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Sod's law is the axiom that "if something can go wrong, it will" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sod%27s_law

In the world of Sod, this axiom is literally true and is one of their laws of thermodynamics.

It would seem that the best tactic in any battle would be to do absolutely nothing and simply wait for the enemy to destroy itself by its own actions.

The problem is of course that battles simply become indefinitely long waiting games. While no-one gets killed through fighting, casualties are frequent through people falling off ladders, burning themselves whilst cooking or tripping over their own shoelaces and hitting their heads on unluckily placed hard surfaces..

Can anything be done to prevent this perpetual self-destructive stalemate and to actually win battles as opposed to merely not losing them?


Note: the Law doesn't mean that everything has to go catastrophically wrong. There is simply a certainty that something will go wrong with any given activity.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Dec 27 '18 at 4:31
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The trouble with the old sod is that even attempting to turn up has explicit risks. You can't even walk down stairs without termites having eaten the bottom step in the night.

You can't take any heavy weaponry because it will have rained in the night and the ground will be too soft. You can't cross a river because the ferry will break down. You can't take too many people because something will go wrong in your logistics chain and there won't be any food, or none of the tents will have poles. You can't send only a small squad because too many will get injuries just bad enough to stop them proceeding and nobody will actually turn up to the battle.

Luckily this works both ways and the enemy won't have managed to send anyone either. Unless that counts as something that can go wrong and this will be the one day that they actually manage to get people out there.

That's one of the problems with conflict under Sod's Law. Whose bad luck has priority? Does the sniper's rifle fail the one time the General breaks cover or does the General's own bad luck have precedence. One person's bad luck is the other's good luck.

What you're going to end up doing is leveraging the law to certain failure points.

  • Your tank can't break down just as you enter enemy territory if you can't get your tank to enemy territory. So for your tank to get that far a series of other factors have to not go wrong.
  • Your communications can't break on the morning of the great push, leading to utter chaos, if you can't get your people into position to make the great push in the first place.

It sounds a lot more like Sod has been playing silly buggers with the narrativium to ensure that rather than anything that can go wrong going wrong, only the most interesting thing that can go wrong actually goes wrong, but most other factors proceed approximately according to plan until that point.

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  • $\begingroup$ Bad luck isn't mutually exclusive for different parties. It's possible that the General is injured by the bullet and at the same time the sniper falls out of his hideout and breaks his leg. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Dec 26 '18 at 12:00
  • $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK, but that would be both a high value target and a Blighty wound for the sniper, a double win. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Dec 26 '18 at 12:06
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK, Sod's Law normally prefers the most embarrassing option. It wouldn't blow up an arms depot, but it would jam a rifle at a critical moment. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Dec 26 '18 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ If Sod’s Law can be interpreted as a trend towards the lowest energy state and quantum mechanical principles still hold then it’s possible this entire world is an exercise in adiabatic bad luck. The worst possible outcome overall will happen, jumping between a series of ‘good things happen now to set up a worse outcome later’ states. Theoretically an outside observer could, with careful measurement, predict these state transitions but not interfere with the system (lest they disturb the state they’re predicting).. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Dec 26 '18 at 17:49
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    $\begingroup$ @chaslyfromUK, try to avoid random and stick to things you can foreshadow in some way. You want some build up to the moment, let people see it coming. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Dec 28 '18 at 9:23
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There's two ways to look at this.

Metaphysics

Traditionally, "the best laid plans of mice and men often go arwy" isn't mathematically modelable (at least I hope not). If the likelihood of my stove breaking, or car breaking, or comb breaking increases simply because I've tried to plan a nice date with my girlfriend.... that's a mighty intuitive universe.

But let's assume that likelihood does go up. "As the desire of the human creature is brought to bear to bring about a modification of his environment the statistical possibility of mishap or breakage increases." This, of course, is expressed by Murphy's Number, a unitless quantity that fundamentally expresses the ratio of likelihood to succeed vs. likelihood to fail and is most often expressed as "1.67221309241 to 1 against."1

Should this be the case, the culture of the peoples of Sod would be the most natural organizers and planners in the universe. Indeed, Rube Goldberg would not have been a writer of comics on Sod — he would have been their lead scientist and hailed as a genius, the veritable savior of their world.

Classical Physics

On the other hand, if we look at "if something can go wrong, it will" as the world of Sod experiencing a significantly greater tendency toward Entropy than other worlds, then we have a more manageable law (and we don't have to jump through as many hoops to get to first base). In this case, it's harder to create heat differentials, shear stress, etc. The breaking point of things is much lower than anywhere else in the universe. Worse, the likelihood of breakage also increases, meaning the smallest flaw in manufacturing has a greater chance of leading to failure than elsewhere.

Should this be the case, the Sodians would become the greatest quality analysis people in the universe, as well as masters of redundancy.


1Scientists have been arguing for centuries about whether or not to use the word "against." However, in a famous experiment by Amarillo Slim (and despite his penchant for poker), he proved that given his desire to win ten games of craps in a row, the universe was decidedly against him.

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  • $\begingroup$ The phenomenon is metaphysical. It specifically refers to foiled desires. $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Dec 26 '18 at 17:59
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Both sides would quickly reach Nash Equilibrium

A Nash Equilibrium (named after the famous mathematician John Nash) describes a state where both sides come to terms / conflict, knowing the strategy of their opponent, reaching a level of stability where changing their strategy is no longer providing a better outcome for themselves.

In other words, if one side knows the Sod's law that you identify applies to the other side, you would not change your strategy to jeopardise your chances. Neither would they. You're at a Nash Equilibrium. This is the same state for instance in the Cold War, where it was hard to develop a solution to a deadlock because changing strategy may give the other side an advantage, knowing already what each others strategy was.

Not really different from today

One could also make a point though that the Sod's Law as you describe is already in force. All interactions are outcomes 'gone wrong'. We have just learned to bend the wrong to our advantage.

For instance an explosion is a violent expansive reaction when two chemical come into contact being quite dangerous - it has gone wrong. But we put it at the end of a tube to push out a bullet, we have manipulated the circumstances so the wrong turns into a purposeful force (a cannon). Even our bodies are littered with things 'going wrong', however all together it manages to operate ok, because evolution has manipulated or found niches where such undoings become advantages.

Leaders such as good generals, knowing the propensity for things to go wrong, cater for this and bend circumstances to their advantage. For instance, you could lie about a Star Wars program to disable nuclear weapons, the other side folds because they realise they could not compete while wondering how you got around Sod's law, not knowing they were tricked. Not a shot fired and resolves the conflict.

So this would break your Equilibrium, by finding a way for a 'wrong' to be to your advantage. Much like good leaders do throughout history.

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I fear that you are going to have to do a great deal of refinement on your version of Sod's Law. Under a strong version, none of us gets born (think of the chances for Bad Luck during fetal development), none of us survives infancy (again, think of all the things that can go wrong - disease, for instance, or maternal neglect), or childhood (scratched your knee? It's going to get fatally infected, of course.), even adulthood for that matter. If I walk in a forest, what are the chances that a tree will fall on me and kill me? The strong version of the law says that it is bound to happen, and it will also happen the first time you pass under a tree. Getting water from a river? You are bound to slip, hit your head and drown - it only takes a few inches of water to do the job if you are unlucky.

So you are going to have to put some limits on the working of the law, and those limits will determine what an army can do. I suggest that the simplest tactics ("Everybody in a straight line, face toward the enemy, and advance.") will be best. This is not as unworkable as it might sound, since (again, under the strong version) attempting to build fortifications is likely to kill a lot of workers. And let's not get into the life expectancy of blacksmiths, swordsmiths and armorers, or anybody who works with hot metal, fire, and heavy hammers.

Separatrix's comment about playing silly buggers with the narrativium is very much to the point. If Sod's Law only applies in little things (and I'd enjoy hearing how that would work) you will still need to define exactly what "little" means. "For want of a nail a shoe was lost. For want of a shoe a horse was lost. For want of a horse a kingdom was lost."

With all due respect, I suggest that the only reasonable literary approach to your idea is to write a farce, or comedy of errors, with Sod's Law applying for maximum comedic effect, and multiple inconvenient coincidences working together and at cross purposes to provide the result you desire. In other words, don't take the idea seriously. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink should be the order of the day.

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  • $\begingroup$ I've accepted the suggestion by Separatrix, "Sod's Law normally prefers the most embarrassing option." See also my comment that follows S's. P.S. Don't tell anyone but none of my ideas are meant to be taken seriously ;-) $\endgroup$ – chasly from UK Dec 27 '18 at 22:05

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