Chapter 1 Some Background and Preliminaries In that it is an attempt to model mathematically a phenomenon that may or may not actually exist, probability theory is a rather peculiar subject. If two people play a game of dice and one of them repeatedly wins, is the explanation that the winner is “a chosen of the gods” or is there something more that can be said? Until the late Middle Ages, most of the Westerners who gave it any thought interpreted luck as a manifestation of an individ- ual’s standing with whatever divinity or divinities were in vogue. Since other inexplicable phenomena were also assumed to have divine origins, this interpretation was reasonable. On the other hand, like the biblical account of the origins of life, attributing luck to divine sources leaves little room for further analysis. Indeed, it is a prerogative of any self-respecting deity to be inscrutable, and therefore one is rude, if not sinful, to subject the motives of one’s deity to detailed analysis. Simply abandoning a divine explanation of luck does not solve the prob- lem but only opens it to further inquiry. For instance, if one believes that all experience is a corollary of “the laws of nature,” then there is no such thing as luck. One person wins more often than the other because “the laws of nature” dictate that outcome. From this hyper-rational perspective, the concept of luck is a cop-out: a crutch that need never be used if one is suf- ficiently diligent in one’s application of “the laws of nature.” Although its origins may be strictly rational, this reason for denying the existence of luck does little to advance one’s understanding of many phenomena. Even if one accepts Newton’s laws of motion as sacrosanct, it is unlikely that one will 1
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