The Church of Murphy

Though I love to debate religion (and politics), I am keenly aware it would be considered terrible form to do so in this venue. But if I should in the future refer to "Murphy” (of Murphy's Law) as a deity, it is strictly tongue-in-cheek, and  NOT an intentional assault on traditional theism. Instead, I play this game of referring to Murphy in ways often heard in traditional religious settings, as a helpful reminder to myself of the way I beieve the universe of physical stuff works. There is only a single command on the "tablet" in Murphy's church:


At first blush, this sounds like the universe is set against us. But that's not actually what it says (that would be: EVERYTHING WILL ALWAYS GO WRONG). No, the way I view it, the (non-living) physical universe is neither “fer ya”, nor “agin ya” - it is completely neutral. The reason I like to constantly remind myself, using jokes about “The Almighty Murphy”, is that it is most often the case that when the physical universe bites me in the ass, it is because I have lapsed into somehow believing it is on my side. As example: hoping that vibration in my car's steering column is going to get better on its own.

Problems in human medicine are often far too complex to expect that they will be solved within the span of a physician's lifetime. Aging, cancer, vascular disease – the list is both long and deep. One of the reasons I'm drawn to motion control is that its puzzles are generally solvable within my time on the planet  (though they are not trivially simple). The best ways I know to avoid the trap of  “hopeful thinking” when it comes to materials (including electrons) and how to get them to do  my bidding:

  1. Use the scientific method when time permits. Got a "great"  idea? Good for you – test the crap out of it before even thinking it might be solid.

  2. If there is not time to fully test every detail, have at least one  plan B. (On second thought - have a plan B even if you think you've tested everything.)

In preparation for producing Sisyphus tables for the home, we've spent over three years testing prototype mechanisms, putting 1000's of hours (and miles) on them, tweak after successive tweak. Something which surprised me early on, because I hadn't really encountered it in my prior decades of motion control artwork, is how singularly important the need for low-noise is to me now. (Think about it - how many machines in your home are truly silent while running?) Throughout these years of testing, Micah and I have often puzzled over some errant “tick” or “squeak” emanating from a Sisbot, debating each other as to what “must” be the cause. Murphy has listened to our chatter, no doubt amused. In every case, not until we thoroughly tested our theories and uncovered the actual culprit, was a problem truly solved.

You'd be surprised how tough tracking down an intermittent noise can be. Indeed:  Murphy works in mysterious ways.

Bruce Shapiro