Chance favours the prepared mind

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pages: 360 words: 85,321

The Perfect Bet: How Science and Math Are Taking the Luck Out of Gambling by Adam Kucharski

Ada Lovelace, Albert Einstein, Antoine Gombaud: Chevalier de Méré, beat the dealer, Benoit Mandelbrot, butterfly effect, call centre, Chance favours the prepared mind, Claude Shannon: information theory, collateralized debt obligation, correlation does not imply causation, diversification, Edward Lorenz: Chaos theory, Edward Thorp, Everything should be made as simple as possible, Flash crash, Gerolamo Cardano, Henri Poincaré, Hibernia Atlantic: Project Express, if you build it, they will come, invention of the telegraph, Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, John Nash: game theory, John von Neumann, locking in a profit, Louis Pasteur, Nash equilibrium, Norbert Wiener, p-value, performance metric, Pierre-Simon Laplace, probability theory / Blaise Pascal / Pierre de Fermat, quantitative trading / quantitative finance, random walk, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Rubik’s Cube, statistical model, The Design of Experiments, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, zero-sum game

“People who are said to be lucky at cards probably have certain hidden talents for those games in which skill plays a role.” Ulam believed the same could be said of scientific research. Some scientists ran into seemingly good fortune so often that it was impossible not to suspect that there was an element of talent involved. Chemist Louis Pasteur put forward a similar philosophy in the nineteenth century. “Chance favours the prepared mind” was how he put it. Luck is rarely embedded so deeply in a situation that it can’t be altered. It might not be possible to completely remove luck, but history has shown that it can often be replaced by skill to some extent. Moreover, games that we assume rely solely on skill do not. Take chess. There is no inherent randomness in a game of chess: if two players make identical moves every time, the result will always be the same.

Supreme Court Declines to Take DiCristina Poker Case; Reminder of Challenge Faced by NJ Sports Betting Advocates.” NorthJersey.com, February 24, 2014. http://blog.northjersey.com/meadowlandsmatters/7891/u-s-supreme-court-declines-to-take-dicristina-poker-case-reminder-of-challenge-faced-by-nj-sports-betting-advocates/. 202“There may be such a thing as habitual luck”: Ulam, S. M. Adventures of a Mathematician (Oakland: University of California Press, 1991). 202“Chance favours the prepared mind”: Quoted in: Weiss, R. A. “HIV and the Naked Ape.” In Serendipity: Fortune and the Prepared Mind, ed. M. De Rond and I. Morley (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). Originally said during a lecture at University of Lille, 1854. 203Matthew Salganik and colleagues at Columbia University: Salganik, M. J., P. S. Dodds, and D. J. Watts. “Experimental Study of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial Cultural Market.”


pages: 424 words: 122,350

Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea, and Human Life by George Monbiot

Chance favours the prepared mind, cognitive dissonance, en.wikipedia.org, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, land reform, Nelson Mandela, nuclear winter, offshore financial centre, oil rush, oil shale / tar sands, place-making, social intelligence, trade route

The remainder are so distant and indistinct that they could be almost anything: dogs, deer, foxes, bin liners, yetis on all fours. One of the most intriguing features of this story is that hardly anyone who has set out to find a big cat in Britain has ever seen one. Almost without exception, the sightings have been unexpected; in most cases the cats appear to people who had never thought about them or did not believe in them. Pasteur’s maxim–that chance favours the prepared mind–seems in this case not to apply. Nor have the tireless efforts to catch or kill these animals yielded anything more convincing. As Harpur notes, ‘more effort and expense than ever went into Imperial tiger hunts has been expended in the hunt for anomalous big cats’, and it has produced nothing except a few hapless creatures which have escaped from zoos or circuses or private collections, and are in almost all cases caught within a few hours of their flight.


pages: 492 words: 149,259

Big Bang by Simon Singh

Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Andrew Wiles, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Astronomia nova, Brownian motion, carbon-based life, Cepheid variable, Chance favours the prepared mind, Commentariolus, Copley Medal, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, Dava Sobel, Defenestration of Prague, discovery of penicillin, Dmitri Mendeleev, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, Erwin Freundlich, Fellow of the Royal Society, fudge factor, Hans Lippershey, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Henri Poincaré, horn antenna, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras, Index librorum prohibitorum, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, John von Neumann, Karl Jansky, Kickstarter, Louis Daguerre, Louis Pasteur, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, Murray Gell-Mann, music of the spheres, Olbers’ paradox, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Paul Erdős, retrograde motion, Richard Feynman, scientific mainstream, Simon Singh, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, unbiased observer, Wilhelm Olbers, William of Occam

Researchers became suspicious that it might have a positive side-effect only when the patients who had taken part in a clinical trial steadfastly refused to hand back their unused pills, even though the drug seemed to have had no significant impact on their heart problems. It would be all too easy to label scientists who have exploited serendipity as merely lucky, but that would be unfair. All these serendipitous scientists and inventors were able to build upon their chance observations only once they had accumulated enough knowledge to put them into context. As Louis Pasteur, who himself benefited from serendipity, put it: ‘Chance favours the prepared mind.’ Walpole also highlighted this in his original letter when he described serendipity as the result of ‘accidents and sagacity’. Furthermore, those who want to be touched by serendipity must be ready to embrace an opportunity when it presents itself, rather than merely brushing down their seed-covered trousers, pouring their failed superglue down the sink or abandoning a failed medical trial.