Murphy reigns supreme

CHANCES ARE You are stuck in knee-deep rainwater after a bad day at work. You get splashed

CHANCES ARE You are stuck in knee-deep rainwater after a bad day at work. You get splashed   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: K. R. Deepak

It’s been 60 years since Murphy came up with a law we all love to blame when things go really wrong

It is one of those days that you can’t wait to get done with. Your car won’t start and you are late for work. You hail an autorickshaw but for some reason all the autorickshaw drivers are avoiding the area where your office is. Finally, one kind soul agrees to take you. When you are minutes away from your office, the auto has moved a grand total of two centimetres in the traffic jam. You get out cursing your bad luck, your boss and everything else.You tell yourself it can’t possibly get any worse, only to be caught in what forms into the downpour of the century. Sound familiar?

You’re probably familiar with Murphy’s Law. The law, which turns 60 this year, states: “If anything can go wrong, it will”. There has been some dispute over the precise origin of the law.

The law as we now know it was named after Edward Aloysius Murphy Jr., an American pilot and aerospace test engineer who worked on safety systems for experimental aircraft such as the SR-71 Blackbird.

According to Nick T. Spark, author of “A History of Murphy’s Law”, in 1949 the U.S. Air Force set up a series of experiments to test the tolerance of the human body to G-forces (gravitational forces) during rapid deceleration. Colonel John Paul Stapp, an Air Force medical officer, was in charge of the tests. Murphy was also involved in these tests. Four sensors, were attached to the subject’s body. However, Murphy’s assistant installed all of them the wrong way round, resulting in a zero reading. Apparently at that moment Murphy said, “If there’s more than one way to do a job, and one of those ways will result in disaster, then somebody will do it that way.”

A more refined version was given by Colonel Stapp: “We do all of our work in consideration of Murphy’s Law which he stated as ‘Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong’.”

The first mention of Murphy’s Law in this context occurred in print in 1952. It soon became popular and sparked a number of laws in various categories. Finagle’s Law is a corollary to Murphy’s: “Anything that can go wrong, will, and at the worst possible moment.”

So do people vouch for this law? Ridhima Shetty, a student says, “The law plays a big role in our lives. Many times you feel like everything is right, you’ve checked and planned out everything but then something or the other has to go wrong. I once sat in a really boring class for four hours straight. But just because I turned around to ask a question I lost attendance for the entire day. Another example is that I’ll get up on time and go to college. When I’m five minutes away I’ll get stuck in a traffic jam for half an hour!”

Anuradha Bernadette, research assistant, agrees. “I do think the law is relevant and applicable to my life. As a student, it used to be that if you’re typing out an assignment, the longer it is, the more the chances of the computer shutting down. I think one law that applies to everyone is that the time that your house is the messiest is the time that people will decide to visit.”

Deepa J., a design engineer, says, “The law is a realistic statement. As in, it is a philosophy you use when planning something. For instance, in designing, everything can go wrong. So you have to plan everything down to the last detail to ensure that everything turns out right.”

To read more about Murphy’s Law log on to > There are laws on practically everything from love, teaching and real estate to photography and sewing. You can also log on to > where you can read a four part article by Nick T. Spark on the origin of the law and circumstances in which the law was formulated


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