Archives for the month of: November, 2009

Slowly and surely we are sinking into the darkness of a British winter. This will be my first in two years, not that I’m boasting or anything.
Having spent last winter in New Zealand where it was summer I am really feeling the cold as the days shorten here in Plymouth. How I’m going to deal with things when the temperature actually gets down into single figures I have no idea, it’s entirely possible that I’ll try and hibernate until spring. Bears do it and have you ever seen an unhappy wild bear? Exactly.
I hear that this winter, so far, has been very mild compared to last year. I admit that although I’m not a massive fan of the cold I do rather enjoy snuggling in my nice thick duvet. Sure that undermines the undoubtedly manly demeanor that I project into the world but it’s a hit I’m willing to take. It would be great to see some crazy snow – that was the only bad thing about missing last winter!

How many people do you think enter the lottery with the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6? Zero, nill, nothing. Surely no-one would enter the lottery with these numbers, or any consecutive numbers because they’ll never come up. Statistically though a consecutive run of numbers like this has the same probability of occurring so why do we instinctively mistrust it? Instinct is the nub of the problem, we have not evolved to have any natural understanding of odds. So we go on what we’ve experienced instead – this is actually why people enter the lottery in the first place. Saying that there is a one in fourteen million chance of winning the lottery doesn’t help anyone, we can’t imagine what this actually means. Our experience of the lottery however is that most weeks someone wins, and every week the numbers are ‘random’ i.e. something like 3, 5, 17, 20, 35, 47.
To some extent the media coverage skews our judgment, you never hear a news report saying ‘and last week 7 million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand people didn’t win anything in the lottery’.
Or to put it another way lets assume that eight million people play on a weekly basis. To give equal coverage of winners to losers with a ten second skit on each the news would need to be two and a half years long, every week. Even a one second clip of the winner with a thumbs up and every other entrant just looking bored or morose the full coverage would still last for ninety-two days.
So going back to a consecutive string of numbers. I think this is actually one of the few times that everyone has an instinctual understanding of the odds, but they are not just the odds of a straight coming out of the lottery machines, they are actually the odds of any combination of numbers coming out. Essentially what I’m saying is that if you’re unwilling to play the lottery with the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 then you shouldn’t play because that bad feeling you get about the chances of those numbers winning are actually your chances of winning regardless of which numbers you choose.

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