What Is This Thing Called Luck?

Luck's essential sexualityMotivated strivers brought up on the encouraging nostrums of business seminars and personal “empowerment” training know that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. In this model, luck isn’t an unseen, fickle agent. It’s something that doesn’t exist — and if it does, it can be conquered with hard work and cleverness.

People who play the lottery — or slot machines, or other negative expectation games — believe that luck is a supernatural force that can be overcome (or captured?) through persistence of belief. In this model, luck is an unpredictable power that can be channeled if the hopeful recipient never stops wishing that it would come his way.

Most accomplished poker players think that this thing we call luck is actually the natural distribution of mathematical results. Most of the time, the cards fall as the odds say they ought to; sometimes, of course, they don’t. When unlikely combinations occur — such as one player being dealt four-of-a-kind and another simultaneously being dealt a straight flush — seasoned gamblers chalk up the rare phenomenon to statistical variance. The impossible becomes possible one in a million times.

This same philosophy may be applied to events in life. The presence (or lack thereof) of what seems like luck in our daily interactions can be explained by mathOr would you rather be a paramecium. Many of the outlandish coincidences or stupendously “rare” confluences in our lives are actually preordained by the odds. The longest of longshots must eventually pay off. In a universe composed of harnessed chaos, randomness is the rule, and in this colossal number generator every person has a ticket. Someone is bound to cash a winner and someone is bound to a lifetime of near misses. In this model, luck exists only as a convenient expression of statistics we can’t immediately comprehend.

People who beat the odds often quip, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” In fact, anyone who can read this sentence is astonishingly lucky. To have overcome the astronomical unlikelihood of being a sentient human being with a computer who understands English — as opposed to a finch, a tadpole, a spermatozoa in search of an egg — is a profound demonstration of how luck works. No amount of preparation or fervent belief can create an opportunity as rich as that.

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