The 13th Flaw
Live in Flat 13? Broke a mirror this morning? Accidentally walked under a ladder while avoiding a black cat? Fear not. All superstition is pretty much rot. Well, fingers crossed....
Can you imagine a man, readers? Let’s call him David. Or Saul. It doesn’t really bear too much on our tale, after all. Our man has a home, of course, a modest one, but his own. He has a job he finds passingly tolerable and a fiancé he once loved. He also has a group of friends. Oh yes, readers, he has many friends. Life seems good for David. Or Saul. That is until fate takes a hand one Friday the 13th…
He wakes up as normal, but there his luck ends. He enters the bathroom, intent on cleansing himself from his night soil, but his early morning torpor sees him dash a prized mirror to the ground, scattering its shards across the tiled floor. Readying himself for his daily labours, he checks the window and spots rain clouds, heavy, black and pendulous. Thoughtlessly, he opens his umbrella in the hallway, needlessly checking that all of its ribs remain intact. As he leaves his home, unseen, a black cat slowly slinks across his path.
On his way to work, he walks under three ladders, none of which were there the day before. He accidentally stands on four cracks in the pavement, then passes a lone magpie. It remains unsaluted. He arrives at his work. He’s the box office manager of St Jonah’s Theatre. In Hobb’s Lane. The first customer comes in and asks for: “Two tickets for the ‘Scottish play’”. “That’ll be Macbeth then. That’s £6.66 exactly,” says Dave/Saul, whistling all the while.
If you’re a superstitious person, you’ve probably assumed our fictional ticket-seller has damned himself several times over. Surely no man could withstand such a torrent of impending ill-fortune? Even if he knocks on wood for the whole of the next day, clutches a horseshoe, a rabbit's foot and a four leaf clover, all while crossing his fingers, snapping a wish-bone and sporting his lucky y-fronts, he can never hope to counter such damning portents. Surely catastrophe, extreme mortification and possible vivisection all loom large in our man’s immediate future? Right?
You could not be more wrong. Despite the prevalence of all manner of superstitions across the world, there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that any of these things have any bearing on your likely fortune. Superstitions are pure fantasy, meaningless concoctions of ill-educated minds. Yet they persevere in our collective consciousness. The question is: ‘Why?’ Is there any intrinsic reason why a horse-shoe is seen as lucky or why walking under a ladder is deemed a harbinger of misfortune in many parts of the world?
One explanation, bizarrely, was offered by a study of pigeon behaviour. In 1948, a famous American behavioural psychologist, Burrhus Frederic Skinner, published an article in The Journal of Experimental Psychology describing one of his experiments on pigeons. This experiment, he believed, helped explain just why humans were so superstitious. To his mind, it demonstrated why superstition was an integral part of man’s nature and explained its role in evolution and natural selection.
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