Tuesday, January 24, 2006

13 isn't among my phobias

Here's a another photo of that Mexico, Maine simulacrum.

Turns out that Veronica Dennis is rather superstitious:
Dennis, a home health aide in her early 40s, said if nothing else, she hopes the image is a sign that a run of bad luck that struck on Jan. 13, a Friday, has finally ended.

On that day, she said, she was let go from her job. The next day her daughter's boyfriend broke his leg delivering newspapers. On Sunday, as she and her daughter cleared ice off the driveway in anticipation of his return from the hospital, a fire broke out inside when a space heater ignited a bed.

Just to summarize the timeline:

Friday the 13th: Dennis lost her job
Saturday the 14th: her daughter's boyfriend broke his leg
Sunday the 15th: the fire

Questions to ponder: Have bad things always happened to Dennis during all the other Friday the 13ths in her life? Have bad things (never) occurred on days other than Friday the 13th? If we do an objective count, will we find that in fact more bad things transpire on Friday the 13ths than on any other day? To what degree of consanguinity/association/acquaintanceship/etc. are we allowed to mine malevolent events from? Should something unfortunate that happens to our daughter's boyfriend's colleague's mother be counted? Had Dennis been keeping a daily journal of malevolent events, would she (never) find "streaks" of bad luck in the past which do not begin on a Friday the 13th?

The brouhaha over Friday the 13th reminds me of the belief that odd or special things happen during full moons. As with the lunar effect, this undying belief in Friday the 13th is a case of selective attention. Becaue of constant exposure to the superstition, people have been conditioned to regard 13 as a bad luck number and Friday the 13ths as days to be wary of. When such days do arrive and should believers suddenly remember, "Oh my God! Today's Friday the 13th," they become particularly alert and go on a lookout for anything remotely bad--and not only happening to them but to their friends and family as well (and throw in media to report and highlight anything ugly or unfortunate happening to politicians, celebrities, etc. ). And when something bad does occur (in their judgement), bingo! it's used as a case of confirmation, thus reinforcing the belief.

And yet do a simple comparative analysis and you find that the number of bad things happening on all Friday the 13ths are no more and no less than on other days/dates. As with the results of a very long run of coin flips, occurrences of good and bad events even out across the days of the year over the years. If it were possible to compile a database for a large population spanning a good number of years/decades, we wouldn't see any "spikes" occuring for days falling on the 13th. On the other hand, it would be strange if bad things don't occur on the 13th (Fridays or otherwise), or if there were significantly less of them on those days. That would be very weird indeed and would beg for an investigation.

So there is no basis for friggatriskaidekaphobia. Sure would be great to go bungee jumping on a 13th. And I bet it would really be cheap to rent an office on the 13th floor. By the way, I have a black cat (well, nearly black), and I will walk under ladders until I clumsily bump my head on one of the legs (except that unlike the one that Nickell and Kurtz are walking under this small 8-foot aluminum one I have at home has its bracings just two feet from the bottom and they will definitely snag my feet!)

The fire department offers the mundane explanation for the simulacrum:
Mexico Fire Chief Gary Wentzell, who downplayed the image, said the image was caused by smoke seeping around the picture frame.

"What you're seeing when you look at it is the outline of smoke," he said. "When that room got all smoked up, the picture protected the wall behind it."

And although fire truck driver Marc Mayo wasn't present on the scene, he believes the simulacrum "is just an image from foam and smoke."

While the image above has an uncanny resemblance to statues and artists' depictions of Mary, she may not be here for long. Apparently, she's already transfiguring:
the image had lost its original luster and been smudged. It also was missing some of the smoke dust that Mexico fire Chief Gary Wentzell said created it.

Achooooo! ... Oops! Didn't mean to send Mary off so soon.

(Can't wait for the next religious simulacrum-pareidolia case of the year)

No comments: