As I glance around the room, I notice that after lecturing for an hour and a 45 minutes straight on quantum theory, desultory decussation, and Wolfram's new kind of science, I see a Krispy Crème glaze descend over a few of my students' eyes. The fantastic implications of chance and necessity (to echo the title of biologist Jacques Monod's famous 1970s book) appears either to have gone over their heads or, more likely, seems of little practical consequence in their day to day lives.
I then try to draw out more clearly how understanding probability can radically alter how one views life. Imagine in this moment that you have a California Lottery "scratcher" ticket and as you systematically scratch off your numbers and their adjoining prizes, you realize in the middle of class that you have won a mega jackpot of five million dollars. What would you do? I suspect that most of my students would stand up and leave the room there and then. One thing is for sure, however: It would wake them up and give them a huge and intoxicating adrenaline rush.
The winning student might later ruminate about his or her good fortune and reflect upon how lucky they were (given the astronomical odds against them - one in 2,400,000) in securing that particular ticket.
I give this illustration to my students because a winning lottery number exponentially pales in comparison to the odds against them being alive and breathing (even if they nod off a bit here and there) at this very juncture in history. But in order to appreciate the anomaly of one's existence it is necessary to get a deeper understanding of the theory of large numbers.
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- Sarah Khawaja
- Amazon Customer