There's no such thing as chance: And what to us seems merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny.
The Death of Wallerstein (1798), act II, scene iii, Johann Friedrich von Schiller, (1759-1805)

Chance is a word that does not make sense. Nothing happens without a cause.
Voltaire (1694-1778)


One of the purposes of conducting this investigation was to help clarify the meaning of luck. There appear to be at least two major meanings, and we now suspect that the different beliefs and attitudes about these interpretations may well lead to different results in psi experiments.

The first common meaning is what we shall call "chance luck", that is, luck as a gift that is outside of our control. The second meaning is what we shall call "control luck", that is favorable circumstances that we can create or control. The former is presumably not responsive to psi, whereas the latter is nearly the same as the usual definition of psi. We might expect that a psi experiment cast into one or another of the two meanings would lead to different experimental results.

That is, let's say a psi experiment is described as a test of luck, but the connotation or the explicit meaning is chance luck. Because chance luck is by definition not subject to our control (conscious or unconscious), the form of intention that the participant applies to the task would presumably be different that the usual focused, will-type intention. If psi operated only upon the application of focused intention, then we would expect such an experiment to show chance results on average.

If the same experiment is described along with a description of luck as control luck, then we would expect results as in a "normal" psi experiment. In this case, we would presume that the form of intention applied is conscious (or unconscious) will, of the usual sort. In this experiment we would expect to show non-chance results on average (of course, in the uncertain world of psi, by "on average" we mean perhaps dozens of independent experimental outcomes analyzed via meta-analysis).

In the present experiment, there is some evidence that the type of luck interpreted by many participants was chance luck. The evidence is in the form of a correlation of r =0.564, p =0.008 (two-tailed) between the answers to the question, "Are you superstitious?" and "Do you believe in luck?" The positive correlation suggests that participants assumed that superstitious behavior, with its connotation of irrational, primitive, non-scientific belief, is associated with or perhaps the same as luck. If luck was interpreted in this way, as irrational, non-scientific, and presumably a pure chance occurrence, then people professing strong belief in that sort of luck would not be expected to apply much "effort" in the psi experiment, and thus their results would be non-chance. This is the same as predicting a negative correlation between belief in luck and the outcome of the psi experiment, which is what we observed in the present data.

There is another reason why we suspect that our participants interpreted the meaning of "luck" in different ways. People who believe that they are mostly in control of events in their life, i.e., those with a high internal locus of control (Ray, 1980; Rotter, 1966; Langer, 1975; Cohen, 1960), tend to think of luck as events that they can create or influence, i.e., control luck. In contrast, people who believe that most things are outside of their control, i.e., those with a high external locus of control, tend to think of luck as chance events that they are fortunate to receive, i.e., chance luck.

In a survey conducted for the present paper, people were asked how they defined luck. Some responded with clear "control interpretations" (for examples, click here), others responded with descriptions matching the dictionary's definition of luck, i.e., "a favorable or advantageous event happening by mere chance, often unexpectedly, and not as a result of effort or merit" (Webster's, 1968).

To ensure that our speculation is not just wishful thinking, our next experiment will be more explicit in defining precisely what we mean by luck. If participants attribute different meanings to luck, and their performance reflects those differences, this will significantly clarify the relationship between psi and luck.


An exploratory experiment examining the relationships between luck and psi resulted in a strong negative correlation between belief in luck and psi performance. We believe that the study also revealed some confusion about the meanings that participants attribute to the word "luck". There appears to be at least two different forms of luck which we called chance luck and control luck. The former is the idea that luck is a gift beyond our control, whereas the latter is the idea of luck as malleable to our will, and therefore similar to the usual notions of psi.