Day 33: Murphy and Newton

Last week, I asked for some blog content ideas so I could stock up before my big January trip. One of the post ideas offered was, “Murphy’s Law vs. Newton’s Laws.” I’m tackling it today because I just so happened to get an applicable Christmas gift that serves as a nice lead-in.

By some happy accident, I acquired “F in Exams: The Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers” by Richard Benson at my family’s white elephant gift exchange (I stole it, someone stole it from me, someone stole it from that person and then I secretly traded a glass water bottle for it after the game was over).

The book chronicles test questions and a collection of ridiculous test answers from students. Here’s an example:

Q: What type of attractive force or bond holds the sodium ions and chloride ions together in a crystal of sodium chloride?
A: James Bond

Here’s the one that applies to this post (never mind the funky grammar):

Q: What was Sir Isaac Newton famous for?
A: He invented gravity.

It just so happens that my mother is in the process of finishing writing a pre-teen book called, “Isaac Newton Invented Gravity: and Other Myths.” It’s funny, smart and can get a kid hooked on physics. I can’t wait for it to be published so I can plug it here.

So—Murphy’s Law vs. Newton’s Laws.

The history of Murphy’s Law is actually pretty interesting. For now, we’re concerned with the law itself—“what can go wrong will go wrong” and a variety of iterations stating basically the same thing.

The similarity between Murphy and Newton’s Laws is that they tend to be widely simplified. That’s pretty much it.

Murphy’s Law is a simple statement suggesting a complex phenomenon that isn’t actually a law. For proof, see December 22, 2012 and my family’s white elephant gift exchange (my new favorite book could have permanently fallen into the wrong hands—or the fire—but it didn’t).

Newton’s Laws are complex scientific proofs that describe what appear to be the simple processes we observe every day. A thing moves or rests at a constant speed and in a constant direction until force acts on it (a sitting ball won’t start rolling on its own and a rolling ball will roll until it is stopped). Forces exist in pairs; to every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction (feet press on the ground and the ground presses back on feet). There are more laws that show how every motion—flying, walking, driving, swimming, sitting, resting, running, etc.—relies on a set of foundational truths about gravity. Newton didn’t invent or discover gravity, but he painstakingly codified how we understand it.

I never actually took physics, but I did take a two-week elementary school Summer Academy course in which I got to ride roller coasters and throw eggs. I feel pretty confident in my assessment of Newton’s Laws.

With that, this post about Murphy’s Law and Newton’s Laws concludes. Thank you for the idea, McLaughlin. Feel free to send more.