Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dumb Dumb Da Dumb

The title makes more sense if I tell you I was just catching up on some of literary agent Nathan Bransford's posts, and he had a completely random link to a Darth Vadar video that made me laugh laugh laugh. Even harder the second time I saw it.

But I also happen to be reading a book that makes me feel dumb. Dumb in a different way than the book that made me wish I had a glossary handy. This particular book, Leonard Mlodinow's THE DRUNKARD'S WALK: HOW RANDOMNESS RULES OUR LIVES concerns chance and probability theory, applying it to all sorts of things like World Series odds and roulette wheels and tax return cheating. And I'm loving the book, but I'm not sure I'm getting it. It's not, for instance, the kind of book you can read while you tear your hair out watching the Phillies take on the Yankees, which is what I was doing. In fact, Mlodinow, before he gets into a lengthy explanation about why Marilyn vos Savant got it right in the '90s and thousands of mathematicians got it wrong on a probability question, specifically counsels that you NOT try to read the book while watching TV, lest you not get it. I ignored him (as well as ignoring John Medina's claim in BRAIN RULES that we actually can't multi-task), and was subsequently mystified. But even when I pay strict attention I'm not sure I'm following. I keep going, however, because it's full of delicious factoids that I would share with you if only I understood.

In lieu of a factoid, I offer this pointless anecdote, under If Only They Had Kindles in the 16th Century:
Gerolamo Cardano, who first studied dice games in the 16th century shares this fond memory of his father: "from time to time as we walked the streets my father would command me to stop while he opened a book and, using my head as a table, read some long passage, prodding me the while with his foot to keep still if I wearied of the great weight" (p.48).

Maybe this explains why Cardano got a few things wrong in his Books on Games of Chance. I should ask my mother if she ever used me as a reading stand for the encyclopedia or OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY.

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