What are the odds? Looking at random chance

Today I am going to write about something a little bit different.  I’m going to be examining the way that I believe we intuitively understand random chance.

There is a TV show that I used to watch called Community, which plays around a lot with structure and style.  In one episode the group of friends in the show were trying to decide who would go get the pizza from the deliveryman.  To settle the issue they decided to roll a die.  The episode proceeds to show six different scenarios based on which character went down to get the pizza (alternate universes).  Then, for the final scenario, one character catches the die and points out that the system was a trick proposed by the seventh member of the group to ensure that he didn’t have to go down to get the pizza.  At the end, the story is moralized something along the lines that by not rolling the die the characters remove random chance from their lives.  I propose that this is sort of how we intuitively think about random chance – not that we necessarily believe in alternate universes, but that there’s this kind of special moment where things could go either way.  What I would like to propose is that this conceptualization is flawed.

At the level we can perceive I am fairly comfortable saying that our universe appears to be deterministic.  If our universe is deterministic, if you had all the relevant information on the coin and the conditions in which it was flipped you would know which side it was going to land on.  An impossible level of evidence to actually collect, but an idea that is quite possible to conceptualize.  The coin lands on the side that it does for reasons (the force put into the flip, the weight, the wind, etc).  The side that a coin lands on is determined by the conditions in which it was flipped.

It is inaccurate, I therefore argue, to understand 50% as the chance that the coin will land heads or tails.  Instead, 50% is a representation of us making low information guesses about the future.  The outcome will be as it will be, % are our representation of our low information estimation of the outcome.

Thank you for reading,

Ryan Workman


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