Saturday, April 14, 2012

Friday 13th: superstition or supposition?

For the first monthly topic on this blog, I'd like to throw out a few thoughts about the curious month we know as April, 2012.

This particular April happens to contain two days of note: April Fool's Day, and a Friday the 13th.  Which led me to think that there may be a fitting connection between these two events.  April Fool's is, for the most part, a day when we hopefully can laugh at ourselves with a few good-hearted pranks.  Friday the 13th is another matter, and how it's viewed has a lot to do with the particular outlook of people.  For the superstitious it's a day to take note, for others, it's nothing but a curiosity.  Nevertheless, there's probably a fair number of people who dismiss the day but within themselves decide to maybe wait until Saturday to do something, or perhaps roll their eyes when something goes amiss on Friday.  Which leads to the question, superstition or supposition?

First, let's take a brief historical detour.  The tradition of Friday 13 goes back to the downfall of the Knights Templar in France.  The Knights Templar gained wealth, and thereby prominence, during the times of the Crusades.  The great monarchies of Europe went into massive debt to fund their efforts during the Crusades (think of the Crusades as a militarized Apollo program), and as a result there was a fair amount of borrowing going on.  Among those handing out gold were the Knights Templar, and as with most organizations that loan funds, they in turn earned power.  At a certain point it was decided they were a threat, and so King Philip IV of France acted.  In one swoop, on the night of Friday 13 (October, to be exact), the Knights Templar were arrested on charges of heresy and tortured into false confessions before receiving prompt death sentences.  With the Knights obliterated, France's debt worries were alleviated, but the fear inspired by the precipitous collapse of a powerful, 'untouchable' group such as the Knights left a lasting impression - and, to say the least, a rather bad impression, bad enough that the infamous date lives on.

In our modern times common considerations of the Knights Templar may be forgotten, but the shadow of ill fortune is alive and well.  Certainly there are some facets of the number thirteen that are of interest: it is a number that has its own associated phobia (triskaidekaphobia, anyone?), some buildings are built without a designated thirteenth floor, some hospital emergency rooms are built without a designated bed thirteen, and of course there's the episode of Apollo 13.  While the superstitious will cite any ill event on Friday 13 as substantiating the date's black cloud, the sketpical will cite the argument of causal connection: did an ill event occur because it was Friday 13, or was the event as likely to happen on any other day?

It's a matter of perspective.  The human mind by instinct seeks to make structure and sense of things, even if the 'sense' the mind imposes can be argued as illogical.  One of these processes of the mind is to associate events of note.  For example, if the Apollo capsule blew out an oxygen tank on mission 12, would some relate the failure to the fact that it was mission 12?  Likewise, without the bookmark of a periodic recurrence of Friday 13 - a day ingrained for the French destruction of the mighty Knights Templar - would there be any collective thought as to that particular date being a particular moment for bad outcomes?  If one were to scour history, without a doubt there could be long lists of disastrous events for any of our seven days in conjunction with a number.  Monday 3, anyone?  Thursday 22?  Despite that, we stick with Friday 13.  The downfall of the Knights Templar can be likened in modern terms to the overnight mass arrest and execution of all the executives of a global bank.  As much as one might despise the bankers, there's the unnerving realization that if those who are so high up can be brought down, those of us who are lower shouldn't expect any greater degree of security.  And the sense of security, I believe, is a guiding force.  Once again, the human mind looks for order in the world.  It's easier for us to recognize a day as a causal effect for bad events because in recognizing that day it provides a structure for us to hopefully avoid bad events.  It's easier to say someone was a victim of bad 'luck' because they tempted the warning of Friday 13 than to accept the fact that random circumstance struck out of the blue, because random circumstance means none of us are safe, no matter what we do.  Fortune, fate, luck, call it what you will, a random world without order is one we believe lacks any safety or security.

Now, for curiosity's sake, here's a historical list of the good and the bad, for April 13 (not all on Friday):
For comparison, here's a list of the good, the bad, and all else on, for example, Wednesday 2: cohesive list, no data, no lengthy list of research hits.  Should we conclude nothing of note has happened on any Wednesday 2 in recorded history?  Of course not - there's no logic in that conclusion - but we lack a preconceived notion for 'Wednesday 2', in contrast to 'Friday 13'.  It's ironic, because it turns the valid argument of causal connection on its head, supporting the argument even as it deflates the argument.

So, in the end, is there some mystical association of 'Friday' and '13' to support the superstition, or is it supposition on our part, a subconscious act of our minds to create order in a confusing world?  Either Nature is fooling us, or we're fooling ourselves - something brought to mind by having a Friday 13 juxtaposed with April Fool's Day.  I, for one, will cast my vote on subconscious connection, and shy away from the notion of superstition.

All that aside, I'll put this post up on Saturday 14 - just to play it safe.


  1. Kay-Werner AllanchApril 15, 2012 at 2:02 PM

    Well, life in fact DOES lack any safety and security. The only secure thing in life is death. And exactly that is what makes it worth living. Nobody knows what will happen in the next second. The future is open. This makes life an exciting adventure. Superstition is based on fear. So in fact all superstitious people also are fearfull people. Unfortunately they are bound to miss the beauty of life.

  2. I think you hit on a key personality point in people. It's almost like the difference between a pessimist and an optimist looking at a half full glass of water. It's no different with the unknown. You either embrace it and adapt, or cower and become victim to it. In that context, yes, superstition is a sign of fear, but that fear can be viewed as a manifestation of a control issue, namely, the lack thereof.