Chances aren’t

“Never tell me the odds!” barked Han Solo. He might have said that because he’s a swashbuckling kind of guy, but it’s occurred to me that he might have said it because we don’t know the odds ourselves. Will Truman relates a sad story from South Africa:

Deaf hardware store cleaner Stanley Philander had the numbers that won the record $12 million rollover (91 million rand) lottery in South Africa on Friday.

Problem was, he bought it after the numbers were selected, which means, that if those numbers just happen to come up again in next weeks drawing, Stanley is golden. Not quite as golden as if he had won this week, however.

Let’s face it, not only is poor Stanley in the midst of a huge letdown at the moment, but that ticket of his is useless. The chances of the same numbers being drawn in back to back lotteries are astronomical.

Um, no, says Truman. “The chances are, of course, just the same as any other set of six numbers!” Similarly, if you’ve tossed a coin nineteen times and somehow managed to get nineteen heads, the chance of getting tails on the twentieth toss is still 50-50.


  1. Dan Gordon »

    3 March 2010 · 11:18 am

    I love this. It’s so true and I believe incorporates into everything we do where there are variable outcomes in life. I never focus much on stats or odds as a personal golden rule. I think it gets me off that track more than guides me where to go. I Just do as much as I can, some works out some doesn’t. But, in the end I’m sure to accomplish more if I just keep at it, no matter what the odds. Great post, enjoyed this message very much.

  2. Brian J. »

    3 March 2010 · 1:04 pm

    I have this irrational fear of winning the Powerball and the Missouri Lotto on the same nights and having to explain myself.

  3. CGHill »

    3 March 2010 · 1:08 pm

    Not to mention having to explain all that to the Eternal Revenue Service.

  4. Kirk »

    3 March 2010 · 1:31 pm

    Reminds me of a quotation I heard long ago (source forgotten): “One of the hallmarks of things that are truly random is that sometimes, they behave in what appear to be totally non-random ways.” An example, of course, would be if the same set of numbers came up two weeks in a row. Likely, no? Impossible, no.

  5. CGHill »

    3 March 2010 · 4:16 pm

    Or, to look at it another way, the probability of something that did happen is 100 percent — until you start looking for it to happen again.

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