Monday, October 30, 2006

Is luck genetic?

I've always thought of myself as a pretty lucky person.

Not lucky in the sense of "being born into a middle-class, well-educated American family", although frankly that's like hitting the jackpot right there. But actually, you know, lucky. I've always seemed to beat the odds more often than most -- winning a raffle, avoiding speeding tickets, winning luck-based games, avoiding random trouble, that sort of thing. Computer errors tend to work in my favor. And despite being a registered voter my entire adult life, I've never once been called for jury duty.

Now I'm beginning to wonder if luck is genetic.

My oldest daughter is 6 years old, and takes after me in most ways (our youngest takes after their mother). A couple of days ago we went to a Halloween party at school. They had the usual array of Halloween activities -- face-painting, trick-or-treating, cookie-decorating, and so on.

But they also had a Bingo table, where five kids played at a time, and you needed to get three numbers in a row to win.

My oldest daughter sat down and won. First time. In three numbers.

Down the hall was a prize room, with a twist: Kids had to stand on squares numbered 1 to 10. If they drew your number, you were allowed to go in and pick a prize. Every time a child went in, their place was taken by a waiting child.

My oldest daughter walked up, stepped on a square, and won. First time.

So in rapid succession, she beat odds of 10 percent and roughly 20 percent. Combined, she beat odds of 2 percent. Less, really, because she won the Bingo game in three draws, an unlikely event in itself.

That's not lottery-winning luck, but it's not bad.

The science-fiction writer Larry Niven wrote several stories set in his Known Space universe that explored the implications of breeding humans for luck. His novel "Ringworld" included one such human, Teela Brown; the short story "Safe at Any Speed" takes the idea into the far future, where generations of breeding have produced extraordinarily lucky people. It's kind of boring.

It was always a neat idea, if not one to be taken seriously. But now I'm beginning to wonder if Niven was right.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Not Your Mama said...

There may be something to that. Something along those lines seems to run in my family, not luck exactly but close enough. Both my girls have it, my son...well, like I said both girls have it, LOL.

10/31/2006 12:35 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

So apparently it's a recessive gene.... :)

10/31/2006 1:07 PM  
Anonymous Marc Schneider said...

It's time to head for Vegas!

10/31/2006 2:18 PM  
Blogger Not Your Mama said...

Haha, I like my gambling on Wall Street. Better odds & I do a happy dance every time I take a chunk of some republican's money.

10/31/2006 7:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you decide to use the gift, choose wisely, there is no going back and life will never be the same.

9/22/2008 10:47 AM  

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