Review and Summary: Fluke

Review and Summary: Fluke

Fluke: Chance, Chaos, and Why Everything We Do Matters shows the readers how small changes, or “flukes,” play a big part in our lives. Brian Klaas combines ideas from various subjects, from history to math, to explain why random things happen. He asks big questions like: Is there a reason for everything? Why do small things sometimes lead to big changes? Why do we stick to simple ideas, even when they’re wrong? Can we predict the unpredictable with data and math? And most importantly, where do these unexpected events come from, and why are they often surprising?

The main point of the book is tiny, random, and even unplanned events are more important in our lives than we usually think. The part that grabbed me the most was Klaas’ take on luck. I always believed luck was important but couldn’t find a scientific reason for it. Klaas is brilliant in how he uses knowledge from different areas to show how crucial luck is in our lives and how embracing it can ground us.

Klaas also talks about how we like simple stories and avoid the real randomness and complexity of life. This idea, along with the discussions on luck and the false sense of control, connects with earlier ideas in the book. This includes the “Garden of Forking Paths” metaphor and the concept of accepting uncertainty.

Fluke really makes you think differently about cause and effect and the role of chance in our lives. It’s a must-read for anyone who wants to get a deeper understanding of how luck, randomness, and how we see the world affect our everyday lives.


When we try to understand the world, we often overlook the unexpected events. We don’t have complete control over our own journeys. The opportunities we have are shaped by history and the actions of those before us.

Embrace Amor Fati

It means love of one’s fate. We have to accept our lives are shaped by everything that has happened in the past. This means we have to understand and even appreciate this truth. We are the result of a history that has its great moments and its flaws. The successes and failures of those who came before us are why we exist today.

Delusion of Individualism

When everything in the world seems normal, life appears predictable and orderly. We often believe that we can control most of it, thinking we are in charge of our futures.

But this belief is a common misconception of our era, which we can call the delusion of individualism. In reality, the true story of our lives is hidden in small details. Even the minor choices made by strangers can shape our destinies.

Life is like a fabric woven with a mysterious kind of thread. As we explore it, this thread grows longer. Each moment we experience is formed by various unrelated past events. Pulling on one thread reveals surprising connections, showing that every thread is intertwined with the rest of the fabric.

We are Living in Chaos Theory

We exist in a world governed by chaos theory.

Even the smallest changes can have a huge impact, making the universe seem unpredictable and at times, random.

Chaos theory has redefined what we once thought was predictable, now as unpredictable. Tiny variations are significant. This challenges the overconfidence of the misguided.

If you’re invested in security and certainty, you are on the wrong planet.

Pema Chödrön, a theologian

Influencing Everything, Controlling Nothing

We often believe that our big decisions shape our fate, but in reality, even our smallest choices have a lasting impact on the world.

The choices made by the world’s 8 billion people also affect the paths our lives take, often without us realizing it.

In our interconnected world, every action we take is important. Our actions can create waves that either cause storms or bring peace in others’ lives, showing that we actually have less control over our world than we think.

The truth is, we live in a world where everything is connected. This connection shapes everything around us. Once you understand this, you’ll see that luck, chaos, and random events play a huge role in life’s outcomes. In a world so connected, even the unexpected is significant. There’s no separating important events from trivial ones. What seems like background noise in one person’s life might be a crucial moment in another’s, even if it’s unnoticed.

The Myth of Everything Happens for a Reason

D’Arcy Thompson, a Scottish biologist, once said, “Everything is what it is because it got that way.” Contrary to this, we often hear and believe that “Everything happens for a reason.” This idea, though comforting, leads us to misunderstand reality as we try to fit it into a neat, orderly pattern.

The phrase “Everything happens for a reason” is commonly used to cope with bad situations. It helps people find meaning in chaos, believing in a well-ordered plan for everything. However, this isn’t always true. Sometimes things just happen, especially in a world as connected and chaotic as ours.

Studies show that people are okay with attributing positive surprises to randomness or chance. But when it comes to explaining significant events, we rarely accept randomness as an explanation. For example, when we think about human differences, we usually boil it down to nature (genes) or nurture (environment, upbringing, experiences). We often overlook a third factor: pure chance.

So, everything doesn’t have to happen for a reason.

The Undeniable Impact of Luck in Life

We often overlook the importance of luck, which represents the random and unforeseen events that intersect with our lives.

Human characteristics like intelligence, skills, and hard work usually follow a bell-shaped curve, meaning they’re evenly distributed among people. However, wealth doesn’t follow this pattern. It’s distributed according to a power law, meaning a small number of people hold a massive portion of global wealth. For instance, the richest person today is over a million times wealthier than the average American. This shows that someone slightly smarter than you could end up a million times richer, not just slightly richer.

A recent study by physicists and an economist used computer models to create a society with a realistic spread of talent. They found that talent was important, but so was luck. Repeated simulations showed that the wealthiest individual was almost never the most talented, but typically someone of average ability.

Luck can be compared to a lightning bolt striking at random. Given the large number of people with average talent, luck is more likely to benefit them rather than a small group of highly talented geniuses. Researchers concluded that a system believing solely in meritocracy underestimates the role of chance in success. While some billionaires may be talented, all have experienced luck. Luck, by its nature, is a chance occurrence.

Accepting Luck as a Part of Life

Understanding the significant role of luck in success should change our perspective on both good and bad fortune. If you believe that success is only a result of talent and hard work in a meritocratic world, then it’s natural to take full credit for successes and blame yourself entirely for failures. However, if you recognize that randomness and accidents play a major role in life’s changes—and they do—your outlook on life shifts.

For instance, when you lose at roulette, you don’t berate yourself as a failure. Instead, you accept the random outcome and move on. Realizing that often meaningless, accidental events arise from our complex, intertwined world can be empowering and freeing. It’s important to take a bit less credit for our successes and a bit less blame for our failures. We tend to create and hold onto false explanations, especially when faced with random misfortunes. Recognizing the role of luck helps us maintain a more balanced and realistic view of life’s events.

The Simplified Reality of Our Brain

We have evolved to perceive reality in a basic, simplified way to make sense of our surroundings and survive. This is supported by the “Fitness Beats Truth theorem.”

We don’t see reality as it is, but rather a “manifest image” of it—a useful illusion for navigating life. Our perception of reality is a result of evolution and natural selection. Our ancestors had a choice between understanding pure truth or focusing on what was useful for survival. According to the “Fitness Beats Truth theorem,” when truth and usefulness clash, the practical, shortcut approach wins over the pursuit of truth.

This concept is also evident in the process of “synaptic pruning” in our brains. Newborns have about 100 billion neurons, but adults have around 86 billion. This reduction is part of evolution’s strategy to help us make sense of the world. Alison Barth, a neuroscientist at Carnegie Mellon University, explains that networks formed through initial overabundance and subsequent pruning are more robust and efficient.

Our brains undergo a winnowing process, retaining connections that are most useful, tuning our minds to fit our environment. This applies to our senses too; what we perceive is not the unaltered truth but is filtered through our evolved senses. We’re not just limited in what we can perceive; our brains also actively filter out most of the information we encounter.

The Illusion of Reason in a Random World

Our brains, as products of evolution, are hardwired to find patterns and order in everything, a trait that helps us make sense of the world for survival. This tendency, however, makes us allergic to randomness and chaos. We often perceive patterns where none exist, creating false reasons for events instead of accepting them as random or accidental.

This habit of finding order in chaos leads us to undervalue the role of flukes and chance. Our cognitive processes are designed to prioritize survival over truth, simplifying our understanding of cause and effect into a convenient, albeit misleading, narrative. We’re naturally inclined to overlook randomness, preferring to see a hidden, orderly structure in disordered situations.

Our discomfort with randomness is linked to our brain’s preference for stories. We’re wired to understand the world through narratives, where every event has a clear cause and effect. The left hemisphere of our brain, which specializes in language, is where we create these narratives. It acts as an interpreter, formulating explanations to make sense of our surroundings. When there are no obvious reasons for events, our brains invent them. We don’t just crave reasons; we crave simple, easily understandable ones.

The Garden of Forking Paths

The “Garden of Forking Paths” is a metaphor for the ongoing journey of our lives, characterized by its continuous and infinite branching.

At this very moment, your own path is diverging. Choices that seem open to you now might soon become inaccessible, not because of your own decisions, but due to the actions of others whom you’ll never meet, each navigating their own complex journeys. As you progress on your chosen path, you inadvertently alter the paths of others. This endless interplay of choices and changes continues indefinitely, illustrating the complex and interconnected nature of our lives.

The Brilliance of Drifting Without Direction

What if we let go of some control and allow ourselves to drift and explore aimlessly? There’s strong evidence suggesting that periods of diversion, where idleness wraps around us and our minds wander away from focused tasks, are often when we experience flashes of genius. These are the moments that poet John Keats described as “negative capability” – the ability to be comfortable with uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts. In academic terms, this is often referred to as “leisure-time invention,” where creative breakthroughs occur not while we’re intently focused on a problem, but when our minds shift away from it. This concept underscores the value of letting our thoughts meander, embracing the potential of unfocused time to spark innovation and insight

Author: Brian Klaas

Publication date: 23 January 2024

Number of pages: 335 pages


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