Murphy´s Law

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate November 2001

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The Science of Murphy´s Law Nearly everybody believes in pure chance. People seem not to know about Murphy´s Law, the 50- years- old theory that deals with all the unsolved mysteries people have been wondering about for several centuries.

Murphy´s Law has its roots in Air Force studies from 1949 when testpersons were strapped on a rocket propelled sled which was brought to an abrupt halt shortly after. Electrodes fitted to a harness were supposed to show the effects of this drastic slow down. But somehow those electrodes did not work properly and nobody could tell why. Murphy found out that every single electrode has been wired incorrectly. This incident made him propose that if there are two or more ways of doing something, and one of them can lead to catastrophe, then someone will decide on this particular way.

Murphy´s principle soon was transformed into a statement about the curse of everyday problems.

There are several examples of those daily annoyances, like falling slices of toast landing butter- side down. The reason for that phenomenon is quite simple. It all results from gravity and surfaces, which means nothing else that the toast has not enough height when it falls from the table. Therefore it cannot make a complete turn to face up again by the time it hits the floor.

Another example is the so called "odd socks". Their existence goes back to combinatoric analysis, which refers to random and repeated sock loss. One sock of a complete pair goes missing, another sock of another pair goes missing and at one go a pair of odd socks is created. The next "bad day" experience is when every queue in the supermarket moves faster than the one you are standing in yourself. Of course, each line is likely to be held up by random delays, but theory and combinatorics explain that it is more likely to be in a line that is not the fastest.

Probability theory also shows that the chances for rain are usually low during the short time a person is outside and rare weather events cannot be predicted reliably anyway. That is why it would be more logical not to take an umbrella.

The last example one could mention deals with places on a map. It is about probability and optical illusion. Simple geometry shows that more than half the area of the map falls into the so called "Murphy Zone" which represents all the inconvenient places of the map. Many of the theories by Murphy have an actual basis. Their light-hearted demonstrations make clear that trivial occurrences seldom have trivial explanations.

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