How Murphy's Law Works

Luis Enrique Ascui/Getty Images The science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke came up with his own “unnatural law," Clarke's Third Law.

Other Universal Truths

Although Murphy's Law captures the jaded, pessimistic view of the world very well, it doesn't stand alone. Since its popularization following the rocket sled tests at Edwards Air Force Base, shrewd observers have come up with some of their own laws.

Some have become famous in their own right, like the Peter Principle, which states that all people will eventually be promoted to their level of incompetence, or O'Toole's Commentary on Murphy's Law, which argues that Murphy was an optimist. There are literally thousands of rules, laws, principles and observations that have been created since Murphy's Law. Some are funny, some are wise and some are just plain cool. Others are old, tried-and-true observations:

  • Etorre's Observation - The other line moves faster.
  • Barth's Distinction - There are two types of people in the world: those who divide people into types and those who don't.
  • Acton's Law - Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely
  • Boob's Law - You always find something in the last place you look.
  • Clarke's Third Law - Any sufficiently advanced society is indistinguishable from magic.
  • Franklin's Rule - Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he will not be disappointed.
  • Issawi's Law of the Path of Progress - A shortcut is the longest distance between two points.
  • Mencken's Law - Those who can, do. Those who cannot, teach.
  • Patton's Law - A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

Each of these sayings explains some aspect of the universe and puts it into an easily understood (and often funny) form. Even so, Murphy's Law remains the granddaddy of all maxims. What is it about this law that we find so perfectly captures life? In the next section, we'll look at why Murphy's Law is such a universal concept.