In the world of mathematics, you’d expect that the chances of a child correctly matching their shoes to the right feet, or the possibility of correctly inserting a USB into a computer port, would stand at a clean 50 percent. This is based on the simple premise that there are two possible outcomes — right or wrong. However, reality paints a completely different picture, as these rates are closer to zero. Experience tells us that children tend to put the wrong shoe on the wrong foot almost every single time. Similarly, when it comes to plugging a USB into a computer, it often takes us three or four attempts to get it right. It’s a paradox that defies our basic understanding of probability, challenging the notion of chance and randomness.
While studying for my probability exam at the university library, I stumbled upon a book titled ‘Probability: An Introduction’ by Professor David Santos. The introduction took a surprising turn when it read, “To my rib, Jillie, whom I love almost surely.” The sentence showcased the profound yet humorous side of the professor who had dedicated a lifetime to mathematical probabilities. It was both amusing and thought-provoking that Santos, a man who was so adept at calculating probabilities, expressed his love with the term “almost surely,” implying that even in matters of the heart, there could not be a 100% guarantee.
In the realm of mathematics, probability is conceptualized as a function that assigns an event (or non-event) to a real number within the range of 0 and 1. This number, or probability, indicates the likelihood of said event occurring.
Interestingly, the roots of probability theory can be traced back to Blaise Pascal, a renowned French mathematician. The inception of this theory took place some 400 years ago when a gambler posed a question to Pascal: what must be done to obtain the desired outcome when rolling dice? Pascal’s answer to this query is widely considered to be the birth of probability theory, sparking a new field of mathematical study that explores chance, likelihood, and predictability.