• TheConfused Father

What are the Odds?

Joint probability is the mathematical method of calculating the odds of multiple events simultaneously. A common example is if two quarters are flipped what are the odds of both landing heads up. While this example is incredibly simple once the concept is understood you can find the odds of anything. Erin and I, back when we had more free time, calculated the odds that we had actually met before college for fun. By looking at common locations we had both visited in our childhood and the frequency that we visited those places we were able to make a reasonable guess as to the probability that the time that we think we met for the first time was actually the second. I have always found statistics to be a fascinating subject. Having my wife sit down and do some math for fun with me is one of those moments that only made me fall in love all over again.

My love of probability stems from board games and the thousands upon thousands of dice rolls that I have made in my life. In any game where more than two dice are rolled at once knowing your odds gives you an edge in planning a strategy for your future turns. Math is often referred to as the universal language but from a young age I have always thought of it more as the language of the universe. Everything can be expressed, calculated, and explained through mathematics.

Pierre Simon de Laplace, a mathematician in the early 1800s theorized that the odds of anything that has ever happened and everything that will ever happen can be calculated. He further explained that with access to enough data and a proper understanding of that data those odds could be reduced to the point of know with absolute certainty the outcome of any event. While this was unthinkable during his lifetime, advancements in technology have led to the development of an entire field of study for predictive mathematics. Computers can now be used to simulate events with such precision when given enough data they can actually predict the future.

Even without those computers though we can make reasonable predictions if we understand our variables well enough. Take my wife for example. Every week after church we pick up something for the family for lunch on the way home. Based on what we have eaten the other six days of the week combined with the 6 years we have been married I can guess what she will want for Sunday lunch 95% of the time. But it is that 5% of the time that has always kept me fascinated by statistics.

If you flip a coin the odds that it comes up heads is 50%. So if you flip one coin 20 times you should get 10 heads and ten tails. I would be willing to bet that will not be the case though. The most predictable thing about probability is the fact that it is not always right. My daughter reminded me of this again the other day. About a week ago I notice her shoes were on the wrong feet, a common problem amongst self-dressing three years olds, and for some reason, in that particular instance I thought, "what are the odds?"

Should be a 50/50 chance right? But the more I thought about it I could really say for sure. Since then I have been intentionally taking note when she dresses herself which shoe she puts on which foot. Of the 23 times that I noted this week, 14 times the shoes were on the wrong feet, 8 times the shoes were correct, and once she had two left shoes on because she did not want to look for the other one.

Like a coin toss, the results don't necessarily come out even. Getting her shoes on the wrong feet 61% of the time is close enough to the expected result that it is hard to say anything for sure. If I watch her for another week there is a chance that the results could just as easily come out the other way. It is also possible that there are variables at work that I am not understanding. After all understanding your kids takes time, much more than a week, but I looking forward to spending that time with my daughter.

As she grows up I am sure I will find Gabriella even more unpredictable. I will always watch over her though, making predictions about who she will be and how I can be there for her. In the meantime, the only thing that I can say for sure is that I need to spend more time helping her learn which shoe goes on which foot.

More on that later. In the meantime, I hope this message finds you in good health and of a sound mind. I am just another confused father from Kansas wondering...

What are the odds?


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