Is Murphy's Law Real?

By Antonia Čirjak on January 9 2020 in Did You Know

Murphy's Law, what can go wrong will go wrong.
Murphy's Law, what can go wrong will go wrong.

Murphy’s law is the one that is easy to explain, but it often seems to be very hard to prove, at least with any scientific confidence. The whole paradigm can basically be put into one sentence: If anything can go wrong, it will.

The law was postulated by an aircraft engineer called Edward A. Murphy, who was working on a project that would determine what events would happen in the event of a crash, and how the deceleration would affect the pilot. After one experiment, after he found out that one of the parts was wired wrong, he blamed the technician by saying that ‘’he’ll always find the wrong way to do it if there is any’’. This postulate was used as a leading idea when thinking about how a country should handle their defense organizations, meaning they should always think about worst-case scenarios. 

Murphy’s Law and Everyday Life

How does Murphy’s Law apply to our everyday lives then? Do we really have to think that every action we take can go wrong? Are our actions just a string of luck and coincidence, which we can not control? Well, to put it shortly, yes and no.

Indeed, it is only logical, and even human, to think that things might not always go as we planned. Can this be applied as an absolute or as a law? Absolutely not. Just think how big is the number of actions you took during your life that could have ended badly, or even fatal, for you. If you ever drove in a car and made it out alive, look - you practically defeated the Murphy’s Law all by yourself! If you ever traveled anywhere with a plane, took off and landed safely, again, you were not struck by the Murphy’s Law prophecy.

A fallen dish of pasta on the floor
Murphy's Law - a fallen dish of pasta on the floor. 

Confirmation Bias

Richard Dawkins, a renowned evolutionary biologist from England, views the Murphy’s Law as complete nonsense. The main argument being that the law itself requires, or even yet, presupposes that inanimate objects technically have a will of their own. Everyday life is made out of a string of events. As Dawkins explains it, we are only noticing the variables when things go wrong. In the context of Murphy’s Law, that means we fall into the trap of confirmation bias, and we explain the unfortunate outcome of an event after the fact, assigning meaning to the variables the way it suits us best. 

Selection Bias Traps in Murphy’s Law

Similar criticism of Murphy’s Law was pointed out by David Hand, a mathematician from the Imperial College in London, who claims that the events which are predicted in Murphy’s paradigm, can easily be explained with the law of truly large numbers. Simply put, things can occasionally go wrong. Another trap hidden within the Murphy’s Law, as Hand pointed it out, is selection bias. People tend to remember, which is not a bad thing, since this is one of the ways we learn, how a particular event went terrible, and forget how many events before went smoothly. 

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