Jungles of Randomness

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There is today and will always be a gap between what we know, and what we don’t know about what will happen five minutes from now. How an individual handles the unknown of the future is a window into their soul. Those who cannot adapt are forever prisoners of the unexpected. They can become, as a close colleague did, control freaks: unable to risk anything because they’re sure it will result in something bad happening to them. (And it always does.)

Others exhibit irrational beliefs in the future, divining patterns where there aren’t any. Like the guy who knows if he wears the orange shirt, Syracuse will win. After it fails, he backs off and concludes that if he doesn’t wear it, they’ll lose. Or the person who plays the lottery with his child’s birthday as the chosen numbers, as if those numbers are any more likely to come up. (They aren’t, of course, but the show of affection may be worth the cost of the ticket.)

And so it goes with two excellent books I’ve just finished.

What’s fascinating is that as I write this, I am listening to people in the other room crack open a dozen eggs. Five of the eggs have double yolks, and the participants are all sure that there it portends something more serious, instead of wondering about the odds.

The history of statistics and probability is based in our species fascination in gambling, and no better application for the science than gambling. Peterson teaches you how to compute probabilities that will come in useful everyday, not just at the craps table, but in every day life situations. Basic fallacies like how to tell if you have the human blind spot of the Syracuse fan, or how big the lottery has to be in order to make it worth a dollar ticket.

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An excellent follow up book is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s