To begin with, this is my first post! I salute you all!
Been visiting SD for years now, and there’s some serious love goin’ on here!
So, enough blah-blah-let’s go to the core…
Being a phenomenically unlucky person myself (no tears, please), I always wondered if anyone ever attempted to measure the factor of luck!
By defining ‘luck’ I wouldn’t want to stick to cases like people winning the lottery, etc.
I was actually thinking if there’s a scientifically precise way of evaluating how lucky (or unlucky) a person could be, i.e. based on percentage perhaps.
My question may sound stupid to some-I totally understand that-BUT, I insist that luck can be considered as a major factor, affecting our lives…
So, I’d be glad to hear any ideas, or reference from you guys…
Hi there, and thank you for your interesting article!
What I originally meant, is i.e. by comparing a person who is born in good health, in a nice family, blessed with good looks, high intellect and wealth, to a person who is born poor and handicapped…what % of luck difference would these two guys have?
Yes, there exists a way. It’s called statistics. The result of the measurements is clear: Luck does not exist as a trait, only as an outcome.
That is to say, some people have been luckier than others in the past, but those people are not in some way inherently lucky: Their luck in the future will, on average, be no worse than those who have had bad luck in the past.
Note also that luck is not the same thing as success. People who have been successful in the past are more likely to be successful in the future. But the reasons for that success are things other than luck.
I agree that the general answer is statistics but is also a definition problem. Some people certainly hit improbable if not seemingly impossible outcomes both positive and negative but that still doesn’t tell you everything.
For example, you have the story of Violet Jessop who survived the sinking of the Titantic as well as its sister ship HMHS Britannic. There is more. She also was on board the RMS Olympic when it collided with another ship. Those were the three mostly identical ships of the same fleet and she was on board all of them when they were destroyed or threatened. It is quite unusual but is that luck? One could argue that any person that was never aboard any of the three was luckier than she ever was. The same is true for Tsutomu Yamaguchi who happened to be on site and survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atom bomb detonations over Japan. Is that good luck or really bad luck?
Other cases are more confusing. There have been several people that have won large lotteries twice. It is surprisingly inevitable when you look at the statistics behind it. However, none can beat Joan Ginther who has won the Texas lottery an astounding 4 times for $21 million so far. We don’t know if that is true luck or not. She is also a semi-hermit and also a college math professor. They know she isn’t truly cheating but she may have invented some lottery hack just like Marjorie and Gerald Selbee did for the Massachusetts Win-Fall scratch ticket game.
Luck can go the other way as well. There are people that lose all of their kids and their house within days of each other in separate accidents. You can use statistics to calculate the individual probabilities of different events. However, the universe of possible outcomes is infinite so it makes the overall improbability of real-world outcomes seem much higher than they are. In other words, there are an infinite number of events that are in the 1 in a septillion range or even higher but there are so many of those that a few of them are inevitable. Some of those will be very good and some will be very bad. Random clustering of major events that affect a single person is the best definition that I can think of for ‘good luck’ versus ‘bad luck’ and there is no way around that. Outcomes that are the result individual choices and decisions (like drug use or lack of work ethic) don’t fall into the luck category at all.
I think you’re making the mistake of labeling "luck"a phenomenon. It’s the same error people often make with regards to the “laws of nature”. The laws don’t dictate what nature does, they merely describe observed apparent relationships.
Same with luck. Luck is not a thing. It is only a label tacked onto occurrences that seem statistically unlucky. Or, in the more casual sense, onto favorable happenings (good luck) or unfavorable happenings (bad luck). But “luck” itself is only a judgement call that happens after the fact; an arbitrary label.
The reality is nothing more than statistics, probability and situational chains of events.
Here’s my take: Let’s define a property called “luck” to mean the unconscious ability to influence random events or, possibly, chaotic systems to have results that are consistently statistically improbable. (Good lord, that’s hard to parse.) The easiest test of this that would produce useful, measurable results would be something like a coin flip experiment. You could even set up tests to see if there is “good luck” vs. bad, by announcing that “heads” results are favorable or rewarded somehow, and see whether the subject’s presence and interest correlates to the desired result or not.
Now that I think about it, “luck” defined this way would be rather indistinguishable from certain “psychic” abilities, if they existed.
Psychologist Richard Wiseman has examined differences between people who consider themselves lucky and people who consider themselves unlucky, and found differences in traits affecting both how people would perceive their lives, but also in the likelihood of positive events happening.
Give the test subject a die. Every time he rolls an even number, he wins a dollar. Every time he rolls an odd number, he loses a dollar. Have him roll a hundred, or two hundred, or a thousand times. The null hypothesis is that he would end up close to breaking even. If “luck” is an actual thing, and he has it, he should end up winning a significant amount of money.
FWIW, I read in some vet book how vets always are on their guard for illnesses, trauma, or whatever with dogs named “Lucky.” Obviously some folk cynicism, but it certainly makes it worse psychologically.
I know slightly a woman who named her child, legally, Lucky. Ugh.
You could only measure “luck” that way to some confidence level. The more times you ran the experiment, the better confidence you would have in the result-- assuming luck, as a phenomenon, does not vary over time and/or space. So, yeah, whoever said, above, that you need to define luck first is spot on. You can’t measure something unless you know what it is.