What are the chances…

That anyone would use probability in there daily life? I think we all use probabilities in a colloquial way. I marvel at my luck when my bill at the grocery store includes zero pennies. Or my excellent timing if I turn on the car after buying my groceries and the same song is playing on the radio that was playing when I got out of my car some unknown amount of time ago? Or I’m surprised if I roll two dice and get four 6s in a row. But am I really so lucky to have such an experience? I don’t think I would ever pause to do the calculation to determine exactly how likely these events are. …Unless of course I’m in my office casually pondering these things (But I don’t think this is a past-time embraced by most Americans). I think non-mathematicians and mathematicians alike appreciate that all things have a chance probability of happening. We all know the phrase, “anything can happen” but also we know in our hearts that some things are extremely unlikely. (Like if Angelina Jolie were to show up at my front door! The mathematician would say this has probability zero: if you will, μ(Angelina Jolie) = 0).

I think probability is quite incomprehensible. And whats more I think the more you understand about probability the less pleasant surprises you receive in life! The chance of the bus arriving within the first minute of me standing at the bus stop is “small”, so I am happy when it works out. But let’s look at some calculations: I know the bus comes every 15min, so (In a vague way) it has a 1/15 chance of arriving in the minute after I do. So the event is bound to happen every couple of weeks. That’s not so seldom! poof! my excitement diminishes. In fact I recommend that you never study probability again. you there! Put down those combination and permutation calculations. If you aren’t careful you may learn the truth about the likelyhood of things to come. You may find yourself more excited when things do work out because you know exactly how unlikely they are. And you may even avoid the excitement and fun of street-vendors probability games because you know the expected values of their profits. Stop now or your life may improve!

About Samantha from SocialMath

Applied Mathematician and writer of socialmathematics.net.
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