Playing the Odds

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In the New York Times:
Book review of THE DRUNKARD’S WALK
How Randomness Rules Our Lives.

State lotteries, it’s sometimes said, are a tax on people who don’t understand mathematics. But there is no cause for anyone to feel smug. The brain, no matter how well schooled, is just plain bad at dealing with randomness and probability. Confronted with situations that require an intuitive grasp of the odds, even the best mathematicians and scientists can find themselves floundering.

Suppose you want to calculate the likelihood of tossing two coins and coming up with one head. The great 18th-century mathematician Jean Le Rond d’Alembert thought the answer was obvious: there are three possibilities, zero, one or two heads. So the odds for any one of those happening must be one in three.

Read full review here.

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