One girl on Youtube bemoans the fact she cannot understand how Paul the Octopus manages to pick the winning world cup team eight out of eight times. It goes to show truly dumb people are and how desperately they want to believe that there are some who can foretell the future and even control it. Paul, for all his football foretelling has decided to retire. With the world cup over (and the death threats hopefully) he is sitting back to bask in his watery glory. He even has his own spoofs:
With all the television glare and spotlights that were on this cephalopod it seems amazing that it could continue to choose the winner time after time. Surely it must have been some sort of special power?
No, it’s dumb blind chance. While that statistic does seem a little abnormal, eight for eight, it is hardly shocking. Consider the millions of sperm that the one that made you up had to compete with to create you. Now that is an amazing round of chance.
Paul the octopus merely illustrated just how bad people are at understanding that chance. For example, if you flipped a coin 100 times and it has come up heads 99 times, what are the chances it would come up heads 1 last time? The answer of course is 50/50; all things being equaled. I write “all things being equaled because that is hugely important and a subject of a large amount of research.
First off, look at the way Paul chose the winners. Some one put two pieces of mussel into two separate containers. Whichever piece was chosen by Paul was predicted the winner. But what if the pieces were not evenly sized, or the person’s thumb rubbed off some fish oil from the first piece and transferred it to the second, making it smell better and become more preferable piece? The possibilities are endless, which is why most research is done as a double blind study meaning neither the researchers conducting the experiment, nor the subjects know what it is about. This attempts to negate any influence on the results, intended or not.
Also, consider the fact there were probably dozens of “predicting” animals in countries all around the world. We didn’t even catch a whiff of Paul until he’s already gotten four or five correct and were then shown the other matches he got right. No one hears of “Frank the World Cup predicting chicken” and I would argue chickens are as likely to be prognosticators as octopi. No one hears of him because he chose poorly and is now finger-lickin good.
People like the idea of prognostication because it would imply there is a plan to foretell, and that everything goes according to plan. When a child dies, “it’s God’s plan”. To say, it’s blind random luck is a scary proposition because we cannot prepare or control it. Unfortunately not a single medium, psychic, or fortune teller has ever come forward and proven their own powers, let alone a lowly octopus, despite a million dollar reward!
So the next time you’re tempted to believe some stupid animal has ESP consider if this creature was so smart, how come it couldn’t predict getting caught and spending it’s life in a cage?
I dislike when authors of self-help type books write that everything happens for a reason. It gives a false sense of security. Sure everything happens for a reason as in the cause-and-effect sense of the word. but not everything, or anything in my opinion has a higher meaning other than what you give it.
I mean what is more comforting, that the death of your mom was part of some unknown grand plan of an absent God. or that it is a reminder to live life with grace, dignity and class?
One is a vague idea that has no meaning, the other is a clear consise idea that one can draw strength from.
Personally, I like the freedom of chosing my own “higher” meaning. Even if I decide it doesn’t mean a thing.