Sunday, 7 September 2008

Not driven by logic

You know many of us hold logical thought as something very prized. If something does not hang together logically we're likely to discredit it, have doubts about it and so on. We like to think that we are logical reasonable people. And in general we avoid people who are confused and illogical - simply because they're 'a pain to be with'.

We tend to believe that in our person we are logical. We believe we are driven by logic or commonsense in most of our actions. All our decisions have a 'method to its madness' - our way of justifying what we do.

Over the last few years I've wrestled with a reality that I don't operate on purely logical principles. I'm not Mr Spock, however much I admire the clarity of the fictional characters brutal clarity of thought.

The National Lottery plays on my mind in all of this. 'Why on earth such a deviation?' you might think. I've proven mathematically that the National Lottery is the thing that most people should take a regular chance in. Yet the majority of logical people I know do not - even when presented with my argument that is not disprovable so far. There is an interesting prelude to this - when I ask people what is 1 divided by zero, the majority say "zero". Do it on a calculator and see. The answer is infinity!! In fact any very small number like 0.00000001 divided by zero equals infinity!!

So here's the logic:

  1. The chance of winning the UK national lottery jackpot is 1: 14,000,000 (or something of that order) = 0.0000000714285
  2. The chance of winning the Euromillions lottery jackpot is 1:76,000,000 (or something of that order) 0.0000000131578
  3. The chance of winning the either of the above without a ticket is 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 - you get the point.
  4. But either of the above small numbers divided by zero equals infinity.
  5. Therefore the chance of winning the Jackpot in any lottery anywhere in the world is infinitely greater with a ticket than without!!

Logic would dictate that if you wanted to infinitely increase your chances of becoming rich quickly that you should spend on at least one ticket in each lottery draw.

Amazingly when the above argument is presented to people the response is something of a smile, with a look of puzzlement and suspicion. No one to date has ever said "Right - I see the light...that is perfectly logical and my actions will hereafter be driven by this robust logic...I will now take a chance in every lottery I can afford". Nor have I heard, "No - your logic is wrong for this..this..and this reason". The logic surrounding the lottery thing is mathematically sound and so far no one has shown that it is incorrect.

The point of this thread was to use an example to highlight that, as human beings we prize very highly actions driven by logic - but that in reality we are not at our core so driven. The lottery argument is just one example. However, in everyday life I see loads of people doing things that just make no sense - oh, and I'm not immune to this phenomenon. The cluttered desk at work is another example. Research has shown that 'the method to the madness' of a cluttered desk is flawed - and that people in general work less efficiently among excessive clutter. But many convince themselves that the clutter is necessary.

Now as I write this I'm thinking, "Is my time spent here actually determined by some logical process". Answer - No! Why then? It's because this stuff has been weighing on my mind for some time. Yesterday I had a discussion with a friend and it triggered my thinking about this again. This is important to me at this time, but I've not done a logical analysis of why I should spend my time writing this, right now. It's not driven by logic - though I can find vague reasons, none of which would compel my actions to write this.

So, I'm now driven to analyse why I've begun blogging at all. I'll come back with some thoughts another time.


Jumbie said...

Not really an answer to your logic, but if my chances of winning a lotter is 1 in 14 million, per week, I have the same chance every week. Indeed, the chance does not get smaller each progressive week.

Equivalent therefore of watching an object in the horizon that will NEVER get closer.

I'd rather take my £1 each week and invest elsewhere, and in 52 weeks that's £52.

Damn, I can get a cheap flight to France or Spain for that, which may be infinitely more pleasurable than the dream of winning a lottery that may never happen. (^_^)

Captain Walker said...

Most interesting Jumbie. Your logic about not answering to 'my' logic is perfect.

The 'object' does not get closer - indeed. However, relative to someone without a ticket, it is infinitely more within reach - the mathematics tell this rather brutally! So, 'my logic' was always meant to be comparative i.e. those with tickets vs those without - not those with tickets vs those with tickets.

For you, a trip to France or Spain is admitedly more pleasurable than fanasties of what could happen should lady luck knock on your/my door in the 1:14M or 1:76M chance. I cannot argue with that fact of your existence.

"...the dream of winning a lottery that may never happen.
Or that might happen at any point in lifetime with a very small chance, but with infinitely greater probability than those without valid tickets. There are only two real certainties in life - 1. The fact of birth 2. end of life. All else is exposed to probability. How you play the game is more important than the game itself.

Those who hang out on trips to France and Spain are not likely to be driven to exceed certain horizons prescribed to them, by applying a certain brutal kind of logic.

Those who have rocketed 'beyond horizons' have dared to take calculated risks e.g. Branson, Bill Gates, George Soros, Anita Rodderick, Alan Sugar etc etc. Yes I know there is a dump heap of idiots who are casualties of risk. There is a difference between calculated risks and idiotic risks.

For clarity only, I do not suggest that people take chances in lotteries if they cannot afford it or if their priorities dictate otherwise.