NEITHER GANDALF NOR HARRY POTTER
My friend Shane Deichman of Enterra and IATGR has jumped with both feet into the blogosphere at The Wizards of Oz. I’d like to welcome Shane to blogging and I encourage you to check out his latest post – “Large Numbers “. An excerpt:
“A famous thought experiment postulates that a monkey, strumming unintelligently on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time, would eventually create all of the works of Shakespeare. Although often attributed to T.H. Huxley, a 19th century English biologist, it is a metaphor used in a 1913 essay by Émile Borel to describe large, random sequences of numbers.
…So let’s go back to our monkey. As an undergraduate physics major at Berkeley, one of the first homework problems in my thermodynamics class was a variation of the “infinite monkey theorem”: we had to determine the probability of a trillion monkeys, typing randomly without pause at 10 keys per second, to randomly type the words of Hamlet. By assuming Hamlet was comprised of approximately 100,000 characters, and that a typical keyboard has 40 keys (without regard for punctuation or capitalization), the probability of a random string is 1/40 * 1/40 * 1/40 …, repeated 100,000 times.Since we had a trillion (i.e., 1E12) monkeys typing continuously at 10 keys per second, our solution was that it would likely take 1E1000 years — in other words, nearly googol (1E100) times the age of our known universe — before reaching a 50% probability….“
Read Shane’s post in full.
While as a society, we are generally aware of the handicaps created by illiteracy, the effects of innumeracy are not well recognized. However, the widespread inability amongst the public to comprehend the significance of large numbers and to weigh the relative importance of probability between variables, negatively effects the ability of the electorate to make informed choices regarding public policy. Or correctly identify economic trends, causation and effect. Or even have a rational discourse on many subjects, leaving the field wide open to demagoguery and magical thinking.