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Barry Palmer


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Could we find a way to measure luck?

Today I was shoveling snow in front of my house. Under the snow there is considerable ice, large patches, here and there. I could very easily have slipped, fallen down and injured myself, but today I was lucky. Every day people have accidents or become ill due to nothing but bad luck. Other people have good luck and continue their lives unaffected, or perhaps are better off, maybe much better off. Luck is a factor in every life, sometimes it is obvious that it is a big factor.

The scientific minded among us (I include myself) are all convinced that incidents of good luck and bad luck occur in accordance with the "laws" of probability. But we have no way of confirming this without measurements. If we documented the lives of enough people, could we find a way to measure luck? Can you suggest how? If we could measure luck, would it then be possible to determine the significance of luck in the lives of most persons? And would that affect philosophy? Please feel free to answer whichever questions you choose.

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    Mar 23 2013: We already have Barry. Count the days of your life.
  • Mar 24 2013: To measure luck, you have to consider the law of averages. 100 coin flips should average out to 50/50. I think it is rare that 50/50 is actually achieved. Some may be 66/34, 55/45, even 51/49. Luck, in these terms, is random, Realistically, a larger sample of 1000 will likely be closer to 500/500, but some will naturally be 540/460 or so. In the non-random or random situations of life, Life Chances/Life Choices/Pressure are all variables to "lucky" life. Especially because you can't choose your DNA or your parents. Any "legacy", or lack of it, falls in the luck category. When referring to luck it, usually implies overcoming incredible odds, whereas Skill, Talent, Experience, Preparation,etc. are ways to reduce the need for luck.
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    Mar 24 2013: What did you want to measure? Frequency of favourable events against 'expected' or magnitude of outcome. (If Fred wins three £10 lottery prizes does that make him lucky for winning £30 or unlucky for not winning £3,000,000?)

    Then you've got a post-hoc problem. Bad luck strikes as your car gets a puncture so you can't go to the races. Good luck when you watch the races on the TV and a giant meteor strikes and obliterates the course.

    Many people encourage misfortune through confusion, inability to do simple reasoning, careless habits and misplaced trust. Now THAT'S something tractable.
  • Mar 22 2013: There is a famous quote "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." I think this might be amended to read: "Good luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity and a favorable result occurs". Similarly. "Bad luck is what happens when lack of preparation meets an inopportune situations and an unfavorable result occurs".

    There is likelihood of encountering good or bad events that are pure chance and not something that you can control in your life. Examples might be being hit by a meteor, a genetic illness, or similar natural occurrence. There are good or bad events that you have some control over, for example taking care of your health to prevent a preventable illness, buying a ticket to a lottery, and staying inside during lightening storms.

    The likelihood of event occurrence is something that actuaries and scientists can predict. How humans perceive the event is less predictable. An interesting determinant as to the severity of the luck is attitude. Some people might look upon some events as bad luck while others see the same event as good luck.

    Although I am not a religious person, i find myself reciting the serenity prayer to keep my attitude and spirits in good shape in troubling times such as these.

    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    The courage to change the things I can,
    And wisdom to know the difference.

    Reinhold Niebuhr
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    Mar 22 2013: Luck is unique for everyone, so i think there is no measurement for luck. There is coincidence that affects us in good way, and in bad.
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    Mar 22 2013: That's a hard one because it has been discovered that the experimenter is part of the experiment, thus affects the outcome.

    If I were a college professor, I would put together volunteer groups of students to participate in a study. I would give them all in-depth questionnaires to complete. Then I would create a control group, a luck group, and a deliberate creator group. None would be allowed to talk about what they are doing, but they would be required to keep journals.

    Group 2 would record every "lucky" thing that happens. Group 3, that determined what things they want to happen, would record their success. Then I would quantify the results.

    Dr. Carl Bern (Cornell) had a more scientific approach to this general idea. First he had volunteers answer questions on an extensive questionnaire. Then student volunteers sat in front of a computer that gave them random words to memorize (each student were shown different random words). The computer then tested the volunteer's memory of the words. Then, AFTER the test, the computer gave them random words from their personal lists to practice typing.

    It turned out that those who considered themselves risk-takers scored so well at remembering words practiced AFTER the test, that the probability of that happening was incredibly high.

    If you apply this to the idea of luck, saying that those who scored so high were just lucky to an improbable degree, it wouldn't work because the highest improbabilities were from those who seemed to be able to reach into the future and draw out information they needed.

    He also had a test where he hooked people up to an EEG and a computer showed random pictures. It turns out that people know when a disturbing or erotic picture will be next - before the computer chooses the next picture. EEG readings prove it.

    I suspect that those who are "lucky" are just more self-aware than those who are not. They have access to information that the fearful do not recognize, & can use it.
  • Mar 22 2013: I remember a book with the title The Luck Factor. It wasn't one of my most favorites, but it was okay. There are of course ways to manage your risk. Who knows what is going on with his subconscous?
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    Mar 22 2013: Lucky? Is usually someone who knows as much details of the game they are in and are not emotionally involved, they know when to quit and run. True luck only happens when the shavers blade cuts finer than a diamond.

    I've also found that when my attention is not within my circle of observation then usually something is passed through the virus checker that usually picks up these small details. Know thyself.