Randomness: Enemy of Humans

If anything is clear after 10 years of Google and 12 years of the Internet, it’s that supplying an unbelievable amount of information to people confuses things to them more than it clarifies things. One of the most ubiquitous signs that this is the case is the enormous number of:

Coincidence?!?! I DON’T THINK SO!

statements that surround every low-probability A.I. (after Internet) event. Sidenote: B.C. and A.D. are getting old. It’s time to move to B.I. (before Internet) and A.I. (defined above) in the way we define the years. Anyway, let’s make a list of some of these events in no particular order:

  1. Almost every event surrounding 9/11
  2. The non-existence of WMD’s in Iraq
  3. The triumph of Christina Aguilera over Britney Spears
  4. The rise of Apple Computer

I’m not going to sit here and think of other things, you get the point. If you don’t get the point, the point is that people, for whatever reason, can’t accept that a low-probability event is the explanation for something HUGE. They’d rather come up with some storybook explanation that makes it seem like the event was, in fact, predictable. One of the best examples of this is in Sports. You always hear about “this team won the (Championship Game) because…”, even when said team won by a small enough margin to be attributed to randomness. Whenever I hear a woman talk about how she met her husband, and how it was just always meant to be, it just seems so obviously ridiculous to me that I’m not even sure how to point it out.

I mean, what the fuck, people really want to believe that the highest probability event is what “should always happen” and what does always happen outside of extremely unlikely events. That’s not how the world works. The biggest news with the biggest impact is the stuff with a low probability of happening; and the big impact stuff is what matters. The events that happen with high probability are footnotes in history.

I think the disconnect is there because people are very conservative by nature. They look at the probability of success rather than both the probability of success combined with the value of success. For example, is it better to go for an 80% chance of banging a 9 or a 1% chance of banging Rachel Bilson (assuming you could correctly estimate the probabilities)? Keep in mind there’s a 1/5 chance that you fail with the 9 and spend the rest of your life wondering if you could have banged Rachel Bilson in her prime. The risks of failure with the 9 are so unbelievably great that you have to go for Rachel Bilson.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Randomness: Enemy of Humans

  1. Greg

    Good examples of low odds but high consequence:

    Drunk Driving Fatal Crash
    Asteroid Destroying the Earth
    Technological Singularity
    John McCain wins the general election

  2. rob

    I think that people dislike the idea of randomness because it implies we arent in total control. Total control would be boring though. If random chance didn’t exist the mighty ducks wouldn’t have had a shot. Nor would 70% of superheroes exist. They would just have reacted to all that radiation like a normal person and gotten some hardcore cancer.

  3. Connelly

    DCHero, this phenomenon has been observed by others before you and is commonly referred to as risk aversion. It is interesting that you’ve suggested it as a motive for conspiracy theorists, but I feel like that might not be the whole story. I have to think more about that one.

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  5. Kasey

    In life, the numbers are skewered a little. You can’t really predict events/occurences or explain events based on high or low probability reductions. While you’ve listed a few single instance events, what about the series of these events? Low probability that C led to C++ and object oriented programming? One low probability event had their origins in many high probability events — 911 resulted from a series of events that go back to 1979 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. So like your hookup-with-9 story, it all starts somewhere (pour a little whiskey maybe).

  6. ry420guy

    The irony is that the best example of what you are talking about occurred in 1963 with the Kennedy Assassination. Most people preferred to believe it was the mob or the CIA rather than a lone gunman. The examples you give are less applicable because they were, at least to a degree, predictable.

    As far back as 1998 there was “compelling evidence that the bin Laden network of terrorist groups was planning to mount attacks against Americans and other freedom-loving people.” this according to Bill Clinton. The non-existence of WMDs known as early as 1999 by the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq Spears was doomed for an eventual downfall because she was never that talented to begin with. Apple was helped by a few things, but one major factor was the return of CEO Steve Jobs in 1998 (after which the iMac/iPod were launched).

  7. The last two comments are illustrating my point. It’s revisionist history to go back and say “oh we can see how the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led to this which led to that and then 9/11 happened” or “Britney Spears was doomed because she wasn’t that talented”.

    But the reality is that no amount of extrapolation of storybook events could have led you to either 9/11 or the triumph of Christina.

    Terrorists taking over 4 planes to fly them into the Pentagon and the WTC buildings was an extremely low probability event. Saying that it happened due to causal events completely misses the point of how unlikely it was to happen.

    The low probability events aren’t the core issue here though. It’s the “everything that happens has a perfectly rational explanation” argument that is flawed in and of itself. Why do people need reasons of why things happened? Especially in cases where those reasons were only minimally responsible for the event in question.

  8. Hope

    in 1963 with the Kennedy Assassination. Most people preferred to believe it was the mob or the CIA rather than a lone gunman.

    This is from the Rolling Stone so not some loony bin online site.

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/13893143/the_last_confessions_of_e_howard_hunt/print

    “So there it was, according to E. Howard Hunt. LBJ had Kennedy killed. It had long been speculated upon. But now E. Howard was saying that’s the way it was. And that Lee Harvey Oswald wasn’t the only shooter in Dallas. There was also, on the grassy knoll, a French gunman, presumably the Corsican Mafia assassin Lucien Sarti, who has figured prominently in other assassination theories.”

    Now, who’s E. Howard Hunt?

    Everette Howard Hunt, Jr. (October 9, 1918 – January 23, 2007) was an American author and spy. He worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and later the White House under President Richard Nixon. Hunt, with G. Gordon Liddy and others, was one of the White House’s “plumbers” — a secret team of operatives charged with fixing “leaks.” Information disclosures had proved an embarrassment to the Nixon administration when defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg sent a series of documents, which came to be known as the Pentagon Papers, to The New York Times.

    Hunt, along with Liddy, engineered the first Watergate burglary. In the ensuing Watergate Scandal, Hunt was convicted of burglary, conspiracy, and wiretapping, eventually serving 33 months in prison. In 2007 his son released audio tape of Hunt naming President Lyndon B. Johnson and others as the orchestrators of the John F. Kennedy assassination.

  9. Frankie

    The most essential things happen while and perhaps because they are improbable. Think about it (and, reading your logs, I assume that you have done that before): how probable was the fact that you were born? So many ancestors with several choices who to mate with (at least that’s what I hope for you), so many different striving spemcells with each conception along the long, long ancestory line…

    The chance that you exist is extremely close to zero.

    That is why, for instance, I believe most of the people who complain about having been abducted by aliens. It seems so improbable that it must be true.

  10. ry420guy

    that is a backwards argument, akin to being dealt a hand in poker and saying, “holy shit, the odds are 1/52*51*50*49*48 that i would be dealt this hand!” actually i’m not sure if you intended it that way or not, like that’s how most people think.

  11. I believe you meant to say “dealt this hand in this order!”

    And Hope, LBJ? Yeah that makes sense. I bet he killed Kennedy to implement his Civil Rights and Great Society agenda. Those two things don’t conflict or anything. “I need to kill him so I can set up the National Endowment for the Arts”. LBJ and JFK stood for a lot of the same things, he continued a lot of JFKs policies. He might have been a dominating guy, but him giving the word on JFK just doesn’t make sense.

    And this guy who fingered him named LBJ, but he worked under Nixon? I’m not sure if you know this, but LBJ/JFK and Nixon were ideological enemies, it’s 1000X more likely that Nixon gave the word. Nixon was probably paranoid enough to go out and frame LBJ for that matter, he just ran out of time.

  12. Pingback: Christina Aguilera Celebrity Gossip | Randomness: Enemy of Humans

  13. johnny five

    people, for whatever reason, can’t accept that a low-probability event is the explanation for something HUGE. They’d rather come up with some storybook explanation that makes it seem like the event was, in fact, predictable.

    voila, the science of economics in a nutshell.

    i do believe that economics is the only ‘science’ in which one can win a Nobel by designing models that successfully ‘predict’ past events.

  14. Hope

    but him giving the word on JFK just doesn’t make sense.

    Isn’t that the point you raised? Because it seems like such a low probability of LBJ doing it, people don’t suspect it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not true. Look at the photo of Albert Thomas winking at LBJ after the assassination.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kennedy_assassination_theories#LBJ_conspiracy

  15. Winking? Give me a break. The wiki entry says Yarborough and Johnson were bitter enemies. This was partially true because Yarborough was a liberal democrat like Kennedy and Johnson was a conservative democrat….

    But then why would Johnson be such a liberal president? He just turned his back on “the oil people and the CIA” that carried out JFK’s assasination with no fear they’d do it to him? Why have JFK killed only to carry out JFK’s vision? It doesn’t make sense.

  16. ro42g

    Dude exactly! That is how I stepped my game up. I stopped talking to just regular fly chicks to hollaing at chicks way beyond my station. And the funny thing is that I get more love from chicks that I have no business being with than from the regular women. Life is so random that you have a better chance at making shit happen going against impossible odds.

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