Is Murphy’s Law an idiomatic expression to describe in layman’s terms the application of the second law of thermodynamics? I think it might be and let me explain why.
First allow me to briefly restate Murphy’s law. The first law of Murphy is ‘Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong’ and according to Brian Tracy the first corollary of Murphy’s first law is that of all the things that could go wrong, the very worst thing will go wrong, at the very worst time, and cost the very most amount of money.
Second, allow me to attempt a quick summary of the second law of thermodynamics. The second law of thermodynamics governs the change in energy states of matter such that an ordered state having higher energy requires an energy input to achieve. Not only that, but since energy is prone to radiating all about the place rather than directing itself solely upon the task at hand, creating order requires expending far greater energy than what the difference between the ordered and dis-ordered states.
This is due to the ordering process not being completely 100% efficient. Consequently further energy must be expended to make allowance for the energy that is lost to the environment via friction, infra-red radiation, or anything else that doesn’t contribute energy to the ordered state of the object.
Perhaps the simplest application of the second law of thermodynamics and a common experience for most of us is the natural decomposition of fresh fruit and vegetables. This is the second law at work in your refrigerator.
But how do these two concepts relate exactly? I see a parallel development of argument simply expressed in more or less defined arenas. Which is to say that the second law of thermodynamics is more rigidly defined and Murphy’s Law less yet the effect is the same.
The second law, sometimes called entropy, is far better equipped to explain the efficiency of an engine. In the classic example the caloric input of energy from fuel is measured and the resultant output of vehicular movement likewise measured and calculations performed to determine the expected efficiency. Not a task amenable to humor or cynical reflection. However in contrast to the exacting application of entropy, Murphy’s law however can be applied to any situation involving entropy without the need for algebra.
A charming aspect of Murphy’s law is that it provides a parallel description of entropy in situations less amenable to measurement, like the hoisting of a tent. Imagine a big tent on a hill for your daughters first wedding. The truckie dropped it off this morning, but was supposed to stay and set it up but had to leave to rescue his boat that had blown off it’s moorings in the bay around the peninsula.
First you notice the wind that you’d barely noticed prior to beginning erecting the tent suddenly becomes gusty and problematic. Then the tent peg that you were sure was for the awning, turns out to be the one for the door, and finally the puny little pegs you found first prove no match for the gusting wind and it soon ends up thirty-feet down a muddy hill in a heap.
It is only with the help of the new in-laws that you finally erect the tent… only after splashing mud over your white shirt and realizing that your keys are missing, to be found the next day, under the tent.
Probably stating the obvious really, but I thought it sounded kind of interesting. I’m happy to hear your comments. You can email me, send me a public tweet or even call if you feel so inclined.
The inspiration for this post was listening to John Wooden and Tony Robbins. I’ve got to give it to John Wooden, the world-famous basketball coach for UCLA, all around good guy, and peak performance role model. God bless him for reminding me to read the good book, and for his advice about conditioning, balance and everything else too.
If you’ve not signed up to Tony Robbins email list, you probably should. You can sign up here. He sent an email broadcast containing a link to download his Powertalk with John Wooden which I’ve put here since he says he’ll take it down in a couple of days. Also John gave a presentation at TED.com that you can watch it here.