The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day by David J. Hand
In The Improbability Principle, the renowned statistician David J. Hand argues that extraordinarily rare events are anything but. In fact, they’re commonplace. Not only that, we should all expect to experience a miracle roughly once every month.
But Hand is no believer in superstitions, prophecies, or the paranormal. His definition of “miracle” is thoroughly rational. No mystical or supernatural explanation is necessary to understand why someone is lucky enough to win the lottery twice, or is destined to be hit by lightning three times and still survive. All we need, Hand argues, is a firm grounding in a powerful set of laws: the laws of inevitability, of truly large numbers, of selection, of the probability lever, and of near enough. (via Goodreads)
I like statistics. I’m not saying that I understand much about statistics or that I have any natural aptitude for anything involving numbers (in fact, the opposite can be easily argued), but familiarity with the notions of statistics is a good thing to have.
The Improbability Principle takes a look at where our thought processes go wrong when we consider rare events. This is less about math, in some cases, and more about psychology. Our brains don’t naturally handle “rare” very well. The improbability principle is kind of a list of questions to ask when deciding if something is a miracle or a reasonable statistical happening.
Hand’s writing is very accessible and pretty light. He uses lots of examples, but I was glad to have a decent science background and a little bit of understanding of statistics going in. The books is a little repetitive, but that highlights that fact that the “laws” that make up the improbability principle are interconnected. Applying one often leads to applying others. Hand didn’t worry too much about trying to isolate each law as he discussed them. Overall, The Improbability Principle is an interesting and well presented set of concepts.
Publishing info, my copy: hardback, Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014
Acquired: Tempe Public Library