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13 Apr 2012
By Gwynn Compton
Apr
13
2012

Don’t talk to me about Friday the 13th

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I’m not a superstitious person by any stretch of the imagination. Every time I hear about superstitions I go out of my way to point out that the said superstition is, in all likelihood, bogus. I say “in all likelihood” because as the biologist Richard Dawkins points out, no scientist can say that something is absolutely impossible, rather it is just extremely improbable.

Friday the 13th is one such superstition that regularly volunteers itself to my wrath and this year I get three bites at that cake. Putting aside the notion that there exists such a thing as bad luck, the idea that we would take such a concept and arbitrarily attach it to a combination of a day of the week and a day in the month seems absurd. After all, our entire calendar system and weekly cycle are completely human inventions. There is no astrophysical uniqueness about Friday the 13th anymore so than there is about Thursday the 12th or Saturday the 14th.

Friday the 13thA quick check of Wikipedia (for more thorough reading, check the references for some of the statements in the article) reveals that there appears to have been no particular negativity attached to the combination of Friday and the 13th until the 19th century. Friday and 13 separately were considered unlucky (again for purely spurious reasons), but the use of these as a pairing only gained widespread acceptance in the 20th century.

Of particular interest from that Wikipedia article are some of the anecdotal claims included in it. For instance, both Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines say that their airlines do not suffer from any noticeable drop in travel on those Fridays, while the Dutch Centre for Insurance Studies stated that “fewer accidents and reports of fire and theft occur when the 13th of the month falls on a Friday than on other Fridays.” They also noted that “Dutch insurers received reports of an average 7,800 traffic accidents each Friday, but the average figure when the 13th fell on a Friday was just 7,500.”

Now while these are only anecdotes and clearly don’t tell the full story, they alone seem to suggest that if anything, you’re far less likely to have something bad happen to you on Friday the 13th. If anything, I’d propose that rather than there being anything inherently bad about Friday the 13th, I’d instead suggest that those who subscribe to such a superstition self-perpetuate bad things happening to them on that day. Or they look for patterns in events that support their view of the day, ignoring the overall and overwhelming body of evidence that suggests there is nothing unique about that date.

A similar example can be found with the Bermuda Triangle, where the Triangle actually is no more dangerous, proportionately speaking, than any other part of the ocean, especially when considering that the area is a busy shipping lane which experiences a high number of tropical storms each year.

Of course, much of our modern obsession with this date could be to do with the 1907 novel by Thomas W Lawson, Friday, the Thirteenth in which a Wall Street panic takes place on that date, or much more recently by a string of horror movies carrying that title.

But to track back to my original point, when you get past all the superstition we attach to this date, it’s actually just a moment in time completely indifferent to any other moment in time. In fact, given the inaccuracy of our calendar, any given Friday the 13th will fall at a slightly different position in the Earth’s orbit to another Friday the 13th, even if it is the same month. Factor in that we’re also orbiting the Milky Way and oscillating through the galactic band as we do so, Friday the 13th is a completely unremarkable day.

That being said, this Friday the 13th is both an exciting and sad day for me. It’s exciting because I’m heading overseas to pursue my dreams, and sad because I’ll be leaving the many friends I’ve made both at Telstra and in Melbourne. While this will be my last blog as a Telstra employee, Brendan has very generously offered me the opportunity to keep blogging on Telstra Exchange, so I’m looking forward to being an ongoing contributor to the site.

So what are you superstitious about, or do you have a view on Friday the 13th?

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