Despite its title this collection of articles from the New Scientist does not unfortunately provide us with a foolproof system to beat the bookies. It does though offer a detailed, interesting and informative, if occasionally highly intellectualised, examination of the role seemingly random events play in our everyday lives.
The chances are that it will cause you to re-think your understanding of probability. If quantum entanglement, biological determinism and epigenetic mechanisms are your cup of tea I’d wager that you’ll also gain something from the more scientific-based contributions.
Chance would appear to be everywhere. If we rely on the known laws of physics, chemistry and biology it seems reasonable to conclude that the formation of the universe and creation of humanity can only have arisen by good fortune. Our ability to pursue reasoned analysis is apparently dependent on the brain being stimulated by random signals too. There are even those who argue that randomness lurks within number theory, the very bedrock of mathematics.
Yet of course that’s not to say that everything which affects our daily routines is due to luck. The detailed study and everyday use of probability repeatedly aids such diverse areas as town planning, disease management and fraud detection. It’s also what casinos and bookmakers rely on; they put as much faith in the laws of chance as engineers do in the laws of physics.
Hopefully this book can help us to follow suit. By gaining a better understanding of what we’re doing we can aim to reduce irrational choices, minimise leaving things to chance and stack the odds as far as possible in our own favour. But whilst the good news for part-time gamblers is that fortune seems to favour the statistically prepared mind, knowing when to stop in a game that is rigged against us is still definitely the most important skill!
Originally published in The Morning Star