The Intersection

This Friday the 13th, I’ll be sleeping in, then getting some work done, and hopefully taking it easy in the evening. It wasn’t always so. Back in college I used to party on these days, making a point of floutting all kinds of hoary old superstitions, and (at least theoretically) buying myself an eternity of bad luck in the process.

I remember one “superstition bash” in my college dorm room where people were dancing, then we suddenly turned on the lights and I shattered a mirror. Gutsy, huh?

Another time, we set up a huge ladder in the middle of the Yale campus, and tried to see whether people would walk under it or around it on their way to classes. This was actually something of an interesting social experiment: You wouldn’t have believed how many otherwise smart Yalies were unwilling to walk under a ladder. I was sorely disappointed, to say the least, in my fellow classmates.

Of course, maybe they just thought I was weird and didn’t want to be involved in my little demonstration.

The goal of all this merriment was to poke fun at so-called friggatriskaidekaphobes: Those who fear Friday the 13th. It’s a long and hallowed skeptic tradition. It’s also a really sly PR move: Using a day that people still fear (at least a little bit) to make the point that there’s no good reason to be superstitious–thereby striking a blow for rationality and the Enlightenment, and having a good time in the process. The media always lapped it up.

For this reason, I imagine there will be some Friday the 13th bashes going on around the country today. But as for myself, I’m retired. Sure, it’s amusing to make fun of superstitions. But nowadays I’m convinced there are bigger fish to fry in the course of defending science and reason–like the anti-evolutionists. Like the Bush administration.

Anyway–and because I just know you were wondering–I never really did experience any of the bad luck that I called down upon my head with my various anti-superstition antics. Still, I must admit that I’ve been a happier and more balanced person since I stopped my somewhat over-zealous college era crusading against superstition.

But there’s nothing paranormal about that. Hopefully, it’s just a sign that I grew up.


  1. #1 Mr. Upright
    January 13, 2006

    I tend to avoid walking under ladders not because I fear bad luck, but because the existence of a ladder increases the chances that there would be something above me (a ladder, can of paint, or person) that could fall on me. I don’t walk under scaffolds for the same reason. (And because I’m slightly claustrophobic.)

    A superstition party sounds like a great idea. I’ll ask my students this morning if they have Fri. 13 plans.

  2. #2 Kristjan Wager
    January 13, 2006

    I usually don’t go under ladders, but that has more to do with the risk of someone dropping something on me, than anything else.

  3. #3 Chris Mooney
    January 13, 2006

    Interesting, but I assure you, there was nothing on top of this ladder that might fall on anyone….

  4. #4 Monado
    January 13, 2006

    It’s not the bad luck but the chance that something might fall off the ladder or I might knock the ladder over. If they were free-standing and clear of obstructions and looked stable, I have walked under ladders. But my principle is that gravity’s always waiting in spite of its being just a theory.

    I think that you meant to write “flouting” (defying), not “flaunting” (waving around).

  5. #5 Tara
    January 13, 2006

    You wouldn’t have believed how many otherwise smart Yalies were unwilling to walk under a ladder. I was sorely disappointed, to say the least, in my fellow classmates.

    Well, the stones that make up the sidewalk in the first place are a major tripping danger–maybe the addition of a ladder on top of that was just too much danger. 🙂

    And all one has to do is look at the statue of Woolsey on Old Campus to see that superstition is still alive and well there (though I did wonder how much of that was due to students, and how much was due to the tour guides who hyped the legend…)

  6. #6 Chris Mooney
    January 13, 2006

    Made that spelling correction, thank you. When is someone going to invent a blog spell check/usage function?

    Tara, I seem to recall back in my college days writing something mocking the legend of the statue…..

  7. #7 Kristjan Wager
    January 13, 2006

    For the benifit of your international audience, can you perhaps enlighten us about the nature of the legend?

  8. #9 Kristjan Wager
    January 15, 2006

    Sorry Chris, I was being unclear. I was wondering about the legend of the statue – the fear of the number 13 was known to me. Funny enough, no Danes refer to the myth of Baldur when talking about the roots of thirteen being an unlucky number, they all refer to the Christian roots, which probably is older than the Norse myth anyway.

New comments have been disabled.