Talk:Improbable things happen

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This Logic related article has been awarded BRONZE status for quality. It's getting there, but could be better with improvement. See RationalWiki:Article rating for more information.


I know nothing of statistics so please refrain from laughing at me when I ask you to explain that birthday one.--Damo2353 18:01, 29 July 2008 (EDT)

If the odds of Same Birthday happening are 70%, then it's not really an improbable thing. Maybe you can find better examples. For example, the odds of winning a lottery are like 1 million to one? yet, each week, someone wins the lottery. Or "given the number of sperm that are produced by a guy, ejaculated by a guy, over the course of the months it takes to get a woman pregnant, the odds of any one sperm fertilizing an egg are extremely improbably. yet millions of babies are born each year. --Waiting for Godot 18:04, 29 July 2008 (EDT)
I understand the point being made, I am just expressing wonder and awe that the chance would be as high as 70%. How is this calculation made?--Damo2353 18:06, 29 July 2008 (EDT)
LOL you and I cross posted. I wasn't worried about the math, but the author says in his post "this isn't really improbable", so why is it an example of being "improbable" (ps., i do't know statistics at all, but it's something like 30 to the power of 30 or something, since each person meets 29 other people. so your probiblity is like 1 in 30(365) that YOU will meet someone with the same date , then you have to add or multiply (I suck at statistics) the other 29 people's chances.--Waiting for Godot 18:10, 29 July 2008 (EDT)
Well the point of the article is that what people think is highly improbable, actually isn't. So the improbability of the evolution of the human eye over millions of years is not as far-fetched as creationists would have us believe especially when there are millions of creatures who are evolving. Amazing 1 in a billion coincidences happen every day somewhere in the world. With regards to the birthday thing the maths extension doesn't appear to be installed so I held back on the formula (it's my bed time here). Although the calculation should be done in reverse (what is the probablity of any two not having the same birthday) you can think of it a bit like this. The chances of any one person having the same birthday as another is 1/365. So for 29 people it is 29/365. Eliminate the first person and take A.N.Other, the chances of him having the same birthday as any of the rest is 28/364, 27/363 for the next etc. etc. Add all these together and you get a high probability of any two having the same birthday. This isn't the correct way to calculate the actual probability but it shows what is happening. See wp:Birthday paradox for the correct calculation. Jollyfish.gifGenghisunbelieving 18:16, 29 July 2008 (EDT)
Cheers--Damo2353 18:18, 29 July 2008 (EDT)
See also wp:Monty Hall dilemma for a case of complete disconnection between what your common sense tells you and what statistics show to be actually true. --AKjeldsenCum dissensie 18:22, 29 July 2008 (EDT)
I don't think we should link to that WP monty hall article. It is sacriligeous to suggest a car is more valuable than a goat. I think it's a clear example of Bias at Wikipedia because it doesn't present the opinion of Goat worship. --Damo2353 18:38, 29 July 2008 (EDT)
Hilariously enough, you most likely won't find a goat-free version. Indeed, this thing is called "Ziegenproblem" ("Goat Problem") in German. --Sid 18:47, 29 July 2008 (EDT)
Yes. However, Wikipedia's - and Germany's - rampant anti-goat bias is perhaps not well-known among the general public. I think that we should retain the link in order to educate the public about this serious problem. --AKjeldsenCum dissensie 18:51, 29 July 2008 (EDT)
Did Monty Hall really offer goats as game show prizes? Weaseloid 14:14, 2 August 2008 (EDT)


How about a fun article called "Shit happens". After all, that's what it's saying. --US-O11 insignia.svg Gen. S.T. Shrink GET TO THA CHOPPER 20:12, 29 July 2008 (EDT)

Shit doesn't just happen - it is the Will of the Almighty. Weaseloid 14:17, 2 August 2008 (EDT)

On this very wiki[edit]

I know of two leaplings, and two editors with the same first name. TyTy 01:57, 27 September 2011 (UTC)

Shuffling a deck of cards[edit]

I don't actually get what this section is about. Is it supposed to be getting at the number plate thing? "I saw a car with registration NK08 THJ outside, what are the odds against that!" ADK...I'll exemplify your yellow submarine! 12:07, 27 September 2011 (UTC)

ima removing it--"Shut up, Brx." 12:21, 27 September 2011 (UTC)
I've tried to re-write it, see if it's better.--ZooGuard (talk) 13:47, 27 September 2011 (UTC)

A variant of this[edit]

SF and any number of 'analysers of the future' didn't predict the Internet/Wikipedia and all its relatives, Eastern Europe demonstrating the domino theory in reverse, the Soviet Union virtually going down the plughole with a glugging sound rather than a bang, the Arab Spring... (add other examples to taste).

People can logically accept that 'some things of very low probability' will happen to them, but find such things illogical when they do happen, especially when several such occurrences happen. (I know of several cases where people meet in one country and then again some time later in another, without there being any planning to do so.) (talk) 19:21, 20 December 2011 (UTC)

The article[edit]

It's too attacking. Just explain the rationale and move along, no need for anything else.— Unsigned, by: / talk / contribs 09:19, 11 March 2014 (UTC)

"Too attacking" what/whom? And what specific parts do you consider to be too much?--ZooGuard (talk) 11:58, 11 March 2014 (UTC)

Merge with coincidence[edit]

Given that this article covers pretty much the same subjects as coincidence, maybe they should be merged?--Кřěĵ (ṫåɬк) 19:50, 6 January 2015 (UTC)

I don't think so. Coincidences are an example of a (potentially) improbable thing happening, but the two things aren't synonymous. Winning the lottery is one of the examples given in this article for an improbable thing happening. If somebody told you they'd won the lottery, would you tell them "that's a coincidence"? What would it even mean? WéáśéĺóíďWeaselly.jpgMethinks it is a Weasel 20:10, 6 January 2015 (UTC)
The comparison with coincidence breaks down even further for situations in which the occurrence of an improbable event is guaranteed (e.g. raffles). - Grant (talk) 20:39, 6 January 2015 (UTC)
Ah, OK. I see your points.--Кřěĵ (ṫåɬк) 21:05, 6 January 2015 (UTC)

Another thing is[edit]

People don't always recognise an 'improbable thing' when it happens - only the ones that are of particular significance to them/are recognisably 'odd.' (Editor to cub reporter - why didn't you write about the X wedding; well it didn't happen as the bride did not turn up.) And sometimes the improbability only becomes apparent many years later - and not just 'three presidents dying on 4th July.' Anna Livia (talk) 16:16, 26 September 2017 (UTC)

Redskins section[edit]

Maybe worth adding that the 'rules' of the improbable events like this can be calibrated to fit after the event, so for example instead of the rule being this:

"If the Redskins win their last home game before the election, the party that won the previous election (the incumbent party) wins the next election. If the Redskins lose this last home game, the incumbent also loses and the challenging party's candidate wins."

If that didn't fit observations, the rule might have been this:

"If the Redskins score an even number of points on their last game before the election, the party that won the previous election (the incumbent party) wins the next election. If the Redskins score an odd number of points, the incumbent also loses and the challenging party's candidate wins."

Or this:

"If the Redskins win their last home game before the election, the party with the hairiest candidate wins the next election. If the Redskins lose this last home game, the hairiest candidate also loses and the challenging party's candidate wins."

i.e. there are many different possible patterns which could be pointed to, thus greatly increasing the chances that one (or more) will fit Roleybob (talk) 10:10, 22 July 2019 (UTC)

New comment[edit]

This article is so wrong. Even the opening paragraph that includes ""Some improbable pattern of lottery numbers came up sometime in the last five years somewhere in the world."" is ridiculous. All patterns of lottery numbers are as equally improbable. The pattern of air molecules in front of your face right now are highly improbable if you tried to guess it or you waited for it. And thats just the point. Its meaningless unless you require that assortment of molecules in front of your face to achieve something. The claims of probability by creationists are perfectly reasonable and rational - you can only attack the validity of their claims about the chance. If it is statistically true for example that it'll take a certain amount of monkeys pressing random letters on keyboards at a certain speed a trillion years on average to get one of shakespeares plays out, and if the complexity of that was the same as the complexity of life (no one can answer this perfectly of course) then I'm sorry the chances are you'll need a trillion years. I nearly went out and bought a lottery ticket when I first read this article - but then I screwed my head back on. — Unsigned, by: / talk / contribs

Complex life hasn't risen from chance, however, so the argument between the hypothetical monkeys and complex work and the complexity of life isn't even a good analogy. --It's-a me, Lgm sigpic.png LeftyGreenMario!(Mod) 23:08, 29 August 2019 (UTC)
If you believe it hasn't risen from chance then yes its not a good analogy, but whether life arrived from chance is not the point of of this article of course. Yes I know I did raise creationism as the example as the article did - but my argument that this article is nonsense is just general in regards to probability. I note you say "complex life" - I'm sure there are arguments from creationists about the chance of the evolutionary process being able to do what is claimed but there are also many arguments with valid points about the improbability of the first life or very simple life coming into being. Let alone the chance of the right rate of universal expansion to allow for life and a billion other things we don't even know about. But yeah this article is basically saying that that an argument that something is unlikely is invalid because everything is unlikely, and that is delusional. I should not advise my friend not to bother buying lottery tickets because improbable things happen all the time? — Unsigned, by: / talk / contribs
I think there's a difference between prediction/expectation against probability, and having already dealt something, something already happened, but then assuming it can't have happened because it was highly improbable. The latter is what creationists argue when it comes to whatever the probability of life is, that life couldn't have emerged from chance because it's unlikely life emerges. Factoring in complex life probability isn't really a good analogy since complex life didn't arise from chance, so you should instead try to argue on the probability of simple life. --It's-a me, Lgm sigpic.png LeftyGreenMario!(Mod) 23:44, 29 August 2019 (UTC)
Are you saying here, your claim of how something happened is correct because it happened? Can you see the problem? No one is denying it happened. Far be it from me to say we didn't somehow come into existence, especially as I am typing this right now. We won't go into the validity of "I think therefore I am" etc. We are discussing how something happened. If you think you can say it happened the way you say it happened because it happened, I'd say we have a problem. It is perfectly reasonable and rational for someone to question your belief in how something happened because of what they believe are the chances it happened that way. — Unsigned, by: / talk / contribs
I'm arguing not necessarily existence, I'm arguing about the mechanisms of how things came to me. Creationists don't deny complex life, they think that it's more likely some entity created life rather than life appearing and then becoming extremely complicated because the latter appears to be ridiculously unlikely. If that does sound like nonsense because the chance that an entity in a particular religion out of hundreds that exist is also stupidly low, I think it is, it's creationism, it's kinda abject nonsense from the start. --It's-a me, Lgm sigpic.png LeftyGreenMario!(Mod) 00:07, 30 August 2019 (UTC)
Lets leave creationism and evolution etc out of it and just talk about probability. Did you effectively say above "an argument about the chances of how something happened is invalid because it happened", and if so, do you see any problems with that? I should create an account i know. (talk) 00:13, 30 August 2019 (UTC)
No, I said "an argument that says something couldn't have happened because it's unlikely it could happen isn't a valid argument". --It's-a me, Lgm sigpic.png LeftyGreenMario!(Mod) 00:20, 30 August 2019 (UTC)
No intelligent being would argue with this. Lets have a totally imaginary scenario. x = the amount of electrons that exist in one universe, (thats quite a few - remember 50 suns explode every second in the universe). Ok we have x amount of parallel universes, and we have an x amount of standard earth years. We have something (like my footy team winning the grand final) that will only happen on average once every this x amount of years in the x number of universes. Now could this possibly happen in our apparently finite universe of 10 billion years? In theory, yes it could. But it only could in theory. If it does happen, thats what is commonly known as a miracle of course. And if you're arguing it happened that way (I'm not saying you are as we're not talking about anything specific here) you should probably reasonably expect some folks to question that. I'm not saying that anything requires that timeframe etc (well my footy team might) - its just an imaginary scenario. You might even say my scenario might require more faith than that required for the belief in a creator for example, but this can't be measured of course. (talk) 00:36, 30 August 2019 (UTC)
As the article points out, this perception of improbability comes from a poor understanding of how the processes of abiogenesis and evolution work. It is exceedingly unlikely that a random group of molecules in vacuum would arrange themselves in the form of a human person, but it is highly likely that a human person will give birth to another human person who turns out to be slightly shorter than they are, or have a slightly smaller appendix, or have an extra finger, or a slightly modified brain structure. Hannasanarion (talk) 00:15, 30 August 2019 (UTC)
I disagree. Lets leave creation/evolution etc out of it. The article is basically claiming that the improbability of a theory has nothing to do with its validity as a theory which is absurd surely? Don't get caught up in abiogenesis and how processes work in smaller steps etc - as you are then just saying the probability suggested by the creationist in this instance is wrong - because they're not aware how it works. Thats not the issue here. It is fine to contest the claim of how improbable anything is and thats all you're doing in your comment. What isn't fine is to say that the improbability isn't a problem because improbable things happen all the time. The probability of a theory, or how likely it is that its true or accurate, is all we have with any theory. — Unsigned, by: / talk