[FOUNTAIN]Murphy's Law and Bonanzas

Home > Opinion > Editorials

print dictionary print

[FOUNTAIN]Murphy's Law and Bonanzas

You stand in line to buy movie tickets but the last tickets are sold just as you reach the head of the line.

You knock over your coffee cup only once or twice a year but, when you do, it is always on your computer keyboard.

Waiting in line in a public washroom, the person in front of you in the toilet always takes an especially long time. Murphy's Law says if anything can possibly go wrong, it will.

A young physicist, Chung Jae-seung, borrowed some of English physicist Robert Matthews' work for his book, "Science Concert," and said that there are scientific grounds for Murphy's Law.

Mr. Matthews put simple scientific reasoning to the burning question of why dropped toast always seems to land buttered side down. Murphy's Law comes into play, because not only have you wasted part of your breakfast, but you have to stop to clean up the mess at a busy time of the day. Mr. Matthews said that taking gravity and air friction into account, the toast's fall almost always begins at a height - a person's hand or a plate on the kitchen table - which allows the toast to make only half a rotation before it hits the floor.

Mr. Chung gives his own example. Standing at one of the 12 checkout lanes at a grocery store, yours always seems the slowest moving. No wonder, Mr. Chung says. There are 11 other lanes, so the probability of your lane moving slower than at least one of the others is eleven-twelfths - pretty high, even before you add your paranoia about Murphy's Law and conclude that your line is moving slower than all the others.

So there seems to be a reason for bad luck. If so, it seems plausible that there will be good reasons for good luck also. The brothers who won a jackpot in a lottery are a case in point. The probability, one out of 20 million, does not seem too slim when you add the brothers' incredible story of love and caring. A lot of people understood why they were so fortunate.

Then what about the case of the "Bundang jackpot"? A company worth just 300 million won ($230,000) bought by a private contract a parcel of land worth 160 billion won.

Then the zoning was changed and the price of the land skyrocketed. The result is a jackpot of a size that cannot be compared at all with the size of the brothers' winning lottery tickets.

We cannot definitely accuse anyone of any wrongdoing, since the people involved in the land deal have insisted so far that no law was broken. But this one is sure to have some scientists dumbfounded if they are called upon to explain it scientifically.

The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun

Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)