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September 22, 2002
The Odds Are 50-50

Steven Den Beste has an interesting thought experiment of trying to understand those people who say that America's past deeds are the reason that "They" hate us. Den Beste points out that he doesn't believe in the cosmic karma necessary to create this sort of world construct, and I think he may have hit upon a real basis of reasoning for many on the strong left.

The fallacy is based on a lack of understanding of statistics to some degree. If you flip a coin 49 times and it comes up heads 49 times, what are the odds that it will come up heads on the 50th flip? Many intuit the answer to be skewed toward tails. The reality is that it is 1 in 2 or 50%-50%. Each flip is scientifically and mathematically discrete from all other flips. This is a hard world view to internalize when most people intuit something different.

It further interests me that the same reasoning doesn't lead to people being indignant. We saved Europe twice, and arguably a third time, Asia at least once, and quite a few other nations. We didn't have to send our kids and our economic might each time, but we did and we'll do it again. Of course, pessimism seems to be far more politically correct...

This all reminds me of Einstein's rejection of the uncertainty principle because he didn't believe that God would be so removed from the world. His quote was something along the lines of, "God does not play dice."

Posted by hoffmang | September 22, 2002 12:28 AM


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