Luck and Genetics

At the recent Comic-Con in San Diego, a number of people were asked what they thought the greatest superpower is. Stan Lee, the creator of Spider-Man and Fantastic Four (among many others), said it was ‘good luck’, because nothing can go wrong if you have good luck:

http://projects.usatoday.com/news/voices/what-greatest-super-power

It turns out that the science fiction writer Larry Niven has actually explored what it would mean for there to be a gene for good luck. In his stories, a species of alien breeds various other aliens for different traits they deem beneficial. Humans, while neither the strongest or the smartest, are considered inherently lucky. So these aliens actually engineer a series of lotteries, where the human winners are preferentially able to have children, with the implication in the stories being that the luckier people are the ones who get to reproduce more. And in this way, humans are selected for luck.
While of course, this doesn’t make sense genetically, it is fun to think about. Niven even explores what the end-point for a species would be, when everyone is lucky and almost nothing can go wrong, in the story Safe at Any Speed. And for further discussion of other types of luck-bending situations, see the Harry Potter potion Felix Felicis.

One Response to “Luck and Genetics”

  1. Michael B August 23, 2010 at 12:01 pm Permalink

    In the amazing Fallout RPG series, if I remember correctly, “luck” is an attribute that you can develop for some reason. Helps you avoid bullets and stuff. Maybe they should rename it “mind preparedness.” Ha. ha.