Tag Archives: puzzles

When Probability Meets Real Life

It is natural for scientific thinkers to try to apply rational methods to assess risk in everyday life. Should you get a flu shot, for example, if you’re under 40 and in good health? Should you jump out of an airplane (with a parachute)? The lofty goal of applying reason to risk assessment, however, is thwarted by two things: First, in the absence of certainty we typically make decisions based on a combination of gut-level instinct and expediency, and very often that seems to work fine; and second, we are constantly assailed by multiple, constantly changing random events. How Randomness Rules Our Lives was, in fact, the subtitle of a very instructive best-seller on randomness by Leonard Mlodinow. This constant buffeting by random forces … Read the rest

How Triangulation Leads to Knowledge

One of the “game changing” pieces of scientific news in 2017 concerns the collision of two neutron stars about 130 million light-years away, first detected on August 17. One reason astronomers and cosmologists are so excited is reflected in the title of Natalie Wolchover’s article “Colliding Neutron Stars Could Settle the Biggest Debate in Cosmology.” The debate concerns the famous Hubble constant, which tells you how fast the universe is expanding: It is the ratio of how fast any object in the universe is receding from us to its distance from us. Ever since the American astronomer Edwin Hubble first discovered that the universe was expanding in 1929, it has proven very hard to determine the value of this constant accurately. As Wolchover explains:… Read the rest