Sunday, July 24, 2011


by Richard Crews
What is "luck"? Why does it cast its blessings on one person now and another person then, in a big way here, but only a small way there--and sometimes run contrary to our hopes and dreams? (You may have heard the lament, "If it weren't for BAD luck, I wouldn't have any luck at all.")

Before I continue with this topic, a disclaimer is in order: I borrow ideas and observations from such self-righteous fields as physics and astronomy, but also from self-apologetic fields such as mythology and spiritual healing; along the way you will probably at least disagree with me, if not decide that I am deluded, even certifiable. My justification for talking about this subject is that I have thought about these things for more than half a century, which doesn't make my ideas right but it does give them a peculiar weight--as a little cartoon figure I saw years ago said, looking at an abstract painting,"Don't SHUSH me, lady--I'm 74 years old and to me this is a DIRTY picture!"

First, the easy part: Many people attribute much of what I would call "luck" to religious--or at least to unknowable, ununderstandable, "spiritual"--factors. Generally if they do, there is no arguing with them.

Some say that such people--those who "believe"--do so because otherwise there is a terrifying existential void that pursues us every second, every moment in everything we do. To live untouched by "grace" is to cower, terrified and unproductive, from the darkness that closes in on all sides--that ultimately annihilates our consciousness in death.

Many thinkers of a psychological bent would say that such existential terror can be traced back to deep, unsatisfied emotional needs. Those who learned to feel protected and loved when they were very young and vulnerable, continue to feel happily safe--for whatever reasons they come up with--when they are older.

But setting aside those existential terrors, psychological vulnerabilities, and inflexible beliefs, let's look at some objective observations here and there. (As Jack Webb on "Dragnet" used to say, "The facts, ma'am, just the facts.")

In the realm of science--in astrophysics, to be precise--it appears that several universal constants (like the force of gravity and the charge on the electron, for example) are carefully tuned to support human existence. In fact, there are a dozen or so physical constants that, if they were less than one percent bigger or smaller, would make human life--or any life--impossible. Our atoms would blow up or collapse or suffer some similar existential catastrophe long before they got together and got organized to make us.

This peculiar set of observations has led to a theory called the "anthropic principle": basically this theory states that some sort of Great First Cause--ok, "God" if you will--must have had life and humans in mind when He (or She) tweaked creation several billion years ago. How else could one explain all those tricky astrophysical constants coming out just right?

How else, indeed! Along came the idea that, sure, all those constants are set just right for humans to emerge because if they weren't there simply wouldn't be any humans looking back to remark on them. The first perspective--that the Universe must have been designed for humans from the get-go--has been called the "Strong Anthropic Principle." The second--that when we look back and see things are "tuned just right," well, of course they are, because if they weren't "tuned just right" we wouldn't be here looking back at all--that idea has been called the "Soft (or Weak) Anthropic Principle."

I have a lot more to say about "luck"--from observations in quantum physics, the healing arts, financial investing, and elsewhere--but I have overrun my self-imposed essay-length constraints. (I have a rather short attention span, so I assume my readers do too.) Perhaps I shall return and say more about this subject in the future.