PROBABILITIES OF LIFE

By Melvin J. Howard

Math a scary and boring subject for many but math given
the right variables could give you a probable outcome to just about anything.
Events can be quantitatively described as probable or improbable when compared
to the total number of possible outcomes. But when the total number of outcomes
cannot be specified, there are no grounds for calculation. Intuitively, it
seems like a very improbable event that I would unexpectedly meet an old college girlfriend in a British airport. But how can I quantify this probability? Do I
include all of the other people I have ever known and the total number of
people in British airports? Improbable events and coincidences occur all the
time even though they occur with low probability. Given a high number of
possible improbable events, it is highly probable that some of them will occur.
We only notice the "coincidences" that do occur, not the ones which
do not occur. The occurrence of improbable events does not necessarily require
paranormal or supernatural explanations.

Additionally, some coincidences are more probable than we might
expect due to our lack of appreciation of actual probabilities. The probability
of two people not having the same birthday is 364/365 (multilpying the 364 days
remaining for the second person times the 1/365 probability of the birthday of
the first person). 1 - 364/365 = 0.275% chance of having the same
birthday. But for 23 people there is a greater than 50% chance that at least
two of them will have the same birthday because

P(same birthday) = 1 - (364/365)(363/365)...(343/365) 0.5

Although flipping a coin or rolling dice are treated as random
processes they are not. Whether a coin comes up heads or tails is determined by
the trajectory of the coin, the speed of rotation, the angle of rotation, air resistance,
material characteristics of the surface on which the coin is thrown, the force
of gravity in the location, etc. The same can be said for a roll of dice. There
are so many variables, the variables are so hard to measure and the interaction
of the variables is so complex that the flipping of a coin or rolling of dice
are practically speaking "random". Said another way, the processes
can be treated epistemologically as being random although metaphysically they
are not -- they are deterministic.

In 1961 a research meteorologist at MIT named Edward Lorenz was
using a set of equations to model weather on a computer when he discovered that
rounding his initial numbers to three decimal places produced dramatically
different results from those obtained by using six decimal places. Systems so
sensitive to small variations in initial conditions have been called
"chaotic", but they are more accurately described as pseudo-random --
just as so-called random numbers generated by computer are called pseudo-random.
Again, the phenomena are metaphysically deterministic, but their
unpredictability renders them epistemologically random no different from
rolling dices or flipping coins.

In arguing against the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum
Mechanics Albert Einstein made the infamous remark, "God does not play
dice with the universe." I call the remark not logical because it is
usually quoted to display how irrational Einstein's beliefs were when it came
to spookiness at a distance. Which Einstein could not get his head around when
it came to quantum physics? Neils Bohr,
Werner Heisenberg and others in the Copenhagen School proposed that randomness
is a metaphysical condition of subatomic particles, whereas Einstein argued
that randomness as a phenomenon is an artifact of our ignorance of underlying
deterministic processes and forces limitations on our knowledge. Probability
bridges the gap between descriptive statistics (average, standard deviation,
histograms, etc.) and inferential statistics (decision-making statistics).

Decision-making is based on the probability of an event occurring times
the payoff of the event - a cost/benefit decision. More formally:

Expected
value = probability X payoff It would seem advantageous to wager $1 on the
chance of winning $10 by rolling a snake-eye (one) with a single die because
the expected value is probability X payoff = (1/6) X $10 = $1.67 which is
greater than the $1 cost. But there is a 5/6 chance of losing the $1, which
could be critical if you need the money to buy bus-fare. Non-monetary factors
are often important in cost/benefit calculations - with benefits more often
being more difficult to quantify and calculate than costs. I believe that I have
learned a great deal about myself by
observing the world around me I also believe that I have grown as a person in
learning to control my impulsiveness and impatience. I have learned humility in
the face of my many false forecasts. Life
survival is a process of risk management. I believe the universe is teaching me
wisdom and good judgment that has helped me (and, hopefully, others) in
managing many many areas of life. I still have lots to learn. The learning is
on a very deep level of personality much deeper than factual knowledge because
in many cases I already know the mistakes but have not gain enough mastery over
myself so as to not make them. Which is what life is all about no matter the
profession Doctor, Lawyer, Judge, Fireman, CEO, homemaker. We all make mistakes
the question is do you learn from them?