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Why I won’t sell good luck

Amongst other things, I make jewellery, and I was recently contacted by a lady who said she’d been having a run of financial bad luck, and who asked if I could make something that would bring her some good luck.  I said: no.

Okay… so if you know me or have read any of my other posts you will be aware that a simple “no” would be far too concise for me.  My actual response was rather more verbose and went something like this:

We humans do not intuitively understand probability.  If we toss a coin and get tails three times in a row, then unless we are beginning to suspect that the coin is loaded, we are almost certainly inclined to feel that there is an increased probability that the next toss will show heads.

It’s difficult to grasp because the laws of probability tell us that over time the results of a 50/50 outcome, such as a coin toss, should produce a roughly balanced set of results.  If the 3 tosses are viewed as being a set of say 10 or 20, then it seems reasonable for us to expect that the balance will soon start to be restored.  If we think of it as being a set of 5, then with 3 tails shown it would seem almost certain that the 4th toss will show heads. However each coin toss is independent and any given toss of the coin has a 50/50 chance of being heads or tails regardless of previous results.

Something of which we need to be very careful however, is illustrated by a well know psychological experiment in which a room full of people are given and card, placed down in front of them, with an anagram on it.  They are asked to turn over the card, solve the anagram, and raise their hands when they have solved it.

When roughly half of the people have raised their hands they are all asked to stop.  A second card is then distributed and the experiment is repeated.  Once again the experiment stops when about half of the people in the room have raised their hands.

Something that is unlikely to be observed by the participants, is that it will be the same set of people who raised their hands… and for good reason: the experimenters have been handing out different anagrams.  Half of the people in the room have been given two solvable anagrams while the other half have been given two for which there is no possible solution.

The really interesting part comes when the experiment is repeated for a third time with all participants being given the same, solvable, anagram.  Half of the hands go up within a short time.  Half do not.

What happens here is that spurred on by their two prior successes, half of the participants solve the third anagram.  Meanwhile the other half, who in their minds have failed to solve the previous puzzles while many around them succeeded, have adopted an “I can’t do this” attitude and, as a result, most are unable to solve the third anagram.

The point I was trying to make here was that the lady who asked me for something to bring her some good luck really needed to do two things:

First of all to check that her “coin isn’t loaded” i.e. that if, for example, her run of “bad luck” were in the form of several failed business opportunities.  She should determine whether some lack of knowledge on her part might be the issue and rectify that.

Secondly that if it were down to sheer bad luck or unconnected errors of judgement (from which she has now learnt), that those things are unconnected and will not dictate or even affect future outcomes, UNLESS her own attitude causes them to do so.

This charm bracelet, that students assemble in one of my beginner’s workshops, has many symbols that are associated with good luck and the making of wishes.

Having said all that… I do make jewellery that some will associate with luck but if people consider the gemstones and symbolism in my jewellery to be lucky, that’s an entirely different thing from me recommending or selling a piece on the grounds that it will bring them luck.  Had the lady asked me if I could make a bracelet with X, Y, and Z, then my answer would most likely have been: yes.

Why is the number seven so special?

Lucky seven.  Seven chakras.  Seven virtues.  Seven deadly sins.  The seven days it took the God of Abraham to create the world (including rest day). Seven wonders of the world.  Seven days in a week.  What is it with all these sevens?

Let’s start by taking a look at the rainbow, with its seven colours: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet:

Close up of a rainbow over Whitby as viewed from my then workshop window.

When you look at a real one as opposed to a cartoon, that division into seven is not at all obvious and certainly not evenly spaced. Red and yellow are clearly there… but where exactly does the red become orange as opposed to red, and where does the orange become yellow?  There is no distinct boundary.

As for the greeny bluey purpley end of the spectrum… well there are several shades of green, not a whole lot of blue, and if you can find a boundary between indigo and violet then you have much better colour vision than me.

Isaac Newton painted by Godfrey Kneller and looking non too happy about the number of colours in his rainbow.

As far as the spectrum and rainbows are concerned we have Sir Isaac Newton to thank/blame for dividing it into seven… although originally he specified only five colours… adding orange and indigo later on so as to… wait for it… match the number of colours with the number of musical notes in a major scale.

I kid you not, and if you haven’t heard that before I’m guessing you expected something rather more scientific, especially when you consider that there’s no particular reason why there should be seven notes in a musical scale either; that’s just a western tradition and other cultures have different numbers of notes in their musical scales.

So why WAS this icon of 17th century science, so hung up on the number seven that he felt it necessary to squeeze a couple more colours into his spectrum?

Well, I suggest that ultimately, it all comes down to there being seven days in a week, as that seems to pre-date pretty much anything else:

The seven day cycle that we call a week, is widely attributed to the Babylonians. However it’s possible that a similar cycle was developed independently by other cultures.

Chakra Pendant from my AndysEtsyShop

Why? Because like many civilisations before the invention of television, the Babylonians spent the dark evenings making little Babylonians and/or observing the stars.

All cultures that have done this have noted patterns amongst the stars, and have watched them move across the sky during the course of the night.  Thus they have observed that whole sky seems to move as a single mass… and the following night, the same patterns, make the same journey, all over again.

Over a period of weeks it becomes apparent that the entire sky shifts a little further north or south… and observation over a period of years makes it apparent that this is repeats annually, which we now know is due to the earth’s axis being at an angle to the plane of its movement around the sun (it’s also what causes the changing seasons).

This was not merely curious, but potentially useful, because by observing these shifts in relation to landmarks, it was possible for the ancients to chart their progress through the year, and thus predict how much more chilly weather they’d need to endure before planting crops, and when might be the best time to book their summer holidays in order to get the best deals.

However, in amongst this uniform movement of the night sky there are a few celestial bodies that follow paths of their own. The sun and moon are obvious examples because although they have their observable and predictable paths across the sky, they move independently of the seemingly fixed backdrop of stars.

With the naked eye, it is possible to identify five more such celestial deviants, giving a total of seven… and the theory goes that the Babylonians set up a seven day cycle in their honour, and thus invented “the week”… which also makes for a rather nice division of the moon’s (approximately) 28 day cycle.

Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn – not to scale

Those other five celestial bodies are: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.  However those are the Roman names for them because, as you might expect, when the Romans took over and adopted the seven day cycle, they changed the names to those of their own gods.

Thor fights for a four day week on behalf of the Norse gods.

As time went on, the system came into use in Northern Europe where, although we kept the Roman names for the planets, we changed some of the names of the days of the week to honour the Teutonic gods. Thus we now have:

Sun’s-day
Moon’s-day
Tyr’s-day (Tyr being the Norse god of war)
Woden’s-day (Woden = Odin a.k.a. The All-Father)
Thor’s-day (The blonde guy from The Avengers)
Freyja’s-day (Some say Frigg’s-day but it’s arguable that she was the same person anyway)
Saturn’s-day

So, with a couple of thousand years worth of seven day cycles having gone on before he was born, and all of the other stuff that had been tied into the number seven by then, it’s hardly surprising that Sir Isaac Newton considered the number seven to be somehow special, as indeed we continue to do today.

Additional Notes

  1. A particularly interesting occurrence of the number seven, because it is in no way tied into any of the above and occurs independently, is that there are seven “crystal systems” (triclinic, monoclinic, orthorhombic, tetragonal, trigonal, hexagonal and cubic), which relate to the arrangement of atoms within crystals.
  2. It always surprises me how many people aren’t aware that opposing faces on six sided dice add up to seven. 1+6, 2+5, 3+4. That’s how they are made. Also: if you roll a pair of dice, your safest bet is that you will roll a 7, as that’s the most likely outcome (there are more possible combinations that add up to 7 than any of the other possibilities).

How KonMari Sparked Joy In Me

I first encountered Marie Kondo on YouTube at the beginning of 2018.  I’d been listening to something, I can’t remember what, which was followed up by a video with Ms Kondo and, intrigued by what I heard while cleaning my hands enough to hit the stop button, I let it run, listened to the whole thing, and then felt inclined to by the book.

At the time I had a lot of model making to do and was wanting things to listen to while doing it.  I’d previously heard of Audible but had a blinkered association between audio books and novels; it simply hadn’t occurred to me that there would be so much non-fiction available as audio books.

So that’s the first thing for which I have to thank Ms Kondo because knowing that another physical book would most likely be fated to the pile I want to read but haven’t yet found time for, I looked on Audible, found her book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and discovered a plethora of other things that I have since listened to and learned from.

This also came at a time when I was feeling overwhelmed by “things” both in terms of the physical stuff in my flat, and the huge list of unfinished and un-started projects, as well as the huge list of “would like to do”.

The Konmari method for decluttering is primarily to do with objects, although it may and indeed probably will lead into other areas because of the mindset.

At it’s core is the concept of deciding on whether or not to keep an item based on whether or not it “sparks joy”.  If that sounds silly, consider that literal translations from one language to another are often a little strange, and that it’s a two word encapsulation of a concept that requires a little more explanation and understanding, but which is essentially about whether or not possessing the thing is useful and, to a greater extent, pleasurable.

Once of the key elements of the Konmari method is that there is a recommended order in which to tackle clutter.  It starts with clothes and ends after several steps with keepsakes and mementoes.  This clever strategy takes advantage of the fact that the decision to keep or discard an item of clothing is largely based on practicalities i.e. does it fit? does it suit me?  is it worn out?   All of which kind of adds up to: do I wear it and enjoy wearing it? i.e. does it spark joy?

The decisions about keepsakes and mementoes however are almost entirely based on emotions so it’s as well to have learned to understand those emotions, by working through, clothes, books, documents, etc, before getting to the really difficult stuff.

It’s important to note here that some clothes aren’t really clothes at all.  That t-shirt from when you saw your idol in concert for example; that may well be a mementos and should be classified and dealt with as such.

One area in which I found Konmari to be lacking, is as regards tools and materials.  As an artist / designer / maker I have a penchant for tools and materials, and as any similarly craft and hobby oriented person will know: you can go months or even years without using a tool but when the need arises, the right tool for the job can be worth its weight in gold.  Similarly there will be times, perhaps rare times, but they will occur whether your thing is decorating cakes or restoring historic vehicles, that the job is going to stop until you can put your hands on a length of wire, an empty jam jar, or a piece of wood.

Of course just because a system doesn’t work particularly well in one area is no reason not to use it in another.    Marie Kondo has revolutionised my sock draw, the way I fold my t-shirts, and more importantly: it has impacted on how I think about the things I do and intend to do.  In the same way that I have considered: am I keeping this thing because I enjoy having it or would it be better to give it away or sell it to somebody who will actually appreciate and use it, I now ask myself: why am I doing or thinking of doing this thing?  Is it because I feel I should or because I actually want to?  How do I really feel about it i.e. does it… spark joy?

Resources:

Here’s the YouTube video that introduced me to Konmari:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1-HMMX_NR8
This also give a useful insight:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ahy8Jon9LU