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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/225

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THE ILLUSION OF CHANCE.

reveals some unpleasant but irresistible facts—that a sustained favorable coincidence is very rare and likely to be of doubtful permanent value, because there is not a proper development of personal quality whereby no injury will result from prosperity. The fortunate person tries to swim in a sea of new conditions which he has not reached by a natural process of growth. The phrase "always lucky" is open to two objections not easily set aside, owing to the profound complexity of events: that the person may have skill, tact, agreeableness; and that there may be error, owing to the special or restricted view of the person judging. Belief in luck is directly and practically objectionable, because it leads to submission in matters requiring action.

Another singular but essentially superstitious idea at times gains credence. A connection between two events is affirmed strongly in proportion to lack of evidence, or it is assumed that an event has necessary relation to personal welfare. This was well illustrated by an occurrence in the central part of Illinois during the presidential contest between Lincoln and Douglas. Two flag-staffs, about two hundred feet high, had been put up in the Court-House Square of the town. Just before the election the staff in honor of Douglas fell, owing to a defect in the timber. It was at once thought that this foreshadowed the defeat of Douglas, and when the result seemed to verify this prophecy the superstitious impression became stronger than ever.

Our tendency to fill the unknown with imposing possibilities is a natural and perhaps justifiable effect of the profound mysteries of life and being which stimulate our curiosity and imagination, but there is absurdity in postulating connections between special events which are much better explained by means of the usual physical factors and the reason. With some persons the supposed relation between death and thirteen at table seems impressive, because it is assumed that there is interference owing to unknown laws of action or association. It may seem incredible that any well-educated person should hold this belief seriously, yet beyond the shadow of a doubt it has influenced many who were able in action, if not in dealing with questions of causation. As death and thirteen at table are both quite common, it follows that the concentration of attention upon this or any usual number must result in the observation of many coincidences. An absence of the coincidence is easily overlooked, because the allowance of one year for the death to occur causes the prophecy to be forgotten. The disclosure of this or any other causal connection at once deprives the superstitious idea of its assumed value. This is evident in a like instance if we maintain that spilling salt has relation to calamity because it indicates carelessness and nervousness. Nature never overlooks carelessness, and nervousness may arise from consciousness of impending trouble; hence statistics might show (if we could eliminate other influences) that persons who spill salt or upset things are more liable to disaster