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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 30-Dec-12


Sunday 30-Dec-12

Luck, numbers and wishful thinking

As another year bites the dust and 2013 creeps up on us, the superstitious folks will probably be hiding under the bedclothes for a year. Or maybe wearing lavender, singing backwards or whatever it is is they do to fend off bad luck associated by the number 13.

Triskaideckaphobia, the fear of number 13, is a common superstition that goes back to Babylonian times, although the Christians hijacked it to refer to the 13th apostle, Judas, who betrayed Jesus. Whatever the source, it is pretty unscientific to be frightened of a number, though it's a strange phenomenon that many do.

People have lucky numbers too, and in the West, seven is the most common 'lucky' or favourite number. This is one reason you see prices such as 1.97. This is because the '7' has a better holding effect than the '9' of '1.99' and reduces the number of people rounding up and thinking 'It's really 2.00'.

One of the reasons lucky (and unlucky) numbers seem to work is that when people believe in them, they act in ways, often subconsciously, that make their beliefs come true. It's like the placebo effect where doctors give sugar pills and patients still get better. Mind over body and all that. There's also a confirmation effect, where I pay attention more to things that confirm what I believe. All in all, the ever-helpful brain tends to help us believe in all kinds of falsehoods.

In some ways I wish superstitions really worked, because that would mean the laws of physics would be limited and that laws of magic should be introduced to explain all the non-scientific phenomena. Some may say this is already true, but sadly too much academic study has made a confirmed sceptic out of me.

So maybe in 2013 I should wish for more belief in things I don't believe in, that I should find more magic and less science around me, that Pandora's box can be closed and the innocence of youth recaptured. Who knows? Miracles can occur. I wish.

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