Gheorghe Curelet-Balan Blog

Saturday, May 31, 2008

What's probable?

To be or not to be. This week local news about the performance of Shakespeare's Hamlet play at the Stratford Festival reminded me of the past PI lecture "The Curious World of Probabilities" presented by Professor Jeffrey Rosenthal from University of Toronto.

Probabilities are about scientific discovery based on sampling or past experiences. If you think that studying them cannot be fun then watch the lecture to convince yourself of the contrary.

Probabilities could be evil for those that dare to bet against "the house" in the long run. The law of large numbers (the more experiments you make the closer you are to the true probability of the phenomenon) explains why only few win at casinos. Watch the video animation of playing the Craps game for a sample of the law of large numbers in action.

Probabilistic thinking is useful though in our daily life as it can alleviate worries in different bad situations. For example: airplane crashes, terrorist attacks and homicides are quite unlikely. Professor Rosenthal gives us a sample of stay cool probabilistic thinking when he received the bad news of a lupus test.

Designing computer games or medical studies, assigning seats during exams, forecasting political elections are all examples where randomness is needed.

The lecture ends with a funny video animation of Monte Carlo sampling, a useful technique used to solve complicated problems when no other deterministic approach could be used.

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