Most People Don't Understand Probability: Death Premonitions

Most People Don't Understand Probability: Death Premonitions

Most people just don’t understand probability. For example, in the case of death premonitions (“I was thinking about my distant uncle/Michael Jackson and then I found out he died only five minutes ago”).

Scenario:
– Suppose that any given year 10 people you know of will die.
– Suppose you think about each of those people once a year (chances are it would be higher than that).

Probability:
– One year contains 105,120 five-minute intervals during which you might think about each of the 10 people, a probability of one out of 10,512 — certainly an improbable event.
– There are 23 million Australians.
– That makes 1/10,512 × 23,000,000 = 21,188 Australians a year, or 6 per day for whom this improbable premonition becomes probable.

This is the law of large numbers.

Chances are you will know someone who has had this experience. Even higher are the odds that you know of someone (friend of a friend). Bundle in the media, the internet and people who have false memories (they recall thinking about them but they didn’t really) or widen the time to within 24 hours and the chances are massive.

I’ve had this experience myself (within 24 hours of a friend passing). It shakes you up, you can be left racked with guilt – especially when you were planning to contact them and put it off – or hope that it carries meaning.

But at the end of the day it is incredibly IMPROBABLE for anyone NOT to have these kinds of coincidences all the time.

Read this post about it by Michael Shermer: Mircale on Probability Street

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