On Luck

We're in the middle of some family vacationing and today my son Aidan (aged 9) bought a necklace with a turtle on it at a gift shop (Aidan loves reptiles). All afternoon Aidan kept insisting that his turtle was "good luck." And, wouldn't you know it, after Aidan bought his necklace good things started happening. We caught buses when we needed them. Waiting lines were shorter. And, at the end of the day, we saw the prettiest rainbow we've ever seen.

So walking back to the hotel Aidan and I have this conversation:

Aidan: "My turtle necklace worked, didn't it? It brought us good luck, right?"
Me: "Well, metaphysically no. But psychologically, yes."
Aidan: "What does that mean?"
Me: "It means it worked."

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

14 thoughts on “On Luck”

  1. Richard,
    As you know James' pragmatic answer to the meaning of truth was savaged for (purportedly) containing that equivocation. Was your son kinder to you than, say, Russell was to James?

    I'm commenting to bring your attention to a psychological use of religion that Peirce recommends in his essay "The Doctrine of Chances." It begins with a philosophized version of "Life's a bitch and then you die."

    "All human affairs rest on probabilities, and the same thing is true everywhere. If man were immortal he could be perfectly sure of seeing the day when everything in which he had trusted should betray his trust...coming eventually to hopeless misery. He would break down, at last, as every great fortune, as every dynasty, as every civilization does.. In place of this we have death." :-)

    Gotta love it, but he draws a perfectly logical inference from it:

    "It seems to me we are driven to this, that logicality inexorably requires that our interests shall NOT be limited."

    After elaborating, he notes of the social impulse that he recommends: "It interests me to notice that these...sentiments seem to be...the same as that famous trio of Charity, Faith, and Hope..."

    Kind of a psychological version of Pascal's Wager--with the possible benefit of not being sophistical. A psychology prof who teaches statistics would be in a better position to judge that than I...

  2. I just realized that the point of James' radical empiricism was to eliminate metaphysics so that everything reduces to psychology. No metaphysics, no equivocation. Cool. But you might have to confess to Aidan that you made an empty distinction...

  3. The Greek goddess Tyche and her Roman counterpart Fortuna are among the chief competitors of Christianity in the New Testament era, and in our own time Tyche survives as "Lady Luck," in various icons and talismans.

    When one sat down in the public latrine in Pompeii -- a 120-holer -- there on the ceiling was a painting of Tyche/Fortuna, on which one could contemplate and meditate.

    In Acts 20, when Eutychos -- his name is "Lucky" -- falls out the window of the upper level, he is raised up and healed by the power of the Lord Jesus rather than his patron, Tyche. That point of the story is mostly lost on us, but it would have been obvious to the folk who read it in its time.

    i have learned never to speak of "luck," but rather of having been blessed by the grace of God.

    God's Peace to you.


  4. Were the psychological benefits "seen" (projected) because of such a belief in "luck"? or were the circumstances true (a reality) apart from the belief in "luck" and "luck" was given credit for it?

  5. Yes, the reality is that humans are our "gods", at times when "luck" has run dry.

  6. Richard,

    On luck, as crapshooters everywhere and folks 75 miles east and a bit north of Abilene: "Eighter from Decatur, county seat of Wise."


  7. yes indeed luck,works well,it has to,or why self deception,
    as it is in this reality,of mine,not yours, :-).....
    the tipping point "will always" be . god's fulfillment of scripture.
    a very scary tipping point, with luck their wrong....
    yes indeed luck better work.
    with luck i can call a "car" inside a "A CHURCH BUILDING A CHRISTIAN"

  8. Rich,
    Ethics is not usually the domain of Christian fundamentalists, or any fundamentalists, for that matter!

    If a sacred text, a vision from God, or a voice from God "tells" these people what they should or should not do, then damn everyone and everything else! This is where religion is SO dangerous in politics! It radicalizes what should be civil.

    I am of the opinion that without good government and leaders to submit themselves to the checks and balances that are in our government, then we will all be doomed, and it won't be about luck, or God, but a tragedy of our own making!

    Straining out the gnats or tearing out the tares will destroy our country! We must not be rash in our judgments.

  9. I think luck, in some way or another, is the ultimate governor of our lives.

    I mean, let's say somebody gets up, has a bowl of cereal, gets in their car and gets struck and killed by a big rig on their way to work. Now, if they had not had that cereal, would they still have died? If their alarm hadn't gone off?

    Either the death is predestined at a certain time and place and will happen regardless or total chaos and meaninglessness rules our lives. Or maybe there is an ultimate teleos in our lives that governs the extent of chaos that can exist in our lives. NDE experiencers seem to think it's the last, but they also have a tendency to have some decidedly non-Christian experiences.

  10. And sometimes a lucky turtle necklace is just fun jewelry. Sounds like y'all are having a wonderful time!

  11. now Angie that is just a funny comment to me.
    i really don't get your use of the word "good",who calls that shot. was not abraham maslow's hierarchy of needs that reduced situation ethic, to what he called cowboy ethic..
    this becomes a personal failure of every christian in this world
    not to talk with his neighbor about the goodness of god and the ethic of personal principals.
    we pull into our individualistic ideal and turn on the T.V.
    look at homosexuality 2% of the pop. and the political movement and law.
    i am sure we cannot decide what what "GOOD"moral behavior is
    Angie there are places in this world where a young lady. 10-11 years old are sold as sex slaves ?what is not good about that. ethics..... boy oh boy checks and balances how bout that barney frank ....
    Angie i really wish i did like to write in so many ways you are so wrong about "good"....
    lets see lets put this on a bell shaped curve, at one end personal abuse that leads to death and the other end abuse that leads to the death of another.
    coming back up the curve from each end where does aberrant behavior start and abuse end.
    where does "good" moral behavior and "good"ethical behavior start, and aberrant moral and ethical behavior end.....
    checks and balances...barney frank????? what a great name to use here
    just funny to me Angie

  12. My boys have been on a Clint Eastwood movie kick this summer. So when it comes to luck at our house, it's more of a "Ya feelin' lucky punk? Well do ya?"

Leave a Reply