Friday, December 20, 2013

A Primer on Probability

I am posting this post that ruminates on both board games & Christianity because the post I really want to post references this post. And it's a pretty good post in and of itself. (Could I use the word "post" more times? Unlikely.)

BTW, this post was originally written in 2005. (Snicker.)
God does not play dice with the universe. Albert Einstein
I read Shakespeare and the Bible, and I can shoot dice. That's what I call a liberal education. Tallulah Bankhead
I play a lot of games with dice. (Heck, I just play a lot of games.) Years ago, I even taught Collin to roll the dice - he shook them in his hand and then VERY carefully laid them down on the table. (This behavior would get me kicked out of most gaming groups - but it's cute when a 19-month old kid did it while shouting "dies!" at the top of his lungs.)
Most folks who play games a good bit have figured out the basics of probability. You know - flip a coin 100 times... it's "probable" that you'll get 50 heads & 50 tails. When you roll a d6 (that's gamer-ese for a six-sided die), you have a 17% chance of rolling a one.

It gets a bit more complicated when you roll 2d6 (again, gamer-ese for 2 six-sided dice... and yes, "die" is singular, "dice" is plural). Now you have a 1 in 36 chance of rolling snake eyes (2) on two dice. Of course, your chance of rolling a seven is much better - 1 in 6.

By now, I'm guessing that some of you are wondering if I'm ever going to reach some kind of spiritual point. Just hang on... it's coming.

Now, there are a couple of important principles that many gamers (let alone regular non-gamer type people) forget:

1.     Probability is just that - "probable". The fact that the odds of rolling box cars (double sixes) on 2d6 is 1 in 36 does not mean you will roll box cars in 36 rolls. Or, OTOH, that you won't roll boxcars 2 or 3 times in 36 rolls. (If you want to check this out for yourself, try this online resource:
2.     Each die roll is a discrete event. (Let's take a short pause to digest that $25 phrase - "discrete event". Do you feel like you're back in your college math class yet?!) Here's the easy-squeezy definition: one event (a coin flip, for example) does not have any connection to the next event (coin flip). So I can throw ten "heads" in a row... or roll 3 sets of box cars.

Which leads me to a couple of gaming tips:

1.     Remembering basic probability (the chances of rolling a particular number) makes you a better game player. If two players are sitting on Jail (we're playing Monopoly in my example) and I own the orange properties, it makes more sense to build houses on St James (6 spaces away) or Tennessee (8 spaces away) than on New York (9 spaces away)
2.     Remember that probability is not a promise... there is no such thing as "hot" or "cold" dice. Just because you haven't rolled snake eyes in a long time does not mean you're "due" to roll them... only that it's probable that it could happen.

Finally, a spiritual point to this long-winded discussion:
The rules that work for rolling dice in Monopoly or flipping coins before football games do not apply to the spiritual world. There is no such thing is a discrete event.
Think about it - my decision to treat the waiter at Red Robin in a Christ-like manner doesn't simply have a positive effect on the service I get. (Look, a fresh basket of fries!) It also helps the waiter have a better day. (Wow - a table of people who aren't jerks - unusual!) In turn, the chances of him treating other customers kindly (Hey... they've got great service here!) as well as his fellow employees (I like working with _____.) are improved. This bleeds over into the rest of his life as well: family, friends, other service persons that he encounters...
And so far, we've just looked at what it does in his life - in my life, doing the right thing helps me draw closer to Christ. My wife & my kids see what it looks like when I act like Jesus... and the chances of them doing the same thing are improved. Selfishly, treating someone with respect even makes me feel good.
So a couple of important principles that many people (let alone us Christian-y types) forget:

1.     I can't tell you how happy I am to learn that many members of your congregation are diligent in living out the Truth, exactly as commanded by the Father. But permit me a reminder, friends, and this is not a new commandment but simply a repetition of our original and basic charter: that we love each other. Love means following his commandments, and his unifying commandment is that you conduct your lives in love. This is the first thing you heard, and nothing has changed. (2 John 1:4-6, MSG)
2.     Probability is not a promise... just because we "conduct our lives in love" does not guarantee that other people will choose to react in positive ways. But we don't do the right thing for other people - we do it for God. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:4, NLT) 

No comments: