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 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, as well as being a little rude. 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 tosses, then with 3 tails already 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, is illustrated by a well know psychological experiment in which a room full of people are given a card, placed down in front of them, with an anagram written upon it. They are then asked to turn over the card, solve the anagram, and raise their hand 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 exercise repeated. Once again they are stopped when about half of the participants 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 problems for which there are no possible solutions.
The really interesting part comes when the exercise 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. The other half do not.
What happens here is that: spurred on by their two successes, half of the participants eagerly solve the third anagram. Meanwhile those who were previously given unsolvable anagrams have adopted an “I can’t do these” attitude, and fail to solve the third anagram.
The point I’m wanting to make here is that the lady who asked me for something to bring her some good luck really needed to do two things:
First of all, she needed to check that her “coin isn’t loaded”. So if, for example, her run of “bad luck” were in the form of several bad financial decisions, she should determine whether some lack of knowledge on her part might be the issue, and address it before trying again.
Secondly that if it were down to sheer bad luck or unconnected errors of judgement (from which she has now learnt), that those previous events will not dictate, or even influence, future outcomes; UNLESS her own attitude causes them to do so.
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. I am, after all, in the business of making jewellery.