Probability

The universe is really big, and there’s a lot of stuff in it. Most of the stuff tends to cluster in small pockets due to gravity. There is so much stuff in the universe that even the tiny pockets have a ton of stuff in them, we call those pockets “galaxies.” Within those are solar systems and planets and continents and cities and buildings, and all of those things have lots of stuff in them. The stuff in the universe tends to interact with each other. Sometimes the interactions are caused by fundamental forces of physics, other times it is because a car horn scared a raven to fly away.

When you have all of this stuff interacting with all the other stuff in all kinds of ways, there is no way to predict one exact path that the universe could take. There are just too many variables at play to make a valid prediction, this concept is called randomness. It is the term I’ll use to describe all of the potential futures of all of the particles in all of the universe that cannot possibly be predicted because there is simply too much going on.

The “Infinite Probability Theory” is stated in a cheerful story involving the total destruction of a Midwestern town. If an infinite number of tornadoes blow through an infinite number of towns, one of those tornadoes will leave behind a working Boeing 737 jet from the parts of the town.

At first, that sounds ridiculous. There’s no way a functional airplane can appear, especially not after a tornado! But then we reconsider the idea of infinity and have to admit that by definition, it must be true. Infinity gives the tornado unlimited tries, and atoms are atoms. The theory is not supposed to pick a likely example but rather one that seems flat out impossible, just to prove that even the impossible can be achieved given an infinite amount of chances. Mathematicians tell you that when numbers get too big, we often just approximate to infinity in order to keep moving forward with a theorem. The mathematicians know and remember that the number is finite, but too large to make much of a difference in the math.

Now is a time when I will be reclaiming a word from society: miracle. I need to take it back because it has been synapsed in too many people’s brain with the idea that something was given to us from a great provider or the universe itself. The events that people called miracles were usually very unexpected or unlikely to happen. Things like surviving a devastating car crash with no physical injuries, or a prognosis of only a few months to live followed by total remission. We call these miracles because there is no logical explanation for how they happened, they just did.

Our brains are unwilling to accept the randomness so we make up stories of merciful gods smiling upon them. I am reclaiming the word miracle to be a statistically relevant term. A miracle is “when an occurrence, whose probability is against near infinite odds, happens anyway.” This new definition shouldn’t remove any of the events that have already been called miracles, because they still fit within the new definition.

Probability helps to predict the positions of objects constantly in random motion. If all the parts are moving around, there will exist a time when all of the parts are in a specific conformation. The more the particles move, the more often the conformation will happen. Moving particles can include electrons around an atom, gaseous atoms in a container, or even human movement like traffic patterns; the possible positions can be reasonably predicted using probability.

Probability can also be helpful in your life and your quest for happiness. If you plot all of your successes over your attempts, you’re probably going to find that your success rate is about 50%. If you are finding that you are hitting a series of walls and that success ratio is dipping too far below the .500 line for your liking, remember randomness. The universe is random and occurrences beyond our control are essentially random. Therefore, your anticipation should tell you that the ratio will even out eventually. It might really suck for a long while, but the only way to even out that ratio is to keep trying.

Too often, we stop trying when we hit too many hurdles. Quitting while you’re down just means you’ll be down forever. Life isn’t like poker, when you’re down, it doesn’t cost more to keep playing. It always seems like good things happen to people who remain optimistic. If you’re one of those people, you know plenty of bad things happen every day; but you don’t let it get to you because you know something good will come soon.

When I’m feeling like I’m in the bottom half of the success ratio, I remember the best advice I was ever given after I got rejected by a girl I liked: “The baseball players who hit .300 go down in the hall of fame.” Don’t expect 50% success always, be ecstatic for it if you reach it, but never give up trying to improve.