Does Luck Exist?

Let’s say you have someone that doesn’t buy scratch-off tickets on a regular basis, or perhaps even someone that had not previously bought a scratch-off ticket, anyway, this person stops at the gas station and is for whatever reason compelled to buy a scratch-off ticket.

The ticket hits for $10,000.

I would not deny that there is a causal chain leading to the individual being sold that specific ticket, (required all other tickets in that pack to have been sold before that, requires that the previous pack had all been sold etc.) and of course it was also required that the person saw thjat ticket and liked it for whatever reason. My question lies in that compulsion to buy a lottery ticket taking place at that exact time, on that exact night, when the causal chain led to the $10,000 ticket being there. Of course, had this person not bought it someone else would have.

So, the question is clearly not about the ticket, but about this hypothetical person. How can the person be described as anything except lucky? I could understand the justification that, “It had to happen to someone sooner or later,” when describing a winner that routinely plays scratch-off tickets, but someone that had never purchased one?

Intuition does not describe what happened because intuition requires some sort of past knowledge, and of course, if someone has never played the scratch-offs before no past knowledge that this person has could be pertinent. Even if intuition were a viable argument, though, it still wouldn’t matter because it is not possible to know that the big winner would be next.

Anyway, I would likely describe the individual as, “Lucky,” but if luck does not exist, strictly speaking, then how would you describe the above occurrence, strictly speaking?

The reason that I say that the question is not about the ticket is because, as a good friend pointed out to me, the ticket is a sure thing. That’s not to say that any ticket a person buys will surely win $10,000, but simply that the ticket was in that particular roll that was delivered to that particular store no matter what.

The aspect of the situation that makes me wonder if it would not constitute genuine luck is that the person who bought the ticket was acting completely out of character and did something unexpected. If you consider an individual that buys a ticket everytime they pump their gas, then they might be considered lucky, but there’s a bit more of a causal chain from the standpoint of the individual that supports the assertion that it is not pure luck. The causal chain, of course, being that this individual buys a ticket every time they pump gas, therefore they buy more tickets than a person who has never bought a ticket before and essentially has a greater probability of hitting a big ticket. (In general)

Of course, anyone that knows about gambling understands that the tickets don’t know what the tickets before them did, how often the individual buying the ticket buys one, or what the person’s win/loss ratio is. Each newly bought ticket has no greater/lesser chance of winning for any one individual as opposed to any other irrespective of the amount of times one person compared to another has bought tickets.

With respect to acting out of character, an example that the discussion with my good friend made me think of is imagine a person that eats at a given restaurant every day and every day they have fish. Imagine that this person walks into the restaurant one afternoon, and acting completely out of character, simply gets up and walks out for no apparent reason (and no reason known to that individual except a sudden compulsion to walk out). It turns out that the fish was contaminated with salmonella and everyone that had the fish in the restaurant that day became violently ill. Is that person anything except lucky?


Is the person who buys scratch offs on a regular basis who never wins considered unlucky? :-k :-k It seems to me that despite all the odds making, all we have to work with is chance score. If we wish to call the person, regardless of why or how they obtained a ticket, lucky then we can. But it’s just a label.

I’m not sure what “out of character” means. Perhaps this was just the beginning of a new pattern of behavior - one that, in twenty years, would seem just as typical of him as the old pattern.

I think you can be lucky, even if luck does not exist. Like you can be in love even though love does not exist. There are many words that describe complex conditions is a simplistic way. Shorthand.

Emotional needs exist, and we can rightly say that we love those who fulfill them. But there is no discrete set of needs that applies. We can love someone for many reasons - yours might be different than mine - and this means that the needs that are fulfilled by a person you love may be altogether different than those that my loved one fulfills. Love is just a word we use to describe how wee feel about such a person. Or it’s one way we describe our relationship to that person.

Luck (good luck, that is) is a word we use to describe a similar set of circumstances. I’m lucky if things turn out my way unexpectedly and through what i deem to be, or what others do, nothing I can take credit for. But such events take place constantly in everyone’s day-to-day life. We just don’t take note of most of them. “Luck” usually describes or “explains” a complex and mutliplex set of events. And we often have an entirely scientific explanation, one even that we accept, but still count ourselves as “lucky”.

Luck is one kind of narrative that we employ, and it’s not exclusive of others, even for the same set of events. It’s a point of view.

I guess one can say luck “exists” in the same way that (the) “chance” (of something occurring following certain conditions) “exists”. In the end, some thing that exists = some conceptualized “thing”. Socially, some thing “exists” if its (assumed) defining aspects don’t contradict each other.
There are a lot of variables involved in this, and I don’t intend to imply that everyone who believes a specific thing exists would all give roughly the same definition, all internally and externally (when compared to another’s definition) valid;
the meaning is often “understood” not from/with/as a verbal definition (as one would read in a dictionary), but rather as an intuited “form” (impression) correlating to frontal lobe activity synergized from the effects of the “recognition” of the (sound of the) word and the simultaneous brain activity of related areas (that “contextualize” the word).

So yeah I’d say “luck” (as a concept) (socially) “exists”, because everyone who knows the word pretty much understand what you mean when you say it. Some things are agreed to be good, and sometimes something happens that is understood as possible, but considered so unusual (of an effect of some given conditions) that it isn’t considered something one ought to anticipate/plan for. We notice these kind of experiences/events, and calling them good or bad luck, depending on the value of the result, is just the word we use for it.

If you’re lucky enough to get out of your assumptions about luck, then there is no luck. None good or bad. Everything happens as independent events. No linking up one event with another.

I think that all of these have been interesting responses to the question, and I believe that my personal answer is something of a synthesis to all of the responses above.

Personally, I believe that the concept of luck needs to be contextualized in a more specific way than it is currently, and for two concepts to be understood:

1.) Luck is an experience, not a state of being. To wit, nobody is, “Lucky,” but a person can experience luck.

2.) For a certain event or result to rightfully be considered, “Lucky,” a number of variables to be detailed below must be satisfied.

The first concept is pretty much self-explanatory and that is that there is no such thing as a, “Lucky,” person, but there are people who have experienced luck. In other words, it is not, “Natural,” for a person to be lucky because for it to be natural would require it to be a default position. The very fact that it is luck being experienced (where luck is defined as either favorably or unfavorably defying the substantial probability that the opposite result(s) would occur) pretty much dictates that it is not a natural position.

The second concept is a little more in-depth, and I am going to propose the following variables in order to more strictly define whether or not a particular person(s) with a particular experience(s) has experienced luck.

1.) Luck must not be related to skill, or if it is related to skill, it must only be so to a negligible degree.

-For example, Bill Mazeroski is one of only two individuals to ever hit a home run to win a World Series. On the surface, one might consider Mazeroski to be very lucky to have done so, but luck actually had absolutely nothing to do with it because for Mazeroski to have actually had the opportunity to hit a World Series winning home run means that he was a professional baseball player.

We might describe a person who is a professional baseball player as, “Lucky,” to be so, (especially if the person doing the describing likes baseball) but this is most certainly not the case. First of all, it takes a substantial amount of practice, training and drive to become a professional baseball player, and having become one, it takes just as much of the same to continue to be a professional baseball player. Secondly, one may, “Naturally,” possess the physical attributes necessary to have a chance of becoming a professional baseball player, but whether or not someone possesses those attributes is not a matter of luck, but more of genetic predisposition. If nothing else, the person could possibly be cconsidered lucky to be born with such attributes, (even though that is not a function of luck) but the fact that the person is a professional athlete is simply cause-and-effect to some extent.

Additionally, one must recognize the fact that Bill Mazeroski played for a damn good baseball team, namely, the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates. Had Bill Mazeroski played for the 1960 Philadelphia Phillies, it is very unlikely that his presence alone would have propelled the Phillies to making the World Series. It cannot reasonably be argued that Bill Mazeroski was lucky to have played on a damn good baseball team because, given that he was good enough to be a professional baseball player, he had to play somewhere.

It is true that during all regular seasons, Bill Mazeroski only hit one home run for every 16.2 games he played in, (which means he had about a 6.17% chance of hitting a home run in any given game) but I don’t think that qualifies the Mazeroski situation as luck. In the same way that the game of Roulette presents a 1/38 chance of the ball stopping on 28 it can be theorized that since the probability of the ball stopping on 28 is only 2.63% on a single spin it doesn’t necessarily ever have to happen, but everyone knows that sooner or later, it will. The same can be said with respect to Mazeroski hitting a home run, sooner or later he’s going to do it. On every occasion other than that one that he hit a home run it wasn’t a historical occurrence, but to the same extent, the majority of the time that the Roulette Wheel stops with the ball in the pocket of, “28,” there isn’t a large sum of money on, “28.” Sometimes there is.

A more brief example of what I am attempting to illustrate is a Texas Hold 'Em player that goes all in before the River at a final table has three-of-a-kind, but his opponent (who calls the bet) has a Full House which is such that the only card that will win the hand for the former player would give him four-of-a-kind. Assuming that these are the only two players whose cards we are aware of, and we are also aware of the four cards in the community hand, that means that we have not seen 44 of the fifty-two cards. This being the case, the former player has about a 2.27% chance of hitting the card he needs for the four-of-a-kind.

Is he lucky if he hits it?

My answer is no because sooner or later, given enough hands of poker, a 1/44 chance is going to come. In addition to that, the player would have had to have played poker with tremendous skill to even be at the final table in the first place.

Does that mean that where there is luck there cannot be skill? I would suggest that it does for the most part, but am certainly open to examples of situations where there can be both luck and skill, although I would imagine they are extreme in their nature.

2.) When does luck start being lucky?

-In other words, when it comes to quantitative luck, I would suggest that we must reach a consensus on what odds must be beaten in order for an event (or series thereof) to be considered lucky. A default position many people will arrive at is, “If it happened and it shouldn’t have happened, then it is lucky.” I could not possibly disagree more with this assertion.

Returning to the Roulette example, let’s posit that a player can bet Black and Black has an 18/38, or 47.4% chance of coming up on any given spin. Statistically, this means that Black should not come up on an isolated spin as either Red or one of the Two Greens represent what, “Should,” happen. If you place your bet on Red, then Black or one of the two Greens is what, “Should,” happen. The point is that anytime the odds in favor of something happening are greater than 50%, then whatever it is that the odds do not favor, “Should not happen.”

Personally, I do not think a person is lucky because of a successful bet on something that had a 47.4% chance of happening in the first place. Regardless of whether they bet $10,000 or bet $1.00, the fact that the prospect of Black coming is not so unlikely as to constitute, “Luck.”

So, what in Roulette would constitute luck? Once again, you would have to look at isolation, but not only from the standpoint of a Roulette turn, but also from the standpoint of a player. As many of you may know, the odds of a specific number coming in Roulette are 1:38, or 2.63%. Imagine if you had a player that always bets Black 29 and has (if the law of probability in consort with the, “Casino’s Edge,” rule holds) lost money over the long run hits Black 29, is he lucky?

The answer is, of course, absolutely not. The guy always bets Black 29, so all he is doing is betting on something that must happen sooner or later, and simply hoping that it will happen more than it statistically should.

What about a player with $100 that has never played Roulette before putting the $100 on Black 29 and the number comes up Black 29? In this case, I would suggest that the player is quantifiably lucky because the player is up $3,500 ($3,600 payout) against only $100, lifetime, wagered in Roulette and the player picked 1:1 numbers right when the number that the player picked only had a 1:38 chance of coming up.

However, while a player who puts $3,500 on Black and has it come Black 29 (Even money proposition despite slightly adverse odds) has come away ahead the same $3,500, that person is not lucky (in my opinion) because they did not come anywhere close to defying insurmountable odds.

3.) Luck Must Be Entirely Isolated.

Very simply, even if an individual is trying for an, “Unlikely,” result, repeated attempts decrease the degree to which that unlikely result can be called luck when it is finally realized. In other words, if Black 29 hits for a guy that always bets Black 29, then even though that spin of the Roulette wheel is isolated, his betting of Black 29 is not isolated, and the result is therefore, not lucky. For someone that has never played Roulette, or has never (or very rarely) played a single-number bet to play Black 29 and have it come Black 29, it is lucky.

4.) Luck Must Not Be By Necessity.

In other words, for something to satisfy the condition of luck, it cannot be a necessary occurrence. An example of this is a person who is born into a rich family should not be described as, “Lucky,” to have been born in such a way because that exact person, very simply, could not have been born to any other set of parents. He/She is no more lucky to have been born into a rich family than they are lucky to have been born at all. For us to even be discussing a specific physically-existent person, it is an imperative that the person is alive as they are and for them to be so requires, by necessity, that the person’s parents are who they are.

It can reasonably be argued that the person is lucky to have been born to rich parents because so few sets of parents are actually rich, but really that technically makes the parents lucky (And there probably isn’t even luck involved!) and not so much the child of the parents.

In any case, those are four of the qualifiers I would suggest that we need to employ in order to come up with a more concrete definition for, “Luck,” because while I believe that luck does exist, I do not believe that, “Lucky,” is a state of being, but that luck is more of an experience. The reason a more concrete definition is necessary is because it is a grossly overused term which is why I think so few people appreciate the term. We have heard so many things described as luck that actually have little-to-nothing to do with luck that we are desensitized to the term, and it is for that reason, that the term must be given more specificity when applied.

I also believe that, “Good fortune,” or, “Fortunate,” are terms that could replace, “Luck,” or, “Lucky,” in many of these situations. Of course, I am referring to the archaic definition of, “Fortune,” which is, “To happen by chance,” rather than the somewhat new definition which encompasses and goes over and above luck. In other words, if a person picks Black on the Roulette wheel and it lands on Black, the person is fortunate because it landed on Black, “By chance,” that a positive thing happened that was not an absolute certainty is the only criteria required for something to be considered, “Good fortune.”

If there’s an element of ‘randomness’ to luck, as we use it, then some people happen to experience a lot more good luck than others - aren’t they lucky?

It doesn’t need to be a predictive so much as a descriptive attribute. I could roll five sixes in a row to win a huge stack of money, which would be lucky, but it doesn’t mean I’m any more likely to roll another six than the next person.

“The more I practice, the luckier I get” :stuck_out_tongue:

Everybody has been born, though. Within that group, some had the good fortune to have been born to parents who were wealthy, wise, loving, etc.

Millions of people buy lottery tickets. Thanks to factors entirely out of their control, some of them win.

Billions of people are born. Thanks to factors entirely out of their control, some of them have hereditary diseases that kill them painfully in their teens.

I do see your point - they wouldn’t have been who they were, or at all, if they hadn’t been born to exactly those parents at exactly that time. But since their birth was entirely out of their control, a ‘brute fact’ the consequences of which they have to deal with, it’s bad luck that they are who they are. Even though they couldn’t have been someone else.

The answer to the first question is, “No,” because of the randomness involved. Just because a person experiences luck once, or even if they experience it five times in a row, does not mean that the person will ever experience such luck again.

For that reason, “Lucky,” does not actually describe the person, but rather, the word describes an isolated event that happened or a series of isolated (yet unlikely) events that happened within close range of one another.

The person, however, is undoubtedly fortunate.

That made me chuckle!

My response is the same as Churro’s to this.

They were either fortunate or unfortunate to be born to a certain set of parents. Of course, that’s using a completely different definition of, “Fortunate,” because chance is a non-factor. It is either those parents or none at all, so the odds of that person being born to those parents is 100%, at least when viewed post facto.

Most of it has to do with selection bias. It just so happens that some of us have more things to be selective about within our biases.

Take me, for example. It is easy for me to construct a system whereby I am incredibly lucky because my life has been incredibly awesome.

I believe in luck, not like a four leaf clover. BUT KNOWING WHEN TO BET It ALL