The Hand of Fate



I've always found probability interesting. Last week in the paper someone was writing about the way that things always even out, but over the very long run. You would expect that if you toss a coin 100 times you would get 50 heads and 50 tails but apparently this is very unlikely to be the case. In fact, you could find that you get many more heads than tails. And yet, just because you've had more tails this does not meant that the next toss is more likely to be heads (because it is "their turn") or tails (because they are popular at the moment).

I've been thinking about this and it makes a kind of sense. If you could use the fact that there have been 50 heads and 49 tails to predict that the 100th coin toss will definitely produce a tail then the coin toss is not random, and therefore something is wrong with fate. I even got to thinking that some part of the universe keeps track of the ups and downs of randomness and makes sure that things level out over the long run. Actually, this is unlikely to be the case, in that what is really going on is that stuff is just happening, and we are trying to draw conclusions from what we see. At the moment I'm in Las Vegas, a town built on probability, and it is interesting to see that all the roulette wheels have displays which show the most recent results to "help" the player decide which number is going to turn up next. As if.

Anyhoo, I got an even bigger does of probability today when I picked up a raffle ticket for a prize draw at one of the events here. I loudly told everyone around me that I might as well tear the ticket up right now because I never, ever win raffles. A fact that struck me as particularly unfair as the prize was a pretty good one – a shiny mobile phone. Of course, I ended up winning. The only snag is that the phone doesn’t actually work properly back home in England, but there is always ebay……