I hear people talk about luck a lot. Straightup - luck doesn't exist.
If you believe in luck, then you believe either:
(1) some people consistently defy probability, or,
(2) some things aren't a result of cause and effect.
Life is a series of probability. Every day, there's a chance that a given set of things will happen. If you want to have a successful life, expose yourself to as much high-upside low-downside probability as you can. Any given thing you do might not work out, but if you expose yourself to high-upside low-downside, good things will happen. Read books, reach out to people, try to get projects working, keep trying to write and build things, keep learning new skills, keep treating people well.
If you want to fail at life, expose yourself to high-downside no-upside probability. This is short term gain at long term expense type stuff. Cigarettes. Unsecured debt for consumption. Most TV.
You'll keep getting "lucky" if you keep exposing yourself to things with upside and limited downside. If you get an amazing job or contract that you had a 1 in 1,000 chance of getting, were you lucky? No, especially not if you applied and pitched 1,000 other places. If you say, "Ok, I'm going to keep trying to get what I want until I do" you'll get it, as long as it's a positive sum game you're playing.
How about people that are born into good situation vs. bad? Were they "lucky"? No, of course not - they've got their background, training, country they live in, city they live in, whatever - as a result of the conscious decisions of the people that came before them. Luck has nothing to do with that.
My great-grandparents were dirt poor. Like, dirt poor. My grandparents were quite poor - after my grandfather got back from serving in the Pacific in WWII, he married my grandmother, and they had 9 kids. They never had any money. My Mom was #8, she (and I) only exist because they kept having kids because they thought it was important. My Mom worked really hard to dig out of being poor, and I was born with a little more opportunity than the generation before. I also owe a debt of gratitude to all the inventors and scientists and engineers and businesspeople who invented and built and improved the world before I was born.
But is that luck? No, it was conscious, deliberate actions by humans to build the world. Were Mayer Rothschild's sons lucky? No, they were successful because their Dad decided he wanted to work really hard, save his money, raise his kids well, and build the next generation instead of just consuming for himself and having "a nice life" like most people do.
There wasn't too much luck involved in the building of House Rothschild. Hustle, yes. Hard work, yes. Discipline, yes. Strong family ties, yes. Luck? No. It was all cause and effect, with some probability mixed in.
What about people who get killed in an earthquake? Bad luck? Or is it that there weren't enough safeguards and well-built emergency-proofings in the buildings they were in? Now, just because I say "Luck doesn't exist" doesn't mean "Everything is under your control" - but really, did you build two years of savings and diversify? If not, then when disaster inevitably strikes, you're more high and dry and in worse shape. Is that bad luck? Could you have sacrificed earlier in life and thus been prepared for [layoffs/disaster/changing political situation/whatever]? Some people are in trouble when crisis strikes, some people are ready. Is that luck? No. Luck doesn't exist.
Well, how about when someone dies senselessly, in a car crash or some such? Well, that's the closest you can get to something that's "bad luck", but even then - were you as careful about safety as you could be? I was in Cambodia and got hit by a motorcycle whose driver was a teenager driving fast on the wrong side of the road... and I was walking in a crosswalk at the time. Bad luck? No, probability. You go to a Third World country, your chance of dying this year goes up quite a lot. I got hit by a motorcycle, went to the clinic, got patched up, survived. Life goes on.
But what if the bell does ring for you early? Well, after you've done all you can do, you really can't control that. But again, I'm saying - no luck there. And also, no tragedy. Your time will come. I try to think about this every day - we don't have too much time on Earth. Whether it's one month, 8 years, 50 years, 70 years, or 100 years - this isn't too much time, it's not enough time to do all the good things that are capable of being done. The question is, were you spending your life right, doing all the best things you can, searching out the most meaningful things, taking the best courses of action, training yourself, building your talent, spending your time well, serving people, appreciating life? If you were, it's no shame to go when you go. The bell rings for all of us at some time. No luck there either - it's all cause and effect, and probability. There's a chance you're not breathing tomorrow and today's your last day. I meditate on that daily - when the bell rings for me, it's not bad luck or good luck, it's cause and effect and probability. If I've spent my time well, there's no bad luck when the bell rings. It'll happen. It'll be too soon, no matter when it happens. But luck will have nothing to do with it. Luck doesn't exist.
What is the difference between luck does not exist and everything not under your control. FUNNY. If you cannot think deep do not try.
Some things being outside your control -- and a world that runs exclusively on causality -- are not incompatible positions.
> "If you cannot think deep do not try."
I disagree. Some people suffer from a lack of reading comprehension and critical thinking skills, but they should still try. There's something worthy in trying. Keep trying.
Re: being born in a favourable situation not being 'luck'. You're quite correct that the cause of the situation was not 'luck', but the parent's hard work. To my eyes however, you seem to confuse two definitions of luck, and draw faulty conclusions from that.
These definitions of luck are:
A) a non-determinist event
B) beneficial circumstances that were in no way created by those who enjoy them
Let's analyse: A is born to good parents. A is lucky. You: A is not luck, because S was not the result of luck, with luck being defined as 'happened randomly', definition A, because 'result of the conscious decisions of the people that came before them'. This is correct for A, and to you the situation therefore did not involve luck. But definition B doesn't get a look-in!
For the child involved though 'luck' under definition B is utterly appropriate. Were they involved in creating the situation? No, they literally could not have had any control over the circumstances of their conception. This is equally true for those who are born with genetic defects.
Semantics have blurred the issue. I'll definitely read more here though, lots of food for thought!
I agree. Sometimes I use the word 'luck' loosely, such as in saying that I was lucky to have stumbled across your blog (when in fact it is because our interests align, and because Google is clever.) Ascribing events to luck causes one to not seek out the cause for the event, and so one remains in ignorance.
An interesting historical aside about the Roman goddess of luck, Fortuna:
Fortuna's identity as personification of chance events was closely tied to virtus (strength of character). Public officials who lacked virtues invited ill-fortune on themselves and Rome: Sallust uses the infamous Catiline as illustration – "Truly, when in the place of work, idleness, in place of the spirit of measure and equity, caprice and pride invade, fortune is changed just as with morality".[10
Also of interest is Machiavelli's take on it.
Machiavelli's most famous discussion of Fortuna occurs in Chapter 25 of The Prince, in which he proposes two analogies for understanding the human situation in the face of events. Initially, he asserts that fortune resembles “one of our destructive rivers which, when it is angry, turns the plains into lakes, throws down the trees and buildings, takes earth from one spot, puts it in another; everyone flees before the flood; everyone yields to its fury and nowhere can repel it.” Yet the furor of a raging river does not mean that its depredations are beyond human control: before the rains come, it is possible to take precautions to divert the worst consequences of the natural elements. “The same things happen about Fortuna,” Machiavelli observes, “She shows her power where virtù and wisdom do not prepare to resist her, and directs her fury where she knows that no dykes or embankments are ready to hold her” (Machiavelli 1965, 90). Fortuna may be resisted by human beings, but only in those circumstances where “virtù and wisdom” have already prepared for her inevitable arrival.
Some good thoughts being shared here although being born into a good situation because of your forefathers or what have you does boil down to luck. You were conceived after your forefathers put in work and while they may have paved your way to a better life you are still lucky to have been born into that situation. A baby can't control where they are born, and they can't do anything about being born to a crack mother in the projects who's only goal in life is to score her next fix. I think people that grow up in positive households sometimes underestimate the effects of a troubled childhood and fail to understand how difficult it can be to overcome certain circumstances. If you were born with alcohol fetal syndrome for instance it might not be so easy to go to college and succeed, is that your fault or is that bad luck you tell me? I personally I have been striving my whole life networking, applying for jobs and trying to succeed and while I have succeeded in many ways I have yet to reach my goals. It's all about meeting the right person at the right time, and there's definitely luck involved.
I know this is an old post, but I just came across it and it frustrated me a great deal. Maybe it's my mathematical / physics roots, but something doesn't sit right when you arbitrarily switch between observers of 'luck' (which is simply the realization of a 'good' low probability event). You cannot say "Oh, a person is not lucky to be born into privilege because his family worked for it." The person is the observer. They realized a 'good' low probability event. That's 'luck.' If you want to try and re-define luck, take it up with Merriam-Webster, but know that you're just playing with language.
If you actually want to think long and hard about the above, read up on John Rawls. His argument is robust and will likely change your mind.
Sometimes easily generalized arguments, but most of the time, great text.
Very rational and Fukuyamist.
I've thought about this a good bit as well, and I think you and I have quite a few similar thoughts on this topic (and others based on your reply above about "Everything is my responsibility").
I'm not sure I want to enter the fray here, because as you and others have tracked down, there are semantic blurs regarding "Luck". One has to distinguish between the Magical Thinking version of luck and the other. I'd wager that those siding with the Magical Thinking version don't really have a clear understanding of the factual world of mathematical probability.
More semantic blurring is evident when one considers the common casual usage of "lucky" without literally believing in the Magical Thinking definition. It is often used (you could argue incorrectly) as a simple expression of appreciation for one's situation.
Returning to the responsibility/accountability thing for a minute -- be careful :) It's easy to start thinking one is in complete control. How were you supposed to be prepared for the drunk woman who drove her car into your bedroom at 3AM and severed your arm with her bumper?
Something to consider: Contrast "lucky" with the word "fortunate". Do you feel the same toward "fortunate"?
The fact that you're born as a functioning human is very much luck already. Human sexual behaviours and you as a sperm could mostly be the 'cause and effect' but your consciousness bound to your body sounds pretty much luck.
And how about that I have a physical problem that I have no control of or frankly any other people's disease that weren't caused by their behaviour in their life? I wouldn't call that a logical chain. Perhaps flaw in the genes of a long time cause and effect though but that is basically untraceable, people call that bad luck.
Winning lottery has no chain of cause and effect either. Nothing is determined until right then.
And from a person's point of view that one can't even "do the best as he can", when you bring up those questions in case your life is done tomorrow about if you had lived as best as you could have, it seems you're already full of luck that you think life works logically.
For many people, nothing even looks logical, painful and just making a life is barely the thing you can do and doing the best has nothing whatsoever that could have changed how it is now.
I may not be right, but the post looks like you're already lucky enough, you can ignore about being lucky and is ready to take the worst of luck.
Hey Sebastian, just found your blog via Alessandro's. Nice blog :)
You say that an undesirable situation is a result of cause and effect, but some of your arguments are not in line with that concept.
Let's look at bigger picture: One could say that humans are merely blobs of molecules where chemical reactions happen according to the laws of physics. And that everything that has happened in the universe up to this point also follows the same laws of physics. If that premise (known as determinism) is true, then we can't postulate "what-if" scenarios where working harder would lead to different outcomes. If everything is strictly deterministic, then there's no "if one works harder", there's only "this is how things will be due to the laws of physics". In the deterministic view, free will to change the future cannot exist because there's only one future that was pre-defined by the laws of physics and the configuration of the atoms in the universe.
There are quite a few interesting schools of thought on this topic that are worth looking at.
But, anyways, going back to luck, or, more specifically, the wikipedia article, it goes on to say this: "In a proscriptive sense, luck is the deterministic concept that there is a force which proscribes that certain events occur very much the way the laws of physics will proscribe that certain events occur." I think this is the most fitting definition of luck when we're talking about cause and effect.
Leaving definitions and philosophy aside, I think the pragmatic aspect of luck is really what we should be focusing on for our day-to-day lives. As the old saying goes: Good luck happens when preparedness meets opportunity.
I see your point. You look at generations/human race and consider a new born as a ring in a long chain. So when people say bad luck, you say "There's no bad luck, just previous actions that lead to present situation". And that's fine. Like a political analysis of the People of the World.
But, looking at every new child as a not connected new point in the flux of life, he is not responsible for his good or bad starting point. He has luck or bad luck, because he, as a human being, is just one in a multitude. No past or future connections just made by him.
So, two different visions. But considering your very individualistic and free way of seeing things of life, is it not a bit strange you look at this matter with the glasses of "we all belongs to a long chain?". Won't it, in some ways, make the people question less the current order?
Good comment/question by Jeff on "Luck Doesn't Exist" -
I’ve thought about this a good bit as well, and I think you and I have quite a few similar thoughts on this topic (and others based on your reply above about “Everything is my responsibility”).
I’m not sure I want to enter the fray here, because as you and others have tracked down, there are semantic blurs regarding “Luck”. One has to distinguish between the Magical Thinking version of luck and the other. I’d wager that those siding with the Magical Thinking version don’t really have a clear understanding of the factual world of mathematical probability.
More semantic blurring is evident when one considers the common casual usage of “lucky” without literally believing in the Magical Thinking definition. It is often used (you could argue incorrectly) as a simple expression of appreciation for one’s situation.
The list of problems that don't have their roots in a fundamental misunderstanding of how things actually are is a short one. The other night I was playing poker, and one of the guys at the table was a really bad player who thought that he was really good. He and I played a hand where I surprised him and ended up winning. He was furious, threw his cards at me, and mumbled for hours about what a bad player I was.
I've certainly played hands poorly before and gotten lucky and won anyway, but this wasn't one of those times. I knew what he had, I knew what I had, I knew how much money was in the pot, I knew what my odds of catching the cards I needed to win were, and I could do the math to figure out that it was worthwhile for me to keep puting money in. All he knew was that he had better odds than me going into the last card, and I won anyway.
The guy proceeded to lose a thousand bucks or so, and I bet that this is a regular occurrence with him. I also bet he has no idea why he's lost thousands of dollars at poker. He probably just thinks that it's bad luck.
A few years ago I had an issue with reality as well. I thought: hey, I'm smart, smart people make lots of money, but I haven't made lots of money. The easy solution to that sort of disconnect is to ignore it or blame it on bad luck, but a better strategy is to examine each piece and figure out which one isn't true.