Taxes on Hope, and Other Well-Deservedness

This will be a very specific example of a common failing of human intellect, yet intended as indicative of the much more general failings of this faculty. I will speak of lotteries. Yet the stupidity implied is not the unwillingness to accept that most, including you, will lose far more than they will win. I speak of a delusion so awesome in its foundation I could suspect the ubiquitous, bloody-minded adherence to it is a form of mass cultural embarrassment.

‘Systems’ for selecting numbers will be passed over, unworthy of as much attention as this sentence gives them. Or perhaps we can select one, the proponents of which likely see themselves as free of superstition and delusion: random selection. Fair enough, we may think, one has to pick six, or however many, numbers, and this at least is free of supranatural thinking. It may be free, but you are not. The randomists are not free, and their feared enemy is order.

There is one reason not to choose 1,2,3,4,5,6, but it is not to do with probability, and I will lead you on a little thought experiment to show this.

Picture two lottery machines. One contains 49 unmarked balls. The other, 49 balls marked with the standard symbols for 1-49. Most people would concede (and if any wouldn’t, there would be little point continuing to converse) the odds of any set of six unmarked balls being returned from the first machine are entirely even. So. What do we imagine happens to the marked balls in the second machine that the inclusion of symbols that we, contingently, use to represent numbers that they can warp the universe and any probabilistic rules which apply? If we rubbed the numbers off does the local universe return to normal? Or have we forever scarred the continuum fabric?

No one likes this thought. Even now, disgruntled readers, you would never select 1,2,3,4,5,6, because you know it is less likely than a selection which contains no obvious pattern. And though it offends, this is a failing. And the specific risks the general.

Oh. And the real reason never to pick 1,2,3,4,5,6? Because, if you won, you’d have to share the money with a surprising number of unbearable, obnoxious smart-alecs like me who simply want to gloat.


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