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.