Coincidence, Randomness, and Luck

I don’t believe in any of it. Everything I’ve learned in life suggests that there is a specific purpose and reason to everything that happens. Not just in our lives but in the universe in general.

This post is coming out of a brief conversation I had this morning with my good friend, Mike who replied to me concerning my last post ‘Situational Awareness’.

I sent him an email in response where one of the things I said was, “So, when my friend, Jim cruelly denounced it [my ‘Three Crimes’ post] I felt compelled to point out what I thought was the obviousness to it all.”  I said that what Jim denounced “Wasn’t the point to that post. In Three Crimes I wanted the reader to intuit the differences between the three ‘crimes’. I felt a little like Dostoevsky when I wrote it. I wanted to posit no moral judgement, just present the facts as I was aware of them.”

But I went on to say, “More importantly, I wanted to call attention to the fact that it isn’t necessarily luck that wins the day for any of us but rather it is cold, calculated, dispassionate planning that saves many of us from bearing the full weight of consequences from things as simple as our own mistakes.”

Some people are fond to quote, ‘We make our own luck.” Rubbish. Absolute rubbish.

What we as people do is make decisions. And those decisions all have consequences. And it is most typically found in all crisis situations that some people are prosecuted and some people skate free. Some people live and some people die. And I have come to conclude that in 99% of all cases the differentiating factors include the ability of oneself to think calmly and act rationally. And those resultant decisions are what separates the winners from the losers.

Randomness. No. Absolutely not. Science as a whole does not adequately address the whole notion of randomness. What we in science mistake as randomness should be better thought of as an incompleteness in understanding.

Example. Right now there is incompatibility in the physics behind the big things (planets, stars, etc.) as expressed in Einstein’s Law of General Relativity and the little things (atoms and subatomic particles) as expressed in quantum mechanics. Physicists are in search of the unifying theory that will unite these conflicting fields much like James Clerk Maxwell did in the 19th century when he unified electricity and magnetism in what are now commonly referred to as Maxwell’s Equations.

Stephan Wolfram, the mathematician, opined many years ago – once found – that the unifying theory of everything would prove to be very short and concise. Many physicists today believe String Theory will provide the answer to bridging the physics of the big with the physics of the small.

Be that as it may, all true science seems to point to specific sets of laws that govern all things; from biological cells to planetary bodies. The fact of the matter is that we still have a long ways to go in discovering how everything works. But in my humble opinion randomness is not a factor in any of it.

So you might ask about probability. Fine. Probability is a statistical phenomena. And probability follows precise mathematical rules. Randomness on the other hand just speaks to those events or experiments that we can’t predict the outcome to. Meaning we haven’t yet discovered the underlying principles or rules by which those events are governed.

Back to luck. The notion of luck implies there is a randomness by which our lives are governed. Randomness implies an unpredictability to which some days we are lucky and some days we’re not. Or some people are lucky and some people are not. Nonsense.

Well you might ask, what about poker or just gambling in general. Some days you’re lucky and some days you’re not. No, sorry. Bad argument. Gambling is not governed by randomness (a contradiction in terms) but is a statistical phenomena. Given a 52 card deck and 4 players, there is a statistical probability to whether or not how the odds favor you drawing to an inside straight.

Casino gambling is an entirely different matter in where a smart man won’t play at a table where the odds are already stacked in favor of the house. Gambling in a casino is pretty stupid and is a consequence of personal choice.

So how it is we maneuver through life – the results, the wins and failures – are the result of the choices we make. Our individual lives are not randomly driven nor are can they be statistically derived.

Laurence Gonzales in his wonderful book, ‘Deep Survival: Who Lives. Who dies,  and Why’, speaks over and over again to the potential consequences of people used living in low risk environments who vacation in high risk environments. Wilderness survival – given a change in weather, a change in circumstance, and one small mistake – is surprisingly predictable in its outcome.

Life itself is that way. Predictable. Tell me the choices you’re making as a young person and I can within a reasonable amount of certainty predict how your life is going to turn out. Tell me about your marriage and I can also within a reasonable amount of certainty predict to whether or not you’re destined for a divorce.

Life isn’t complicated. It’s all about our personal choices. There are good decisions and bad decisions.

But the good news is that most bad decisions can be ameliorated. Contemplation, counsel, and situational awareness all go a long ways towards abrogating a bad situation.

PS – Ultimately the choices are all ours. We can live a wonderful and productive life or one in shame, and/or one in poverty. And in all honesty a good life takes much more time, commitment  and work than does a life leading up to and into poverty.

And you might not want to believe this but poverty in the western world is more or less a decision. Some would like you to believe that the disadvantaged stay so unless massive government entitlement programs magically lifts them out. But the reality is in the developed world personal poverty remains a personal decision. I can speak to that objectively because I once used to be poor.

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