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Luck

Luck is the belief in an organisation of fortunate and unfortunate events. Luck is a form of superstition which is interpreted differently by different individuals.

Luck as a fallacy

A rationalist approach to luck includes the application of the rules of probability, and an avoidance of unscientific beliefs. The rationalist feels the belief in luck is a result of poor reasoning or wishful thinking. To a rationalist, a believer in luck commits the post hoc logical fallacy:

A happens (I wear my lucky shirt) and then B happens (something good)
Therefore, A caused B

In this worldview, probability is only affected by confirmed causal connections. A brick falling on a person walking below, therefore, is not a function of that person's luck, but is instead the result of a collection of understood, (or explainable) occurrences. Statistically, every person walking under the building was just as likely to have the brick fall on them.

An alternative rationalist approach to luck is to contrast it with control. Luck is that which happens beyond a persons control. This view incorporates phenomena that are chance happenings, a person's place of birth for example, but where there is no uncertainty involved, or where the uncertainty is irrelevant. Within this framework one can differentiate between three different types of luck:

  1. Constitutional luck, that is, luck with factors beyond a person's control because they cannot be changed. Place of birth and genetic constitution are typical examples.
  2. Circumstantial luck, that is, luck with factors that cannot control because they are randomly brought on. Accidents and epidemics are typical examples.
  3. Consequential luck, that is, luck with factors you cannot control because they are a capricious result of your actions. A typical example would be throwing a rock off of a cliff. Hitting someone walking below is a consequence of numerous factors beyond your control, it is a matter of luck.

The gambler's fallacy and inverse gambler's fallacy both explain some reasoning problems in common beliefs in luck. They involve denying the unpredictability of random events: "I haven't rolled a six all week, so I'll definitely roll one tonight".

Luck as an essence

There is also a series of spiritual, or supernatural beliefs regarding fortune. These beliefs vary widely from one to another, but most agree that luck can be influenced through spiritual means by performing certain rituals or by avoiding certain situations.
One such activity is Prayer, a religious practice in which this belief is particularly strong. Many cultures and religions worldwide place a strong emphasis on a person's ability to influence their luckiness by ritualistic means, sometimes involving sacrifice, omens or spells. Others associate luck with a strong sense of superstition, that is, a belief that certain taboo or blessed actions will influence how fortune favors them for the future.

Carl Jung described syncronicity: the "temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events". He described coincidences as an effect of a collective unconscious.

Judeo-Christian and Islamic religions believe in the will of a supreme being rather than luck as the primary influence in future events. The degrees of this Divine Providence vary greatly from one sect to another; however, most acknowledge divine providence as at least a partial if not complete influence on luck. These religions, in their early development, accommodated many traditional practices from their reasons. All three, at different times, accepted omens and practice forms of ritual sacrifice in order to divine the will of their supreme being or to influence His favoritism.

Mesoamerican religions, such as the Aztecs, Mayans and Inca, had particularly strong beliefs regarding the relationship between rituals and luck. In these cultures, human sacrifice (both of willing volunteers and captured enemies) was seen as a way to please the gods and earn their favor for the city offering the sacrifice. The Mayans, also believed in blood offerings, where men or women wanting to earn favor with the gods to bring about good luck would cut themselves and bleed on the gods alter.

Many African religions such as voodoo and hoodoo have a strong belief in superstition. Some of these religions include a belief that third parties can influence an individuals luck. Shamans and witches are both loved and feared based on their ability to provide good or bad fortune for those in the villages near them.

Luck as placebo

Some encourage the belief in luck as a false idea, but which may spawn positive thinking, and alter ones responses for the better. Others like Jean Paul Sartre and Sigmund Freud, feel a belief in luck has more to do with a locus of control for events in one's life, and the subsequent escape from personal responsibility. According to this theory, one who ascribes their travails to "bad luck" will be found upon close examination to be living risky lifestyles. On the other hand, people who consider themselves "lucky" in having good health may be actually reaping the benefits of a cheerful outlook and satisfying social relationships, both of which are well known statistically to be protective against many stress-related diseases. If "good" and "bad" events occur at random to everyone, believers in good luck will experience a net gain in their fortunes, and vice versa for believers in bad luck. This is clearly likely to be self-reinforcing. Thus, although untrue, a belief in good luck may actually be an adaptive meme.

Manifestations

Numerology

Most cultures consider some numbers to be lucky or unlucky. This is found to be particularly strong in Asian cultures, where the obtaining of "lucky" telephone numbers, automobile license plate numbers, and household addresses are actively sought, sometimes at great monetary expense.

Sayings

Popular sayings and quotations related to luck:

  • "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity" - Seneca, Roman Dramatist
  • "Fortes fortuna adiuvat" (Fortune favors the brave) - Latin proverb
  • "You make your own luck" -
  • "When it rains, it pours" - this is an expression of the mathematical property of statistically independent events that bunch together.
  • "Bad things happen in threes" - see above
  • "Luck is the residue of design" - Branch Rickey
  • When something happens by "sheer dumb luck", it is considered to have happened unintentionally and without planning.
  • "Luck be a lady tonight" -- song from the musical "Guys and Dolls"
  • A famous Samuel Goldwyn quote sums up the rationalist view: "The harder I work, the luckier I get". Or an equally famous Gary Player quote "The harder I practice, the luckier I get".
  • Knocking on wood, spoken expression used as a charm to bring good luck. In medieval times, it was believed that there were spirits living in the trees. You would "knock on wood" for the spirits to protect you from bad luck.
  • "In my experience, there's no such thing as luck" - Obi-Wan Kenobi.
  • "Luck can only get you so far" by Hermione, referring to a "luck potion Felix Felicis" in Harry Potter (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)
  • "Luck of the Irish"
  • "getting lucky" - euphemism for (a man) having sex (implied to be statistically improbable)
  • "Find a penny, pick it up. All day long, you'll have good luck!"
  • "Its better to be lucky than good!!"
  • "It's smarter to be lucky than it's lucky to be smart." - King Charles from the stage musical Pippin
  • "Luck favors the prepared, darling." Edna Mode in Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles
  • "Luck is for those who don't think they can make a difference in life." Yank
  • "God does not play dice with the universe" Albert Einstein
  • "Luck favors fools and little babies."
  • "Who dares, wins" -- motto of the Special Air Service

Luck in Scripture

  • The bearing Isaiah 65:11 has on beliefs concerning luck is a matter of controversy.

Items or events

Several items or happenings are considered lucky or unlucky.

Lucky

  • Finding a penny on heads
  • Horseshoes
  • Four-leaf clovers
  • Rabbit's feet, (unlucky to say 'rabbit' on the Isle of Portland)
  • Ladybugs
  • Elephant with the trunk pointing up
  • The number seven.
  • knocking on wood
  • Crossing your fingers.
  • tea stalk standing upward on the bottom of a cup

Unlucky

  • Friday the 13th.
  • The number 13 (Many buildings skipped 13 when numbering their floors for this reason)
  • Black cat crossing your path
  • Stepping on a crack (it breaks the back of the stepper's mother)
  • Breaking a mirror (seven years bad luck)
  • Spilling over salt (When salt was more precious than gold, if you spilt some it meant that a demon was trying to steal your salt, but by appeasing it with a little salt over your left shoulder the demon would leave).
  • Putting a hat on a bed
  • Opening an umbrella indoors
  • Killing a ladybug/ladybird
  • Killing a spider in your home.
  • Walking underneath a ladder (when being hanged, the condemned man would often be made to pass underneath a ladder before climbing it and onto the gallows)
  • saying "good luck"
  • replying "thank you" to someone wishing you good luck
  • picking up a penny face-down (can be avoided by giving the penny away).
  • putting shoes on a table. In the UK, this is considered to bring extremely bad luck, traditionally the death of a person in the house. This is sometimes specified to only be unlucky when new shoes are put on a table (probably causing a few less deaths!)
  • In the British Navy it was traditionally considered unlucky to have a woman on board ship.
  • Among sailors it is considered unlucky to kill an albatross or a porpoise.
  • Among sailors it is considered bad luck to have anything blue aboard.
  • Saying "good luck" to an actor going onstage (preferred: "Break a leg")
  • In theaters, "Macbeth" must not be uttered by anyone unless it is necessary to the show (i.e. the company is performing Shakespeare's Macbeth); instead, one says "the Scottish Play" and refers to the characters as "Mackers" and "Lady Mackers"
  • sinistrality - being left-handed.
  • Seeing one magpie
  • When a bird Flys into your window, that means a person in your family will die today or has died last night.

Luck in fiction

  • In L. Frank Baum's The Patchwork Girl of Oz, a boy named Ojo discovers that he is known as "the Unlucky," but through the intervention of friends he makes over the course of the story he becomes Ojo "the Lucky" instead.
  • Gladstone Gander, a fictional cartoon character, is dependent solely upon his good luck.
  • Joe Btfsplk, a character in the Li'l Abner (Little Abner) comic strip by the cartoonist Al Capp is not only unlucky, he is shunned by the other characters as they suspect (with good reason) that this bad luck may be infectious.
  • In Larry Niven's novel Ringworld, the character Teela Brown was the incredibly lucky result of a centuries-long breeding program initiated by the alien Pierson's Puppeteers directed to just such an outcome. The consequence of her state was that she'd led such a charmed and worry-free life that she was emotionally immature and unprepared for "harsh reality."
  • In Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, luck is an anthropomorphic personification known as the Lady, who, while not a goddess, is powerful enough to be the rival of the god Fate.
  • Eugene Horowitz from Hey Arnold is known for the bad luck he constantly has, though his optimism always makes his personality win over it.
  • Felix Felicis, a potion in the Harry Potter books, gives its drinker good luck.
  • Furrball the cat in Tiny Toon Adventures is a perpetually unfortunate feline, forever suffering mishaps, though frequently it's his own actions (i.e. overwhelming greed) that get him into trouble (not unlike mentor Sylvester the cat).
  • Falkor from The Neverending Story is a Luckdragon who posseses uncanny luck with everything he does.
  • In the Red Dwarf episode Quarantine a 'luck virus' existed.
  • Fortune (or "Lady Luck"), a character in the video game Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, is implied to have extraordinarily good luck which apparently causes bullets to swerve away from her.
  • Good Luck Bear, a character from the popular Care Bear TV Series and line of toys has is known almost entirely for his amazing luck. The 4 leaf-clover clover on his tummy says it all.
  • Milfeulle Sakuraba of Galaxy Angel brims with such luck that she is repeatedly thrown out of casinos because she wins all the time, she finds winning lottery tickets on the ground, and can survive any ilk of danger because of her good fortune.
  • Huckleberry Finn - killing a spider or handling a snakeskin bring bad luck.
  • Match Point by Woody Allen contains elements illustrating the importance of luck like a let in tennis.
  • David Eddings' The Redemption of Althalus is known as the world's luckiest thief. He perceives his luck to be in love with him, and associates it with a feeling he gets when he has been in any place for too long (ie. long enough for a bounty to be placed on his head).
  • Domino (comics) is a mutant whose power constantly alters probability in her favor, giving her "good luck."
  • The film Intacto is about individuals who have the ability to steal luck from others in order to compete in complex games of chance.
  • Mat Cauthon in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series is considered to be uncannily lucky.

Songs about luck

  • "Bad Luck" by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
  • "Bad Luck Blues" by Blind Lemon Jefferson
  • "Doggone My Good Luck Soul" by Hattie Hudson
  • "Gwine To Have Bad Luck Seven Years" by Elizabeth Smith
  • "Is it Luck" by Primus
  • "Lady Luck Blues"by Weber / Williams, as sung by Bessie Smith
  • "Luck Be a Lady" by Frank Loesser
  • "Lucky" by Britney Spears
  • "Born Under A Bad Sign" by Albert King
  • "Lucky Man" by The Verve
  • "With A Little Luck"by Wings
  • "You Never Say Good Luck On Opening Night" from The Producers
  • "I Should Be So Lucky" by Kylie Minogue
  • "Lucky Star" by Madonna

External links