Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

A Sydney man who became an overnight millionaire after gluing a coin to his doorstep had more than one type of luck working in his favour, according to feng shui experts.

The retired police officer won almost $2 million in a BoysTown lotto after following advice in an article on the ancient Chinese art.

Association of Feng Shui Consultants president Elizabeth Wiggins says three types of luck have to align for such events to occur.

"We have our heaven luck, which is our Chinese astrology, and that's the luck we're born with," she said.

"We have our earth luck, which represents our environment, and that's where feng shui falls into place, so how does our environment affect us?

"Then we have our man luck, which is basically how we decide to live our life. Are we positive people? Do we do the right thing?

"I'd say that in his Chinese astrology there was some kind of indication that there was some unconventional wealth coming to him. Maybe in addition to that his feng shui's quite good."

But Ms Wiggins says the most important fact is the ex-policeman bought a ticket.

"Because if he didn't buy the ticket and didn't use his man luck he wouldn't have won," she said.

So Ms Wiggins says racing out to place money under your doormat will not necessarily bring riches.

"If it was that easy we'd all be doing it. Many things have to line up for something like that to happen," she said.

The feng shui expert says placing money at the entrance of the home symbolises wealth coming to the occupants.

"Tradition says that the energy coming through our front door will give us an indication of whether your home supports your ability to make money," she said.

So many things wrong in such a little space. Firstly, people win lotteries. Statistically there has to be winners every now and then. Secondly, every time there's one winner there's bound to be many losers. We don't hear about the statistical majority. Thirdly, that one person kissed their lottery ticket or was wearing lucky underwear when they purchased it, has nothing to do with the outcome. Fourthly, using the words feng shui experts as an authoritative means on how the world works decries the importance of expertise. Finally, this is all total nonsense. What is it doing in the news?

To give a personal example, a few years ago I won a ticket to the Big Day Out. Positive thinking? I don't see how. More that I messaged in the dead of night when they were giving away tickets hourly, because I thought it would maximise my chances purely on the fact that most people are asleep. Even then, I just got lucky. Wasn't born that way, wasn't my environment, I just happened to be the right person at the right time.

That people want to attribute intentionality to good fortune makes sense, that they want to feel in control of what essentially are random events, that they are trying to detect patterns in the world. It's what humans do. But the flip-side of that is seeing patterns that aren't there, trying to attribute intentionality to what are random elements beyond our control. And unfortunately, there are plenty of people out there who will claim dominion of what is out of our control.

And that's fine, I suppose. If people think that kissing dice will help them win at craps or that gluing a coin to the doorstep will help bring them fortune, that's their business. Publishing it as if it were news though? This is just selling people on credulity. This is tabloid journalism, and bad tabloid journalism at that on what's meant to be a reputable website. It's pushing nonsense claims without even so much as a critical eye cast over such nonsense.

Someone winning the lottery is not news, that they read "advice" out of a magazine beforehand is completely irrelevant. Feng shui may attempt to try to explain how following the advice implies causation, but what is their explanation? An appeal to a mystical force. I'd like to see if placing money under your doormat at all can affect the outcome of lottery, surely this can be tested. I'm going to bet there's no more statistical significance to that than the number of people who wear boxers over briefs when purchasing tickets.

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