Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Drunkard's Walk

On the weekend I read an awesome book (you might not like it as much as me; but I have always had a fascination with probability). The book was called "The Drunkard's Walk - How Randomness Rules Our Lives," by Leonard Mlodinow.

It refreshed my memory on the many aspects of probability and how people tend to be irrational and not consider the true probability of things happening.

A good understanding of probability can help with proper decision making. A poor understanding of probability can lead to fallacies.

The biggest example of this would be gambling addictions where people start to believe that they can have an influence on the outcome of random events. For example, continuing to play slot machines on the theory that if they haven't paid for a while, they will pay more even though the outcome of every slot machine pull is the same as the start of the pull as in any other pull.

I was also reminded that often small samples can be taken which that can be very statistically accurate on the views on a large population.

One example the probability of two people in a room having the same birthday is over 50% if there are only 23 people in the room. Of course to get 100% probability you would need to have 184 people in the room (that takes into account leap year).

It also talked about people's view of fate or destiny and how sometimes that can cloud people's view of randomness.

The book starts with a captivating prologue:

"A few years ago a man won the Spanish national lottery with a ticket that ended in the number 48. Proud of his "accomplishment," he revealed the theory that brought him the riches. I dreamed of the number 7 for seven straight nights, he said, "and 7 times 7 is 48." Those of us with a better command of our multiplication tables might chuckle at the man's error, but we all create our own view of the world and then employ it to filter and process our perceptions, extracting meaning from the ocean of data that washes over us in daily life. And we often make errors that, though less obvious, are just as significant as his."

And changing topics:

I was very impressed with a young singer/songwriter - Tara Jamieson who wrote a Remembrance Day song. I think she is about 13 or 14. Hoping by giving her this shameless plug on my blog that she will still speak to me when she is famous. (Although a part of me is concerned that she is letting her music get in the way of her future sales career with SYNNEX)

4 Comments:

At 1:03 PM, Blogger Tiffer said...

Jim, took your advise and visited Tara's page. Can't help, but feel a little bit prouder of our country and "our boys"!

Congratulations Tara! Stay the course and you will have a wonderful life.

Tiffer

 
At 4:13 PM, Anonymous Wally Bock said...

I despair that we don't actually teach clear thinking in school. We just assume it will happen without instruction.

 
At 8:46 PM, Anonymous leantyro said...

The book you mentioned may be of the same nature as Freakonomics. I'll get myself a copy of it though - as like you, I'm a fan of statistics and want to learn more.

 
At 1:23 PM, Blogger fnthawar said...

Hey Jim, I'm a new reader. I think in your post you meant that after 367 people you will reach 100% probability of having 2 people with the same birthday, not 184 :)

Birthday Paradox

If you're interested in randomness, you should read Nassim Taleb's works.

Fooled by Randomness
The Black Swan

 

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