Luck? “No Dice”, says Pessimist


Is Pessimism a valid world view? Let’s throw a little science at this. (Just a very little.)

The number of ways a piece of string can be NOT tangled is ONE. The number of ways it can be tangled is “infinite”.

Hence… it’s infinitely more likely for the string be tangled than not. Note: This applies especially to earphone cables.

Similarly, the number of ways something can go right is ONE. The number of ways it can go wrong is “infinite”. Therefore, Pessimism is proved statistically to be the more valid world view.

The Pessimist is in a “win-win” situation, while the Optimist is in a “win-lose” situation…

  • Things go right: an Optimist gains what was expected, a Pessimist gains the unexpected
  • Things go wrong: an Optimist loses, a Pessimist gains exactly what was expected

We have seen how “Things go wrong” is the “infinitely” more likely outcome. But Optimists persist in holding to their world view. Could there be other factors at play? For example, does “luck” intervene and skew the results? Are Optimists that way because they are usually “lucky” and beat the odds?

Let’s Look At Luck

Question: Does a lucky person always find a pocketful of untangled earphone cables?

Why do some people seem to be “lucky”? When asked, lucky people usually try to look mystical and superior at the same time – a hard trick to pull off – and say something like, “you make your own luck”. Lucky people always take the credit for their own success.

Unlucky people will blame something else; for example, if they miss a flight, they will blame the floodwater, the car that broke down on the motorway ahead causing a 10-mile tailback… never themselves.

But how valid is this, “you make your own luck”, thing?

Lottery & Lightning

(Warning: the following section contains simple statistics and references to flashing lights, but no nuts.)

“You stand more chance of being hit by lightning than winning the Lottery”. Is that a fact? (Using UK figures…)

  • 53 people are injured or killed by lightning each year. The UK population is around 64 million. So the odds of being hit by lightning are 53 in 64 million in a year, which translates to 1 in 63 million per week.
  • Chances of winning the national lottery? 1 in 14 million per ticket per week.

So you are around 4.5 times more likely to win the UK Lottery with a single ticket, than to be hit by lightning. Sounds more interesting, now?

Fred & Joe

Let’s look at two average guys, Fred and Joe, who are extremely similar in their health, age and habits. Each buys one Lottery ticket.

  • Fred wins the Lottery (14 million to 1 chance)
  • Joe does not win the Lottery, but gets hit by lightning (63 million to 1 chance)

We can agree that Fred was quite “lucky”, while Joe was extremely “unlucky”. But who “made his own luck” and exactly how? Joe would love to know.

We can extend this to accidents or mayhem caused by human third parties affecting innocent bystanders… a runaway car misses Fred, but hits Joe (sorry, Joe – burned AND bashed). Again, how did Fred do it?


“You make your own luck” is an invalid claim, being inexplicable in these cases, and statistically unsound. Perhaps Fred could post a “how to get lucky” training blog? Joe would love to have some good reading in his hospital bed.

But the wifi would, no doubt, be down…

Anyone out there feel lucky today? Optimistic about anything important?

5 comments on “Luck? “No Dice”, says Pessimist

  1. As someone who studied probability theory (and build a team that investigated probable outcomes of projects) I can say that there is no such thing as luck. It’s a colloquial word used to describe the outcomes of random events where some thing positive happens (good luck) or something negative happens (bad luck).

    Pessimists also tend to concentrate on negative events although studies show that they have the same amount of positive events optimists. Optimists are also less likely to report on negative outcomes (they moan less).

    One of the best nights I ever had was at a casino watching people play roulette. People really do think that the roulette wheel has a memory and that they can have a ‘run of good/ bad luck’.

    • Welcome, Jumeirajames!

      I studied it briefly and I agree with your science. Subjective experience will always over-ride objective science in people’s minds. I recall a guy who survived a train wreck; swearing never to take the train again, he was on an aircraft that overran the runway and dug up a field. Interviewed, he said “I don’t know if I am unlucky to be in accidents or lucky to have survived.” Optimists and pessimists can vote below.

      And the casino folk always win in the end, so they must be optimists!

  2. Oh, meant to add. I used to be extremely negative and cynical – that changed after NLP which reset my mindset and changed my outlook completely. I literally turned from being a pessimist to an optimist in a short period of time.

    • Congrats on that turnaround.

      I like using a cynical voice when writing first person POV, however. Redemption for the cynic feels more interesting than the destruction of an optimist.

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