15-minute read

This book is about the role randomness plays in our lives. It explores the historical roots of modern statistics and delves into fundamental mathematical principles to explain how – like a drunk person struggling to walk – much of our lives is dictated by pure chance.

- Anyone interested in science
- Anyone interested in math or math history
- Anyone interested in how people become successful

Leonard Mlodinow has a PhD in physics from the University of California at Berkeley and is the author of many successful scientific books, such as *A* *Briefer* *History* *of* *Time* and *Feynman’s* *Rainbow:* *A* *Search* *for* *Beauty* *in* *Physics* *and* *in* *Life*. He has also written for the television series *MacGyver* and *Star* *Trek:* *The* *Next* *Generation*.

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- Contains 9 key ideas

Do you feel like winning a dice game has to do with your talent or your luck? Probably luck – after all, you know that dice is based on chance. However, if you’d won a dice game in the sixteenth century, people would’ve commended you on your excellent throwing or on having received God’s good fortune.

Why? Because back then people didn’t know about probability. It wasn’t until Galileo began introducing *experiments* and *observations* into scientific study that this changed. He soon realized that random acts, like throwing dice, could be analyzed.

Galileo explored the following question: Why is it that when someone throws three dice, the dice will more often have a total value of ten than nine?

And, after researching, he came up with a scientific explanation. Ten comes up more often than nine because there are more possible combinations that add up to it. He thus discovered an important mathematical principle: the chances of an event occurring depend on the number of ways it can occur.

Other scientists, such as Blaise Pascal, would later expand on Galileo’s insights. Pascal dealt with another dice situation and discovered something called the expectancy value. Imagine two people playing a dice game where the first person to win ten rounds takes home the winnings. But if the game has to stop early when player one has eight wins and player two has seven, how should the winnings be divided?

First, determine the possible scenarios left in the game (in this case, 16). Then, see how many of those scenarios would result in player one winning (11), and how many would result in player two winning (5). It then becomes simple – player one should get 11/16 of the winnings. That’s the *expectancy* *value*.

So, to determine the likelihood that any future event will happen, you have to know how many different possibilities lead to it. This is a fundamental idea in mathematics.

- The likelihood that an event will occur depends on the number of ways it can occur.
- You can calculate the probability of certain outcomes using the law of large numbers.
- Probability can differ greatly depending on the specific problem you look at.
- Random errors and variations can influence statistical calculations.
- Accurate data sets often produce a bell curve.
- We can find meaningful patterns between different sets of data.
- Randomness explains some people’s success.
- Personal success has more to do with chance than individual qualities.
- Final summary