In writing my last
blog, I started to think about the laws of probability. Having done A level Maths with
Statistics at Sixth Form College, I am familiar with the laws of probability
but I have always been conscious that life does not seem to conform to these
laws in practice. However, when I
began to really think about the laws of probability I began to see that they do
not even stack up logically as a framework. They purport to describe the way that life operates in terms
of describing the likelihood of any given event. They describe the likelihood of something happening and the
average times that event will happen given any number of operations. Take the situation of a die and the
probability of rolling a six. I have
watched in many games that I have played that when I am most concerned or
attached to rolling a six it does not happen. I have watched the same happen to others, indeed when I
began to record this phenomenon for me and for others I began to notice that
some people would throw considerably more sixes when they needed them and
others could go for sequences of up to 12 or more turns (in some cases it might
have been more but for the fat the game ended) without rolling a six. Now the laws of probability would say
that chances like this can occur but over time these will average out. Yet if this is the case, then what the
laws of probability are really saying is that taken at a sufficiently large
sample level this is how life is working, which means that at any smaller
sample level it is not how life is working. In this sense the laws of probability have to discount the
reality that unusual and unexpected things happen which are counter to these
averaging laws. In effect it means
that the laws of probability do not describe how life is working at all since
there is no guarantee that even in large sample sizes they will fully conform
to the average. Indeed most
statistics are expressed in the form of 95% or 99% confidence levels, ie. that
we can be 95% confident that a particular outcome will fall with certain
parameters. Yet even here, I was
conscious that completely anomalous data did occur which were completely
outside these parameters but since they were the exception rather than the rule
they were discounted. From this
perspective, the laws of probability are based on the assumption that life is
dictated by random events and “chance”, further than this, it is an entirely
hypothetical construct. In life, a
coin does not have a 50% chance of landing heads or tails, it is definitely
going to land whichever way it is going to land. Since the future is a construct of the human imagination
(the only moment that actually exists is now), so is the idea of probability.

Taking two practical
examples of this; the recent article in the New Scientist about the Financial
Crisis described a network of relationships between key companies involved in
the crisis which closely mirrored that found in natural biological
systems. It was this dependency on
key companies which sat at the heart of the network which made the financial
crisis possible, because this small group of companies was so
disproportionately significant in the economic structure of the world. Looking at probability, it would be
clear that each individual involved in these companies. The individuals operating within these
organisations would no doubt suggest that their lives were governed by chance
and a series of probabilities about which they made choices, yet the reality is
that their actions collectively aligned to natural systems, ie. it was only
going to play out that way and there wasn’t really choice. Now, I accept that
it might be possible to construct the probabilities for their individual
actions to create or mirror this eventuality but this feels like retro-fitting
the maths to the facts. Of course,
this brings us into the realm of free will and fate. Our probability construct assumes that our existence is
predicated on free-will with a range of possible avenues available at any point
in time. I also recognise that at
a broad general level, probability has it’s value as a model but only in so far
as we recognise it is a construct based on certain assumptions and that these
assumptions have limitations and may not be an accurate reflection of reality.

I remember a project
that I undertook whilst studying a module for my Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development exams, itwas on regression analysis which takes
trends and then applies them to data and smooths out anomalies. I had decided to do my project on the
link between unemployment and inflation.
It was a generally understood rule at the time that in order to control
inflation one had to have high unemployment and similarly that lower unemployment
came at the cost of high inflation.
Whilst there did seem to be some inverse correlation between the two
there were certain spikes in the data where there was no correlation at
all. This troubled me at the time
because I felt that this was indicative of the fact that there only appeared to
be a correlation between them. As
it turned out, this later proved to be the case.

The laws of
probability, it strikes me, are simply generalisations. Most of us are aware that
generalisations can be helpful but only to a limited extent and with many dangers
if you think they apply to the individual or particular. The famous notion that if you gave a
group of monkeys a keyboard and infinite time the chances are that they would
come up with the works of Shakespeare I do not believe to be true. If we are not careful then Maths (in
itself a construct for reality rather than reality itself) becomes like
counting the number of angels on the head of pin. The chance of any event in our lives happening is both
infinitely improbable given the other possible alternatives and highly probable
(given that we have to be or do something and it did happen). Yet really there is no chance involved,
it simply did happen. In this
sense, I suspect that we may well find that the laws governing quantum
mechanics are not made up of uncertain, chance probabilities in the way modern
physicists currently suppose, but rather that we do not have sufficient ability
to see the detail which we currently generalise through probability. I do not think that we will find that
there are multiple other realities happening concurrently with our current one
(this. for me, is a fallacy based on not separating imaginative constructs
(chance and probability) from reality). In this sense I think Einstein’s famous
quote that “God does not play dice” might yet prove to be true. In fact, at a broader level, I’m not
sure that God plays dice at all. Most
of our current models such as evolution are based on this notion that the
universe is both random and dictated by chance. These are interesting assumptions but we forget at our peril
that they are not external objective (external) facts, but rather internal
subjective constructs.

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