments of these laws of the universe.

They certainly make sense to me. 

Murphy's Law:

If anything can go wrong, it will. 

Murphy's Law Corollaries:

Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse. 

It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.

If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the first one to go wrong.

If anything just cannot go wrong, it will anyway. 

If you perceive that there are four possible ways in which something can go wrong, and circumvent these, then a fifth way, unprepared for, will promptly develop. 

If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something. 

Everything goes wrong all at once. 

Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.

Murphy's Constant: 

Matter will be damaged in direct proportion to its value 

Firestone's Law of Forecasting: 

Chicken Little only has to be right once. 

Manly's Maxim: 

Logic is a systematic method of coming to the wrong conclusion with confidence. 

Grizzard's truism: 

The trouble with most jobs is the job holder's resemblance to being one of a sled dog team. No one gets a change of scenery except the lead dog. 

Cannon's Comment:

If you tell the boss you were late for work because you had a flat tire, the next morning you will have a flat tire. 

O'Toole's Commentary on Murphy’s Law:

Murphy was an optimist. 

Scott's Second Law: 

When an error has been detected and corrected, it will be found to have been correct in the first place. 

Finagle's First Law: 

If an experiment works, something has gone wrong. 

Finagle's Second Law: 

No matter what the experiment's result, there will always be someone eager to: 
(a) misinterpret it; 
(b) fake it; or
(c) believe it supports his own pet theory. 

Finagle's Third Law: 

In any collection of data, the figure most obviously correct, beyond all need of checking, is the mistake. 

Finagle's Fourth Law:

Once a job is fouled up, anything done to improve it only makes it worse. 

Gumperson's Law: 

The probability of anything happening is in inverse ratio to its desirability. 

Rudin's Law: 

In crises that force people to choose among alternative courses of action, most people will choose the worst one possible. 

Ginsberg's Restatement of the Three Laws of Thermodynamics: 

You can't win. 
You can't break even. 
You can't even quit the game.

The Fourth Law of Thermodynamics: 

Everything takes longer and costs more.

Ehrman's Commentary:

Things will get worse before they will get better. 

Commoner's Second Law of Ecology: 

Nothing ever goes away. 

Howe's Law: 

Everyone has a scheme that will not work.

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