Solving Luck

Defined as “success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.”, luck is, quite simply, the Imponderable Factor. A variable that is difficult or impossible to estimate or assess.

If we express it in mathematical terms:

Luck is an equation with too many Xs.

I´m going to use a coin toss here because a coin toss is probably one of the most universally accepted examples of “luck”. If you could calculate all the variables in a coin toss, then you could calculate exactly which side the coin will fall. If you could calculate the angle and speed of your thumb tossing the coin up in the air, the temperature, humidity and current ambient pressure, the weight and exact shape of the coin, the acceleration and the number of spins it makes in the air, the angle of your hand catching it and a couple more variables, then you could predict with absolute accuracy which side the coin will fall on. You will have calculated Luck.

Therefore:

Luck usually exists because of human limitations or sometimes even laziness.

The variables that make up luck are always the harder to calculate. That is why we leave them aside and collectively dismiss them as “luck”. If people actually made the effort of calculating all those complicated variables then a whole lot of things that we mystifyingly call luck would be certainties.

As we know, ignorance breeds superstition. What people don’t understand, they mystify (Religion. Look it up) . And Luck is one of the most popular superstitions around still going strong simply because people aren’t willing to do the math. Now, having said that, I’m not up for crunching all of those numbers either. But, as we have calculators and automatizations for so many complicated processes, we should have systems to anticipate more accurately certain phenomenons.

How many times do we hear things like:

“In the end, the hurricane changed its direction”

The weather is one issue that is still, for a big part, within the realms of luck. The accuracy of weather predictions is simply not high enough. We need more exact weather predictions so we can stop settling for predictions and start having certainties. Predictions are for palm readers. Weathermen should tell it like it is.

But at least they are trying. They really are. Weather scientists are always trying to come up with better ways to calculate more accurately weather related phenomenons. They are well aware of the amount of time, money, effort and even lives that could be saved if better weather reports were readily available. We should be making the same kind of effort in other areas that are still influenced by luck.

How many lives would be saved if we calculated the same number of variables NASA calculates in each space launch for, say, automobile safety?

Not all the situations that escape our control are predictable. The current impossibility of possessing all relevant information and the small unknown variations in the data can have a huge impact on things. Until we have more accurate systems, lots of things will remain unpredictable. But a lot of the situations that escape our control because we hastily label as “luck” could be predictable and manageable if we made the effort to calculate the variables involved. It would mean more time and money for processing all those complicated variables, but in the long term the savings in terms of money, lives, time and effort would hugely surpass the cost.