Gertsch Group

Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, University of Bern, Switzerland

How random is your life

How random is your life
Jurg Gertsch - Thu Sep 10, 2009 @ 08:17AM
Comments: 1

In New York while waiting for a connecting flight I bought a wonderul book called "The Drunkard's Walk, How Randomness Rules Our Lives" by Leonard Mlodinow. I was actually wondering how probable it is to loose the connecting flight when you are standing in a queue together with 432 Latins who are trying to immigrate into this great and seriously threatened country either to visit, to work or just to get a connecting flight. I was trying to reach my connecting flight on time. After more than one hour in the queue talking to some friendly Mexicans the immigration officer was giving me a hard time and I made the mistake to not be "humble enough" and to makes things even worse, to argue with him. Well, they don't like that and the rest is not worth commemorating ... Anyway, the waiting gave me time to read most of the book and I now think it's a must to read. Mlodinow works at Caltech and knows what he's writing about. He tells us that withouth appropriate statistics our perception deceives us all the time. Especially scientists should read this book because they "believe" in numbers. "It's one of those contradictions of life that although measurement always carries uncertainty, the uncertainty of measurment is rarely discussed when measurement is quoted." We simply like to believe what we want to believe - so even much of science is probably a reflection of what our wishful thinking is trying to suggest because interpretation of data is rarely done at the basis of probability. We conclude this and that, things are apparently important because of this and that, and maybe, in the worst case, we are mistaken. Another conclusion is that much of all the important things that happen (performance of funds in the stock-market, acceptance of a publication in a high-impact journal, prestigous awards, success on the whole) are simply random events triggered by chance - if you try you win and if you don't you don't. The important message is that we habitually underestimate the effects of randomness and make erroneous correlations. This doesn't say that ability doesn't matter - it simply increases the chances of success. After reading Mlodinow's excellent book I come to the conclusion that I have to try harder to amalgamate this wonderful magical randomness we call life with an increasing number of chances.

Comments: 1

Comments

1. David Brown   |   Sun Mar 26, 2017 @ 06:44PM

"We simply like to believe what we want to believe - so even much of science is probably a reflection of what our wishful thinking is trying to suggest because interpretation of data is rarely done at the basis of probability."

Exactly. That's a big problem, is it not? Need more scientists who amalgamate.

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