Unlucky for some

May 13th, 2016 Sections: Calendar, Maths-Stats
Not exactly a 'red letter day : Friday 13th ... unlucky for some

Not exactly a ‘red letter day : Friday 13th … but, is it really “unlucky for some”?

I am not sure why … but there is something about Friday the 13th that seems to inspire fear and foreboding in all of us.

Any misfortune which happens to us is easily explained away by some superstitious, metaphysical reasoning … as manifestation of evil, or an omen or … whatever.

It is true that there are some cases of misfortune and disaster that have occurred over the years on this fateful date … fires and floods; tornadoes and ; accidents and misadventure; pogroms and murders; plane crashes and ships sinking; stock exchange crashes and … so the list goes on … but, hey, they happen on other dates as well.

There have been several research projects to see if the date really is ‘unlucky’ … that ‘bad things’ on Friday 13th … and whilst some have provided evidence for those with Triskaidekaphobia, (the fear of 13), or Friggatriskaidekaphobia, (the fear of Friday the 13th … there is even a treatment Center in America for those who suffer this particular ailment), skeptics are able to find succour in others.

Most of these research projects rely on enumerating the bad things that happen … but even when they find some some sort of correlation, (like the increased probability of being hospitalized following a road accident on a Friday the 13th than on other days), nobody really has been able to show a causal connection with the date and celestial (or other) forces at work.  I suppose, however, that there might well be a tentative explanation to some of the findings … as to why there were fewer vehicles on the roads than a week earlier (Friday 6th) – as a 1993 survey on one of Britain’s motorways showed (… maybe a lot of superstitious drivers have decided that it is better not to ‘tempt fate’ and stay at home instead …), but where is the evidence of malevolent spirits at work?.

Personally, I find it hard to think in mystical, metaphysical terms when considering dates of the calendar … the calendar is a totally artificial and arbitrary schema which we use to organize our lives … but that’s it … well, almost.

Whereas, there is some logic between the concept of a year (the time it takes for the earth to orbit the sun), a week … or a month, (connected to the phases of the moon), but the names that we give to the days, (Friday, Freitag, Vendredi, Piatnitzu, Juma) … or their ordinal numbering (thirteenth, dreizehnte, treizième, trinadtsatiy, on üchünchü …), the months, the years, etc. – they are just names … and they are  arbitrary.

Why, for example, do some months have 31 days, whilst others only 30 and poor old February (usually) has just 28?  Where’s the logic?

Actually, that’s not to say there is no logic or order to the calendar.  There is a logic behind the scheme … but it’s not simple and straight forward … and it’s not unique – there are several different competing calendars even in our modern Global Village.

The calendar is simply a framework or structure, a set of rules, (such as how many days are in each month) about how we define and name the units that make up its constituent parts.

In many ways, it’s reminscent of the German mathematician Leopold Kronecker, who said about Mathematics … when he said: “God created the integers, all else is the work of man” – but he didn’t really say it – he wrote it down …  and he said (wrote) it in German.

The arithmetic of the calendar is such that every year will have at least one Friday 13th … whilst some may have two and on the odd occasion, there be three.

Once we have defined our terms then we can observe, record and even make predictions … making use of a number of discernable cycles (… such as the seasons of the year, or the circadian biorhythms that regulate our bodies …) as well as others which are based on psychological or socialogical phenomena, learned behaiviours … for example, as in the Scaffold’s 1966 song, “Today’s Monday”:

Monday is washing day
Tuesday is soup
Wednesday is roast beef
Thursday is shepherds pie
Friday is fish
Saturday is pay day
Sunday is church

Each day has a theme in the overall scheme of things … but there is no causal link that necessarily ties Friday with fish … that is simply custom and practice in certain parts of the world not necessarily a universal truth … indeed, there’s no reason why Tuesday has to be ‘soup’ and couldn’t be ‘fish’.

Even if we think we know what is meant by the phrases ‘Lucky’ and ‘Unlucky’ days, there’s no reason to suspect that there is any real connection between these concepts and the days that we call Friday the 13th.



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