Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lottery Paradox

It was a happy event for an unhappy reason: a party at the Pike Place Brewery with a raffle to raise money to help beloved bike mechanic and all-round swell human being, Val Kleitz, pay for his cancer-treatment medical bills.

Bittersweet, you’d call it, but the good news is that, according to Val himself, he’s on the mend, feeling stronger, and perhaps best of all, back on the bike already and pedaling with renewed vigor.

All the local bike shop royalty was there: Alex from 20/20, Aaron from ABR, Bob from Elliot Bay, Kent from BikeWorks, Eric from JRA, and probably lots more who I either didn’t see or don’t know by sight; if a bomb had hit the pub last night, you wouldn’t be able to get a dropout realigned or a threaded fork cut in Seattle for who knows how long.

I drank more beer than was prudent for a Tuesday evening and got to be all bike-nerdy with other fans of Val and had some good laughs when, during the raffle, Alex W., who’s always busy with something, won like four or five different prizes out of the ten or so that were drawn for.

This is what happens, apparently, in a raffle, when you buy way more tickets than anyone else.

One of the standard puzzles in epistemology is lottery paradox, where, since you know for any ticket you hold, it’s unlikely to be the winning ticket, so it’s reasonable to believe you won’t win; however, that belief will be true of every other ticket, even though you know that one of the tickets will win. Thus, taken together, your set of beliefs is inconsistent. You’re justified in believing about each ticket “This ticket will not win,” while simultaneously believing “Some ticket will win,” in other words, which is contradictory.

Unless, of course, you’ve got a tableful of tickets spread before you; then, there’s no reason to believe you won’t totally clean up.


Blogger Laurel Fan said...

epistemology, meet statistics...

3:11 PM  
Blogger CJ said...

I recently heard a great little talk on NPR about randomness. The speaker used the example of grass on a golf course: All the blades of grass know that the ball will land somewhere, it's just that one luck little blade that will receive the blessing (or curse) of having the golf ball land on it.

Anyway, you post reminded me of that. It's random.

9:16 PM  

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