319: Engineering Hubris

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Engineering Hubris
Chuck Jones is a vengeful god.
Title text: Chuck Jones is a vengeful god.


This comic starts with a philosophical musing about engineering. The last panel reveals a joke about Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner, a cartoon series created by Chuck Jones. In the cartoon, the Coyote is constantly building odd contraptions (with parts ordered from the Acme Corporation) to catch the Road Runner. The Coyote never succeeds, often because his devices don't work as intended.

The word Hubris from the comic title means extreme pride or arrogance. It is a theme from the classic Greek plays, and is usually severely punished by the gods. The title text is implying that Chuck Jones would not let hubris go unpunished; the engineer might be able to construct 'better' traps than Wile E, but they would still be doomed to fail.

From the second panel, Murphy's Law can be simplified to "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." It was originally developed as a guideline for accident prevention starting at the design level. In the common vernacular today, it is interpreted more liberally: "If there is even the slightest chance of an unfortunate accident occurring, despite all your attempts to prevent it, the accident will happen anyway, purely out of spite." The namesake Edward A. Murphy Jr. has since evolved to mythic proportions, being cast as a vengeful god of misfortune and ruin.


[This comic is illustrated in color. Landscape in the background, canyon with a winding road.]
Maybe engineering is the pursuit of an unattainable perfection.
Maybe it's impossible to create something bug-free.
Maybe I'm a fool
Maybe the tyranny of Murphy is the penalty for hubris.
But I just can't shake the feeling
[Cueball standing on boxes labeled "ACME."]
With all those supplies
I could have caught that roadrunner.

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Should there be an explanation for the phrase "tyranny of Murphy is the penalty for hubris"? There is a simple definition of Murphy's Law, but, while poetic, it might be difficult for those who do not speak English as well to understand the allusion, and this sentence seems to be an important part of the comic. The "tyranny of Murphy" would be the harsh justice of "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong", and it would be the punishment for someone who was too confident. In other words, while Wile E. Coyote seemed to fail due to his own incompetence, if the narrator were to try and catch the Roadrunner, the narrator would be doomed (perhaps by Murphy's Law) to fail as well. I am not making an edit, since I might be overestimating how difficult it is to interpret. Tryc (talk) 16:46, 20 June 2013 (UTC)

I did try to explain the word hubris, maybe it helps.--Dgbrt (talk) 19:39, 20 June 2013 (UTC)
Expanded the discussion of hubris. 20:47, 23 December 2013 (UTC)
So I just say thanks --Dgbrt (talk) 16:56, 24 December 2013 (UTC)