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Joke, superstition, or fact: What is Murphy's law and why people believe in it

Joke, superstition, or fact: What is Murphy's law and why people believe in it Illustrative photo: What Murphy's law means (Getty Images)

Each of us has repeatedly experienced situations where everything that could go wrong did go wrong. This phenomenon, known as Murphy's law, confidently inserts itself into our daily lives, emphasizing its relevance and significance.

RBC-Ukraine explains what Murphy's law is and how it appeared.

What Murphy's law says

You’ve likely faced countless failures. On the day you leave home without an umbrella, heavy rain starts. You go to the bathroom, and your phone starts ringing from another room.

When you drop a piece of buttered bread, it seems to always land butter-side down. You might think that the whole world has somehow conspired to laugh at you in some eerie way.

One of the likely laws of our world perfectly reflects this parody - Murphy's law. Although there are several variations, the most famous explanation of this superstition is: "Whatever can go wrong will go wrong."

Was Murphy a real person

Murphy's law, coined in the mid-20th century at Edwards Air Force Base, California, refers to Captain Edward A. Murphy (1891-1971), an engineer who worked on the USAF project MX981.

Reportedly, during one of the high-speed rocket sled tests, some sensors were installed backward, rendering them useless and unable to record any data. This malfunction, caused by human error, led to the failure of a successful test.

"If there are two or more ways to do something and one of those results in a catastrophe, then someone will do it that way," Captain Murphy is said to have exclaimed in frustration.

How Murphy's law spread

After this incident, Colonel Stapp, known for his vivid personality, was impressed by Murphy's statement.

Soon after, at a press conference, Colonel Stapp made a warning about rocket sled experiments. He said that they had taken Murphy's law into account and thus were able to ensure the highest safety standards.

When asked what Murphy's law was, Stapp formulated the initial version as: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong."

This concise quoted version of Murphy's statement was picked up by the media as "Murphy's law" and soon began to be discussed and used outside the aerospace circle.

Law or superstition?

Murphy's law says that despite a record drought, on the very day you leave your car windows down, it will pour with rain.

It’s not an exact science (and certainly not a law); it’s not science at all. It’s a declaration of acceptance of the world and its wonderfully unpredictable nature. We can never predict with absolute certainty what will happen and what won't.

No matter how old, practiced, educated, or naïve we are, we are all subject to life's unknown mysteries. Murphy's proposed solution to this predicament is very simple: be prepared for anything.

Sources: Farmers Almanac, Science ABC, Wikipedia.