For decades, there’s been a running academic debate about the question of “the hot hand”—the notion, in basketball, say, that a player has a statistically better chance of scoring from downtown if he’s been shooting that night with unusual accuracy. Put it this way: Stephen Curry, the point guard genius for the Golden State Warriors, who normally hits forty-four per cent of his threes, will raise his odds to fifty per cent or better if he’s already on a tear. He’s got a “hot hand.” If you watch enough N.B.A. ball, it appears to happen all the time. But does it? Thirty years ago, Thomas Gilovich, Amos Tversky, and Robert Vallone seemed to squelch the hot-hand theory with a stats-laden paper in the journal Cognitive Psychology, but, just last year, along came Joshua Miller and Adam Sanjurjo, marshalling no less evidence, to insist that an “atypical clustering of successes” in three-point shooting was not a “widespread cognitive illusion” at all, but rather that it “occurs regularly.”
Steph Curry fans, who have been loyal witnesses to his improbable streaks from beyond the arc, surely agree with Professors Miller and Sanjurjo. But let’s assume that the debate, in basketball or at the blackjack table, remains open. What’s clear is that when it comes to the life of the imagination, the hot hand is a matter of historical fact. Novelists, composers, painters, and poets are apt to experience stretches of intense creativity that might derive from any number of factors—surrounding historical events, artistic rivalries, or, most mysteriously, inspiration—but the streak is undeniably there.