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The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Dayby David J Hand
Synopses & Reviews
In The Improbability Principle, the renowned statistician David J. Hand argues that extraordinarily rare events are anything but. In fact, theyre commonplace. Not only that, we should all expect to experience a miracle roughly once every month.
But Hand is no believer in superstitions, prophecies, or the paranormal. His definition of “miracle” is thoroughly rational. No mystical or supernatural explanation is necessary to understand why someone is lucky enough to win the lottery twice, or is destined to be hit by lightning three times and still survive. All we need, Hand argues, is a firm grounding in a powerful set of laws: the laws of inevitability, of truly large numbers, of selection, of the probability lever, and of near enough.
Together, these constitute Hands groundbreaking Improbability Principle. And together, they explain why we should not be so surprised to bump into a friend in a foreign country, or to come across the same unfamiliar word four times in one day. Hand wrestles with seemingly less explicable questions as well: what the Bible and Shakespeare have in common, why financial crashes are par for the course, and why lightning does strike the same place (and the same person) twice. Along the way, he teaches us how to use the Improbability Principle in our own lives—including how to cash in at a casino and how to recognize when a medicine is truly effective.
An irresistible adventure into the laws behind “chance” moments and a trusty guide for understanding the world and universe we live in, The Improbability Principle will transform how you think about serendipity and luck, whether its in the world of business and finance or youre merely sitting in your backyard, tossing a ball into the air and wondering where it will land.
"Winning the lottery or being struck by lightning is rare but not impossible, so when it happens repeatedly to the same individual, it seems miraculous. Not so, writes Hand, emeritus professor of mathematics at Imperial College, London (Statistics: A Very Short Introduction), in this ingenious introduction to probability that mixes counterintuitive anecdotes with easily digestible doses of statistics. Thus, through the 'law of truly large numbers,' he reveals that, among the billions of events we experience throughout our lives, outrageous ones are bound to occur. Meanwhile, the 'law of selection' reveals how probabilities can be made to appear artificially high due to selecting criteria after an event. In other words, it generates miracles from otherwise routine events. And everyone has nightmares ending in disaster: historians have marveled at Lincoln's pre-assassination dream. Similarly, according to pyramidologists, combining dimensions of the Great Pyramid of Giza produces amazing predictions or coded messages; the pyramid itself is huge and irregular, giving the examiner leeway in choosing the numbers. But it's the 'law of near-enough' that guarantees such spectacular connections. Hand offers much food for thought, and readers willing to handle some simple mathematics will find this a delightful addition to the 'why people believe weird things' genre. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In The Improbability Principle, the renowned statistician David J. Hand unveils his groundbreaking argument that extraordinarily rare events are in fact commonplace. Weaving together fascinating new ways to think about chance, Hand highlights his “law of near enough,” the “look elsewhere effect,” and more, doing for probability what Newtons laws of motion did for mechanics.
Through humorous and engaging tales of two-time lottery winners, gambling gone wrong, and bizarre coincidences that we cant quite fathom, Hand argues that extremely unlikely events must happen, and no mystical or supernatural explanation is necessary to understand why. His investigation, grounded in statistics and brought to life with fascinating anecdotes, finally explains “unexplainable” events such as unexpectedly bumping into a friend in a foreign country and coming across an unfamiliar word twice in one day. Along the way, we learn what the Bible and Shakespeare have in common, how to win the lottery, why financial crashes are par for the course, and why lightning does strike the same place (and the same person) more than once. As Hand makes clear, we can rest assured that well experience a “miracle” roughly once per month.
An irresistible adventure into the laws behind chance moments, The Improbability Principle transforms how we think about business decisions, everyday encounters, serendipity, and luck.
About the Author
David J. Hand is an emeritus professor of mathematics and a senior research investigator at Imperial College London. He is the former president of the Royal Statistical Society and the chief scientific adviser to Winton Capital Management, one of Europes most successful algorithmic-trading hedge funds. He is the author of seven books, including The Information Generation: How Data Rules Our World and Statistics: A Very Short Introduction, and has published more than three hundred scientific papers. Hand lives in London, England.
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