Murphy’s Law: what it is

Murphy's Law
Ted Scott
Ted Scott
20 March 2024
4 min

Any person who learns the essence of Murphy’s Law will say: “yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, we’ve seen it, we know it, it’s right about me”. Briefly, it says that if trouble can happen, it will happen. In life, such failures happen to us all the time – you stand at the end of the shortest line, the next one immediately began to move faster; you throw away an unnecessary thing, and it soon became necessary; you are late for work, there are bound to be traffic jams on the roads, and transport will stand at every traffic light.

The ironic philosophical concept existed long before the name originated. But is there more to it than that? Let’s get to the bottom of it.

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History of origin

In the middle of the last century there lived an uncle named Murphy, not the actor Eddie, but Major Edward, but also from the USA. He noticed that “shit-happens” were encountered by everyone in general, and simply summarized the observations.

In 1949, a team of engineers, along with Murphy, studied engine problems at an American airbase. The purpose of the study was to find the most possible causes of Air Force aircraft crashes.

On examining one of the mechanisms, it turned out that the engine screws were spinning in the opposite direction due to a mechanical error. When the problem was found, Major Murphy said: “If you can do something two ways, one of which is wrong, a man will choose that one.” The statement resonated with his colleagues and later traveled beyond the military base and was liked by the rest of the nation.

There was even a benefit: later colleagues, referring to Murphy, were more attentive to the tasks in the research. This saved other problems and improved the quality of work. For many people, this kind of law removes responsibility from the participants of the situation and shifts it to external factors. Anything is better than calling yourself a person with hands growing out of the wrong place.

How Murphy’s Law works

The law has no scientific proof. All mistakes made by people are explained by the simple human factor. Their probability increases due to multivariate actions, lack of sufficient experience or knowledge, working under stress.

What does the law mean in terms of how the human psyche works? Selective memory emphasizes only the moments that elicited the most vivid response. Of the many neutral and positive outcomes of any situation, the brain will remember only one – the negative one.

Belief in Murphy’s Law is the result of brain weirdness. For example, if you clean a window in an apartment every month in good weather, a person will not remember the simple action. But if it rains once after cleaning, the brain will associate clean windows and bad weather. A housewife will formulate this way: “I washed the windows – to be rain”. A variant for drivers: “Washed the car – it will rain”.

A scientist once tried to prove this law (yes, yes, of course, a British one) by comparing the meaning with the thermodynamic law. But proving the assumption with the help of probability theory did not work. The situation can develop in any direction, and conditions can change.

How to apply Murphy’s Law

You cannot take the law as a hundred percent probability of a negative outcome of any situation. For example, every day millions of people buy goods in online stores, but only the lucky ones can get to a phishing site or transfer money to fraudsters. Random? Not really. Any inattentive person can fall into the trap of ill-wishers. But if you treat your finances with more responsibility and check all transactions, the probability of falling into the net of fraudsters is minimal.

Murphy’s Law causes us to view any situation as potentially dangerous. It causes us to leave the house early to avoid being late for an important meeting, to check that appliances in the house are turned off, to keep personal belongings under supervision.

Everyday life, when Murphy’s Law intrudes, usually turns into situations that are irritating. But they are rarely accompanied by critical consequences.

Murphy’s Law is not to be dwelt upon. If you approach it rationally, you can avoid many troubles. For example, you can calmly accept the negative course of events and have a few backup plans in case the law of the humorous American major will work. Or you can become paranoid and destroy your psyche with constant anxiety without having a plan “B”.

There is also a working exercise that allows you to calm down quickly. Ask yourself questions that the worst thing that can happen in different spheres of life: professional, personal, family, household, social and others. After that, come up with a plan of action in case a complete failure occurs. Here, there is a strategy, you have even already partially lived the worst.

Murphy’s Law in business

The bigger the deal, the larger the sums at stake. It is not surprising that entrepreneurs are nervous and anxious before transactions. You can’t completely prevent negativity, but you can reduce the likelihood of some of the problems if you prepare in advance, calculate the risks and correct the plan. For example, before an important transaction, you can be nervous and spill coffee on yourself. But a prudent person has a spare shirt at work. And pants. Just in case.

Large businesses (if they don’t close immediately) have strategies for any force majeure. Managers know what to do if the power goes out or a key employee quits: data backups are set up on computers, and a few lower-level employees can temporarily replace a boss who has jumped ship. In business, it is important to understand possible risks, plan a backup algorithm of actions, train employees to make more modern decisions, and develop standards for the work of organizations. In general, spread straws wherever you can fall.

However, it is not possible to fully control the work process. Employees have different experience, education, emotional state and level of current fatigue. Even if an employee has been doing the same thing for many years, this does not guarantee a hundred percent perfect result.

What’s the bottom line

Murphy effect – can be a useful chip for a lighter attitude to life situations. It can save you from unnecessary mistakes, contribute to increased attentiveness, careful control of work and daily affairs.

Thanks to the law, we realize that everyone can make absurd mistakes and life can throw all sorts of things at us. But by choosing an appropriate behavioral pattern and thinking through a strategy of action, we make the day more comfortable and predictable without relying on chance.

If you want to know more about these patterns, buy Arthur Bloch’s book with a collection of brief postulates about this wonderful life. We have told you the basics.

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