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How Likely?

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Posted by John Morgan Powell on March 14, 2001 01:32:06 UTC


What percentage of the time would you estimate you have been told how much you owe for a particular item or service (food, gasoline, towing service, auto repair) and you have EXACTLY that amount in your pocket (to the penny)?

Is this percentage statistically reasonable or is it so large that it indicates the existence of God, "guardian angels" or some other supernatural influence?

There's a selection effect going on. People tend to remember unusual events and forget the mundane. People tend to overestimate the rarity of events. For example, if two friends from high school meet years later they assume the probability is much smaller than it really is. They wonder "How likely is it that two random persons from the planet who went to the same high school would be in the same place many miles from the original high school at the same time?"

Here's a common example: How many people do you need to get together before there is a 50/50 chance that 2 of the group will have been born on the same month and day of the year?


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