A Moment’s Digression

Book2

I had a data nerd moment while reading a novel the other day. I got in an argument with the book. But I think the book started it. It’s a frivolous discussion, probably, but sometimes those are the most fun.

What happened? Late in the book, the ghosts invite Patri to their New Year’s eve party. She has to think about it.

Invitations to a magic party with ghosts were obviously going to be very rare. There might be another chance, but for Patri that was beside the point. She was wondering how many such invitations there could be in eternity. That was a different question. Repetition in eternity was not a matter of probabilities, no matter how large the numbers. In eternity, as distinct from “in life” or “outside life,” this party was an absolutely unique occasion.

No, no, NO! I wanted to shout at the book (I was in a restaurant, so I didn’t). In all eternity, this invitation is bound to happen again.

Big data. infinite time — rare events do happen.

You can read the rest of the post here. Enjoy.

Dragons of Probability

“No insults, please!” said Pugg. “For I am not your usual uncouth pirate, but refined and with a Ph.D. and therefore extremely high-strung.”

— from “The Sixth Sally, or how Trurl and Klapaucius Created a Demon of the Second Kind to Defeat the Pirate Pugg”
NewImageCover for the 1972 edition of Cyberiada, illustration by Daniel Mróz
Photo from 50watts.com

I learned about Stanislaw Lem as an undergrad at Berkeley, from undergraduate and graduate students in the Math department, where his books were quite popular. At the time, the Berkeley Math PhD program had a foreign language requirement (I don’t know if they still do). The idea was that enough cutting edge mathematics research was being published in French or Russian or Japanese language journals — and elsewhere — that a serious mathematician would want to access that work even before an English-language translation became available.

Read more of this post