Chances Are . . .: Adventures in Probability

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Overview

A layman's journey into the realm of probability-from poker to politics, weather to war, Monte Carlo to mortality

We search for certainty, but find only likelihood. All things are possible, only one thing actually happens; everything else is in the realm of probability. The twin disciplines of probability and statistics underpin every modern science and sketch the shape of all purposeful group activity- politics, economics, medicine, law, sports-giving humans a handle on the ...

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Chances Are: Adventures in Probability

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Overview

A layman's journey into the realm of probability-from poker to politics, weather to war, Monte Carlo to mortality

We search for certainty, but find only likelihood. All things are possible, only one thing actually happens; everything else is in the realm of probability. The twin disciplines of probability and statistics underpin every modern science and sketch the shape of all purposeful group activity- politics, economics, medicine, law, sports-giving humans a handle on the essential uncertainty of their existence. Yet while we are all aware of the hard facts, most of us still refuse to take account of probability-preferring to drive, not fly; buying into market blips; smoking cigarettes; denying we will ever age.

There are some people, though-gamblers, risk buyers, forensic experts, doctors, strategists- who find probability's mass of incomplete uncertainties delightful and revelatory. Chances Are is their story. Combining philosophical and historical background with portraits of the men and women who command the forces of probability, this engaging, wide-ranging, and clearly written volume will be welcomed not only by the proven audiences for popular books like E=MC2 and The Golden Ratio but by anyone interested in the workings of fate.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
"The probable is what usually happens." Over the centuries, Aristotle's simple formulation has blossomed into an entire science of likelihood. Indeed, probability and statistics underpin every science and numerous other human activities, including economics, politics, insurance, medicine, and sports. Michael and Ellen Kaplan's Chances Are shows that we often resist the lessons of life's odds even when we know them.
William Grimes
The Kaplans cover a lot of ground very quickly, but they have a finely tuned sense of where the general reader is likely to lose a grip on the math, or on the complexities of an argument, and adjust accordingly. A timely example, or a well-placed quotation, relieves undue pressure on the brain, and the fast pace helps reinforce one of the book's central points, that questions of probability surround nearly every aspect of our daily lives. A strategy of "calibrated incoherence," for example, can lead to victory in a game of rock/paper/scissors, and police departments are quite interested in probabilistic algorithms that allow them to map crime patterns.
— The New York Times
The New Yorker
This fascinating layman’s trek through probability theory, from its roots in dice games in the seventeenth century to its role in modern-day thermodynamics, tackles humanity’s innate need to seek order in even the most chaotic phenomena. The authors, a mother-and-son team, address simple problems (How many shuffles make a deck of cards truly random? At least seven) and more complex ones (Can time move backward? Yes, but it’s unlikely). They do not avoid mathematical equations, but both have backgrounds in the humanities, and their sense of whimsy—“Once you know that daisies usually have an odd number of petals, you can get anyone to love you”—allows them to draw stimulating conclusions.
Publishers Weekly
Everything is possible, yet only one thing happens": this is the essence of probability, quantifying what could happen. Filmmaker Michael Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan (coauthor of The Art of the Infinite) trace probability back to its original conception in the 1660s (by a gambler, of course) and show how it affected not only science, which would be impossible without it, but also religion and philosophy. Many pioneers of the math that grew into statistics were trying to define the divine; the inventor of combinatorics, for example, was a medieval missionary seeking to convert Muslims by showing that any statement combining the qualities of God was true in the Christian faith. This book rigorously develops its math from first principles with a passion that would make even an amateur heady with the possibilities contained within a bell curve. The authors explore the promise of the math of probabilities through its most powerful modern applications, from determining the effectiveness of new drugs to weighing the merits of combat strategies. In all these cases, the authors place the study of probability firmly in the context of humanity's ongoing struggle to assign meaning to randomness. Never before has statistics been treated with such awe and devotion. (Mar. 27) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670034871
  • Publisher: PENGUIN GROUP (USA) KIRKWOOD -
  • Publication date: 3/23/2006
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

A native of Wayland, Massachusetts, Michael Kaplan wrote plays and musicals throughout high school and at Princeton University, where he attended college. Upon graduation he moved to New York where a number of his plays received productions and staged readings, primarily at The Ensemble Studio Theatre, where he is a member. For the past twenty-two years, he has lived in Los Angeles, working as a television writer and producer on a total of twelve different prime time shows for ABC, NBC, FOX, and UPN. His career as a comedy writer has included stints as a writer and Supervising Producer on two of television's most respected comedies, Roseanne and Frasier. For his work on the latter, he received an Emmy award, as a member of the producing staff, for best comedy series. He co-created and Executive Produced I'm In the Band for Disney XD. His new show, Dog With a Blog will be premiering on Disney Channel in the fall of 2012. He is the author of Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake and Betty Bunny Wants Everything. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife and three children.

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Table of Contents

1 Thinking 1
2 Discovering 12
3 Elaborating 33
4 Gambling 57
5 Securing 83
6 Figuring 111
7 Healing 149
8 Judging 176
9 Predicting 207
10 Fighting 238
11 Being 277
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2014

    Read it if you want to know why "things" happen.

    Extremely interesting because it gives the originis of many mistakes we make when we calculate probabilities. Establishes difference between statistics and probability. It is an eye opener to the chances in many day-to-day situations.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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