silly numbers

To paraphrase Emerson, “[statistics and probabilities are] the hobgoblin[s] of little minds.” Essentially, only the foolish would place any stock at all in numbers that only indicate previous trends or the possibility of an event occurring in the future.

The board game “Risk” is a prime example of this. There is always a mere one in six (17%) chance that an attacker or defender will roll a one, but that doesn’t mean that the pesky one will not turn up five times in a row. Because of this, maneuvers that would appear conservative can actually become tremendously frustrating. That is simply the risk that the player assumes.

Perhaps there is a 20% chance of rain, in which case there is an 80% chance that it will not rain. But those are just numbers; either event could happen…no one knows. The vocation of actuary is a flawed one because of this, just as the batting averages of baseball are no true indicator of future performance. Many variables come into effect every time a batter steps up to the plate; he may get 7 hits in a row, over which span his batting average is 1.000, even if his lifetime average is only .285.

Don’t be misled: just because you know the probability of something happening doesn’t mean you know when it’s going to happen. Lloyd Christmas could get that date with Mary tomorrow, despite the one in a million odds. And putting it all on black can always, always win it big.

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