Monday, April 4, 2011

The Many Levels of Luck

Do you believe in luck?

Wikipedia defines it as "good or bad fortune in life caused by accident or chance, and attributed by some to reasons of faith or superstition, which happens beyond a person's control."

It is then classified into a few different categories, including cultural views of luck (and the Roman belief in Fortuna), luck as lack of control, luck as a logical fallacy, luck as an essence, and luck as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The "luck" perceived as out of our control would include things like where and to whom we are born, what we look like, whether or not we are sick or healthy, etcetera. In this respect, I must consider myself very lucky, as I love my family and I am, in general, a healthy person.

The rationalist argument about luck is that it is merely a term for those who want to avoid reality and take refuge in wishful thinking: that one can possess "good" or "bad" luck.

"To a rationalist, a believer in luck who asserts that something has influenced his or her luck commits the "post hoc ergo propter hoc" logical fallacy: that because two events are connected sequentially, they are connected causally as well. In general:

A happens (luck-attracting event or action) and then B happens;
Therefore, A influenced B." (wikipedia).

I must admit that I've been guilty of this illogical thinking, but so has anyone who has ever felt remotely superstitious or practiced a 'just in case' philosophy about something that is said to be good or bad luck. (Ever passed on one of those e-mails just to cover your bases? Or knocked on wood when you realized a long streak of health?)

Luck as essence suggests that one's belief in luck is determined by one's faith or belief system, and the idea that luck is influenced by actions, rituals, prayers--depending on one's philosophy.

The most common ways that we as people incorporate the notion of luck into our lives are:

--With games/gambling. We recently played a dice game on vacation, and it was impossible, when the goal was to roll two ones and some people simply couldn't do it, not to think that somehow the dice "liked" some rollers and not others. An odd phenomenon, but a common one.

--Lotteries. Who among us has not bought a lottery ticket at least once? And in what frame of mind does one buy that ticket?

--Decisions. "Leaving it to chance," according to Wikipedia, is often a way for people to resolve issues--for example, the flipping of a coin.

--Numerology. Many cultures embrace the idea of "lucky" and "unlucky" numbers. What's your lucky number? Why? Do you consider any numbers unlucky?

Luck is a fascinating concept to me, both in its largeness and its vagueness and also in its cultural persistence.

For example, when I have a manuscript floating out there in various offices, I often tend to think the results will be less about my talent and more about the way the universe works. It will be luck.

What's your philosophy about luck, or the lack thereof?

(Photo: by me, 2008, near my home. A "lucky" shot of the sunset).


JJ said...

I figure things will happen when the time is right, and no amount of my hurrying them along will make it happen sooner.My writer friends seem to operate on the same principle. It drives those around us nuts.

Julia Buckley said...

So that at least seems to imply a belief in fate--or fortune?

Sheila Connolly said...

Both my grandmother and my mother believed (kind of) in psychic powers--they read cards and that kind of thing, and my grandmother was much into reincarnation and spritualism, although she never pushed it on the family. While I've always been skeptical, I do think there are unseen forces at work, both good and bad, no matter what you label them--luck, karma, the alignment of the stars. I've seen enough things I can't explain, so I keep an open mind.

But I'm a little leery of calling my new series the "Luck of the Irish" series, since so far it has netted me a broken ankle. But I suppose that's the "bad" side--luck runs both ways.

Sandra Parshall said...

My own philosophy is that trying to make sense of random events will drive anyone crazy. So many different elements are involved in bringing us to a particular moment and outcome that it's impossible to control all of them. We control what we can and hope for the best. That's why so many people love mysteries: they know that in a book, at least, they can usually expect justice to be done at the end.

Julia Buckley said...

How interesting, Sheila! I'll bet the women in your family were wise from pursuing the answers.

Sandra, I know what you mean. I am often a realist and a pragmatist--except when I somehow indulge in a belief in luck. :)

jenny milchman said...

A weighty slice of me believes in essential randomness, but there's a sliver that sees events aligning in a way that brings purpose. You could maybe call that luck, or fortune, or fate. Sometimes it's hard to live with these two poles.

Really nice post!

Steve Moore said...

Hi everyone!
Another interesting topic...I'll go out on a limb and make two points: (1) I have trouble with the statement that "it's God's will," especially for random and violent events where someone near and dear to you dies; (2) the many-worlds-theory of quantum mechanics basically ensures that there is intrinsic randomness in the Universe--maybe God really does roll dice? To me that doesn't detract from His or Her creation (the gender specifying is another interesting topic), but it does mean that the old guy touching Adam's finger on the Sistine Chapel might be a little misleading.