Return Home

Are We Coins?

Monday, June 29, 2009 - 09:30 PM

After we released our show about Stochasticity, we received a lot of comments about the idea humans can be just as predictable as coins. In that show, Jonah Lehrer was telling us about a study on the 82-83 76ers, and he was saying that even when a basketball player is supposedly hot – really on a streak – he is no more likely to make his next shot that any other time. Basketball players are slaves to their averages. Well, it turns out this isn't the whole story.

In fact, right before we released the show, Jad got a call from Steve Strogatz, a mathematician from Cornell University.

After talking to Steve, we turn to neuroscientist Paul Glimcher, as he and Gregory Warner explore whether the little choices we make every day are predictable or not.


More in:

Comments [43]


Just want to let you know that your description of this podcast in the list of podcasts has a typo: "pf" instead of "of."

Oct. 12 2012 05:56 PM
Abina from Eugene, Oregon

I'm sure dungeons and dragons fanatics are very happy with this.

Jul. 07 2012 08:42 PM

Greetings from New Zealand. I am an avid RadioLab podcast listener and have been catching up on old podcasts, so my comments are about 2 years too late. I just listened this one, and I thought you might be interested in Australian cricketer Don Bradman. I know that Americans generally know nothing about cricket so maybe he won’t be of interest to you guys, but he was quite an amazing athlete. As my husband, the statistician said “He was a freak.” He meant that in a good way. Bradman was an outstanding batsman. In fact, he has the highest career batting average of any cricketer. To understand how amazing his average is, let me tell you first that the second highest ever batting average is 60.97. Bradman’s? 99.94.

Wikipedia’s article about Don Bradman explains well how impressive his batting average and his other batting statistics were in the cricket context as well as in a world sporting context. A statistician has analyzed stats from several outstanding athletes from different sports and has determined that Bradman’s batting average would translate into a baseball batting average of .392 (the record is .366) or points per game scored in basketball of 43.0 (the record is 30.1).

One more thing—Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly has a wonderful song about Don Bradman, simply titled “Bradman”.

Thanks for making such a wonderful radio program. I get totally sucked into every episode and my friends get tired of listening me recounting the most interesting bits.

Oct. 05 2011 05:59 PM
Jack from Alpharetta

If a hitter is aware of a hitting streak and decides to hit exclusively fastballs and try to keep his streak alive, he still behaves like a coin, just a coin with a different hitting average. So it's fair to say we're not the same coin over and over again, but nonetheless we're still accountably random.

Jun. 30 2011 09:41 PM
Hammurabi from Denver, CO

Sorry to throw you back into existential depression again Jad, but if ball players adjust their behavior in ways that maintain a streak then Joe DiMaggio's 56 game streak is actually MORE likely (and therefore less unbelievable) than if he was simply behaving "like a coin."

Sep. 08 2010 04:38 PM
Ignatious WIllimain

Congratulations on your new baby! Not to be cynical but now please ask him the MASH questions. I’m sure his answer has changed.

Aug. 13 2009 03:26 PM
Sean Walsh

I agree with sarah adina smith. We are not coins because you can predict the outcome from a coin. No one can accurately predict how every player perform through out their entire career before it even happens. No one would have ever predicted Joe's streak before it happened.

Aug. 04 2009 09:57 PM

I'd like to second the position expressed by Fernando Rosales: thanks, William L. There are a few points where I might quibble with William L, but in general, I'm of the opinion that one really cannot stress enough that the word "random" is a significantly polyvalent word, and it's worthwhile to tease out its various meanings.

On a related note, it may be worth thinking about why the image of "the coin flip" was chosen as the archetype of randomness in these discussions. Coin flips are only "random" as long as the person flipping hasn't devoted energy to learning how to flip a coin in such a way as to produce a desired result. If you knew someone who had spent time learning how to flip a coin in such a way as to land on one side or the other, you probably wouldn't ask this person to flip a coin when you want a 'random' heads/tails outcome. Coin flips are considered random not because they're universally and absolutely indeterminate events, but because the moment they are recognized as subject to agency, they are no longer deemed 'random'.

It's for precisely the reasons that William L. suggests that I might ask Radio Lab to devote a future episode or podcast to the subject of "noise" -- a subject that, to me anyway, raises really interesting questions about the boundaries between categories like "random", "(in)determinate" and "intentional".

Jul. 19 2009 01:06 PM
Fernando Rosales

William L, you are brilliant thank you for your contribution towards the clarification of chaos.

I agree completely, and thus I was also annoyed by this particular episode's conclusion.

The nature of Chaos and Emergence is encapsulated in the Mandelbrot set fractal.

Layers of chaos with islands of order to be found. Relative to where you are you may perceive chaos or the emergent islands of order ( the little Mandelbrot's ) within, etc.

It's infinite regression as far as the eye can see (figure of speech of course ;) )

So it it just chaos and are we as perceptual machines continually creating these islands of order (like strings of 7 in the coin toss) or is there a point where you zoom out enough beyond the emergent layers and see the full order of things?

The former seems to be the intrinsic answer.

Jul. 18 2009 02:53 AM

As much as I appreciated your shows on Stochasticity and and your analysis on whether we are coin or not, as you discussed the random nature of sports performances by players, I still think you got something wrong about it all. Performance is something that takes not only the innate talent to perform (whether that be sports or music) but also the dedicated practice to develop something that musicians and athletes call muscle memory. This is important because there is something that separates a good performer from a mediocre performer. That thing is the ability to consistently succeed in the task set before the performer. There's a reason why Albert Pujols is hitting around .340 from year to year. There's a reason why Itzhak Perlman performs beautiful, yet technically hard pieces with accuracy. The years upon years of practice and doing things right creates the ability to be able to perform at a consistently higher level. They don't perform well because they are extremely lucky. They perform well because their bodies know what to do to perform well. I think this is where your conversation of hot streaks comes in. A performer can get on a real hot streak because he or she can get to a place where she or he has a good feeling (muscle memory) as what to do. Not all performers are created equal. Some do better than others. By the same token we are not bound to our past averages as we can improve over time our performances. With enough practice the body can replicate successful movements all the time.

Jul. 13 2009 03:49 PM
William L

I would say congratulations, but I wouldn’t want to appear too sycophantic or hackneyed, despite the fact that I do immensely enjoy Radiolab, and I do wish you well (as long as you continue to make shows that is ; ). I have enjoyed every show that you have aired, despite whether I have agreed with all of it or not; however, this last show, which I also enjoyed, I cannot restrain myself from commenting on. Randomness is a subject I know a little more than something about. I have taught a course or two on complexity and chaos theory. The show was fascinating as always, but I have to say that your last show talked about lions, but managed somehow to miss the zoo.


The problem is there are two competing definitions of randomness. One common dictionary definition goes as follows. Randomness: proceeding, made or occurring without definite aim, reason, or pattern: the random selection of numbers. The other typical definition goes like this. Randomness: of or characterizing a process of selection in which each item of a set has an equal probability of being chosen. The last definition is from statistics and is, at least, well defined. The first definition is a mixture of the last and something else. Something ambiguous that seems to rely on the intentions of a human or the qualities of a human observer. The first definition is conflated with the second and refers to a frequently misunderstood phenomenon that is related to but not the same as the second. I will try not to digress too much as I attempt to disambiguate and clarify the phenomenon that is commonly understood as “randomness” extrinsic to the field of statistics. Statistics does not seek to understand randomness but merely to use it. Statistics is like engineering, which uses physics to build technology, but does not itself inform us as to how or why it works.


Randomness is not a phenomenon independent of the observer. It is relative. Randomness is a property of a perceptual machine, a machine capable of recognizing patterns. Simply put, randomness is the category that all patterns not recognized by a perceptual machine fall into. If people cannot identify the ultimate cause of a pattern or predict the pattern, it is referred to as random. But one man’s, or computer’s, random is not equivalent to another man’s. In my past research I have found patterns in data that others have not. In that case, randomness depends on who you talk to. With the assistance of computers, many patterns that previously have been assigned to the random category have been re-categorized as deterministic. What changed in these instances was not the phenomenon observed, but the perceptual programming of the perceptual machine itself.


There is a reluctance, I believe, for people and scientists to accept the above definition based on the mistaken belief that what people perceive with their senses is truth, not perception, not relative, and certainly not the result of a process that could be broken down and eventually described like a machine’s. But this is exactly what neuroscientists, evolutionary biologists, psychologists, and people working in artificial intelligence have been doing for the past few decades. Donald D. Hoffman’s book “Visual Intelligence” chronicles many of the rules that our visual cortex uses to construct the reality that we perceive. It is by no means a passive process. We interact, interpret, and interpolate the data our senses accumulate. Hoffman shows the readers numerous examples of the failures of the rules we use to construct our visual perception, each of which has a corresponding illusion associated with them. He also uses compelling examples of certain brain damaged individuals to show what happens when the perceptual machines that we take for granted are damaged.
We need not limit our analysis to the errors of the visual perceptual machine. Our proprioception can be tricked into thinking we have a “phantom” limb when people have lost one of their limbs. Our auditory perception is regularly tricked into believing we hear “phantom” rings from our cell phones when enough background noise is present. People working in the video game industry and artificial intelligence research are busy emulating how our visual and auditory perceptual machines create the reality we perceive so as to create more realistic video games and more intelligent machines that can independently navigate the real world, respectively. People in these fields have no doubts that our brains contain perceptual machines that have a profound yet limited capacity to identify patterns.


The history of randomness has developed simultaneously and in parallel to the history of science. At the boundary of our knowledge our explanations and predictions begin to fail and so bifurcate into two categories: stochastic or deterministic. The complementary nature of science and randomness is inevitable because scientists seek to identify, explain, and predict patterns in nature. When scientists have failed they have unwillingly contributed to the unsung history of randomness. We Scientists don’t like to admit that we don’t understand something so we find euphemisms instead. Randomness is just one of those euphemisms.
I will give two examples, out of a plethora of examples that I could give, of the hubris of some scientists regarding the denial of our failures and limits. In 1980 Stephen Hawking, famous in scientific circles for not being able to admit when he’s wrong, predicted that by the year 2000 we would have a “theory of everything.” Here we are nine years past his deadline with no theory in sight. His confusion has still not been rectified in that he just keeps postponing the date without recognizing that a universal theory can never be a theory of everything because we will never identify all the patterns in nature. The uncertainty principle and the existence of chaos cement randomness as a permanent relationship and physical effect of every measurement and therefore every perceptual machine. The term “dark matter” and “dark energy” are further examples of hubris. They are euphemistic postulations for what amounts to simple ignorance. We cannot see 96% of the universe and so instead of assuming that 96% of the universe is beyond our present ability to recognize, or understand completely, or that our theories about nature only account for 4% of the behavior of the known universe scientists actually incarnate and encapsulate our failure into what they imagine as two real physical phenomena. When the simplest explanation by far is that our theories simply do not possess the power to explain or predict all of what we observe. In other words our current theories like our perceptions are not always right. They are merely the best we’ve got. Most scientists suffer from an all consuming fear of having to say, “I don’t know.”
Random number generators have come a long way. Their history is a microcosm of the history of randomness as a whole. That history also helps to clarify the distinction between “statistical randomness” and the randomness that is more commonly referred to in the vernacular, and that I am trying to disambiguate. Pseudorandom is the description given to a deterministic (predictable) process that produces statistical randomness. If that statistical randomness refers to an artificial process that produces a number, we call that process random number generation. Many of the random number generators of the past have had to be discarded because somebody found a means by which to predict their behavior. Linear congruential number generators used to be used until it was found that they deviated from perfect randomness in embarrassing ways. Other random number generators have had to eventually be discarded because somebody eventually divined some pattern in their results. Stephen Wolfram’s Mathematica uses cellular automata to generate its random numbers, which as yet no one has been able to identify a pattern in. So, random number generators produce randomness that is only considered random until someone can take its results, with the help of a computer to enhance one’s perceptions, and identify a pattern. If somebody plots the results of the Lorenz equations, used to model convection in the atmosphere, in one dimension the results appear totally random to our eye, which is ultimately the perceptual machine that we usually use to identify order. If we plot the results in three dimensions, however, a chaotic attractor that appears something like a butterfly with circular wings appears as a beautiful demonstration of order emerging from what was apparently chaos.


If our sensory perceptions are for the most part fixed then what, outside of our perceptual faculties, leads to what we call randomness? Why do some things appear random and others do not? As Stephen Wolfram points out randomness in an observed system can either come from the environment or it can be generated by the system itself. When Wolfram says this he is accidentally coupling complexity and our response to it, the perception of randomness. When uncertainty is continuously injected into a system from the environment the system will exhibit randomness, since the environment is typically far too complex for us to understand. Also when uncertainty about the initial conditions of certain known systems is extremely sensitive to initial conditions the system can exhibit random behavior, which is the scientific definition of chaos. The development of fingerprints on our hands and the coat patterns of animals like dogs and zebras are everyday examples of chaos. Twins and clones will never have the same fingerprints or coat patterns, respectively. Tiny variations in the initial conditions of development guarantee that no two fingerprints or zebras will ever look alike. Other systems, like computer generated cellular automata, which operate according to simple rules can themselves, from perfectly known initial conditions, generate enough complexity that we perceive their results as random. If one takes the last example to be what happens in nature without our knowledge then we can understand our relationship to the world as so. The universe operating according to simple rules, some of which it seems we know, can generate, nevertheless, complex patterns that confound both our enhanced (computer aided) perceptual faculties and the innate perceptual faculties that we were born with. When a pattern becomes too complex for us to understand we call it random.


Pseudo-randomness is probably universal. There is no evidence to suggest that beneath all the things we don’t understand there isn’t a deterministic and orderly process that we cannot yet perceive an order to. Because of chaos theory and the uncertainty principle, we will never completely eliminate randomness. The common understanding of randomness is an ancient, obdurate, and anthropocentric theory, more pernicious than the idea that the Earth was the center of the universe, which posits that all the things we perceive with our senses are true and real. “Something appears random; therefore, it is random.” This naïve point of view imbues objects with a quality they do not in fact possess, which requires us to continuously adjust what we consider random and what we consider deterministic as our knowledge progresses. The old interpretation of randomness cannot admit the possibility of our minds own imperfections and weaknesses despite the fact that it would takes less than five dollars of materials and probably thirty seconds for me to perform an experiment that would prove to any rational person that something as sacrosanct as the very colors he or she has perceived his or her entire life do not actually exist. Our visual cortex constructs them as it does everything we see. Colors are merely a tool, in a repertoire of tools, which our visual perceptual machines use to understand our natural world.

Oh, and sorry that my comment was so long.

Jul. 13 2009 03:37 AM
Nothing Fails Like Prayer

I listened to an interview with Jad and Robert on The Sound of Young America...Jad and Robert quickly balked when Jesse Thorn characterized Radiolab as a science show. I wish others would realize this, as well. The more I examine these episodes, the more riddled with faulty reasoning, logical fallacies and pure blind leaps of faith I find them to be. Radiolab is beautifully produced and so compelling on the surface; but when you really examine the premise behind many of the segments, they collapse under their own poor construction. Did you hear when Robert tacked on a statement about prayer at the end of this segment? That was the sound of Radiolab's last shred of credibility crumbling away.

Jul. 11 2009 02:02 PM
Nothing Fails Like Prayer

I listened to an interview with Jad and Robert on The Sound of Young America...Jad and Robert quickly balked when Jesse Thorn characterized Radiolab was a science show. I wish others would realize this, as well. The more I examine these episodes, the more riddled with faulty reasoning, logical fallacies and pure blind leaps of faith I find them to be. Radiolab is beautifully produced and so compelling on the surface; but when you really examine the premise behind many of the segments, they collapse under their own poor construction. Did you hear when Robert tacking on a statement about prayer at the end of this segment? That was the sound of Radiolab's last shred of credibility crumbling away.

Jul. 11 2009 02:01 PM
Kaleb Coberly

I think a short explanation of the last part of my last comment is in order as it was kind of vague and not directly related to the rest of my comment. I want to suggest that the "problem" of freewill is a problem of a unification of our "selves" and our experience (including our experience of our selves). It is not really a problem that a scientific explanation of material processes can address, though science can rightly be included in whatever explanation we create to experience unity.

Jul. 09 2009 04:22 PM
Kaleb Coberly

You were right, Jad (in a previous show). Something about your radio personality makes me want to say personal things to you like, "Congratulations."

I have a few thoughts about this last broadcast. The first thing that came to mind was that there is a lot of time to think about rewards and plans while saying "shnik, shnak, shnook". When playing "paper, rock, scissors", I always think about what has come before and what might come next and what I'm going to play based on this thinking, however sloppy. This doesn't come after the fact to explain my actions, as Glimcher said, though details may be added to the story to fill it out. I am aware of this thought process while pounding my fist and saying the magic words. In fact, after making the decision and seeing the results, before the next ritual round begins, I am thinking about what has happened, what I think is likely to happen, what my options are, and what I think the best choice is.
I'm no neuroscientist, and I'm not saying that my "shnik, shnak, shnook" process is completely rational and predictable. But, as a student in a master's of teaching program I have looked into the brain a bit, and I AM saying that the game involves more than one part of the brain than just--what was it? the preparietal lobe?--what Glimcher observed.
Further, Glimcher's own comment when explaining the nuances of "shnik, shnak, shnook" raised some important questions that I think were overlooked in the conclusions drawn from the experiment from the monkey. Glimcher said that you wouldn't want to always pick "well" because then the other person would always pick "paper", and "you'd be doomed". Well, that suggests that there is an element of strategy in the game (however much it becomes de facto "paper, rock, scissors" as Marc-Andre suggested), and that we are aware of using strategy to guide our decisions. Not only does Glimcher need to look in more parts of the brain, he needs to look at them under different conditions that involve rewards and strategy.
The experiment with the monkey, as far as I could tell by the description on the broadcast, involved no consequences connected to the choice of looking at the red or green target. There was no incentive for the subject to find a pattern, which as a previous radiolab broadcast explained would actually involve a change int he brain chemistry. The experiment removed important bio-psychological elements essential to most of our decision making and behavior by making the events independent of each other--no wonder the brain reflected that reality by appearing to have a random process.
Put a little incentive to figure out a pattern and to choose one thing over another into the experimental conditions by creating a game with competition, and the subjects will start to do just that: seek patterns and attempt to guide their behavior accordingly. Glimcher was right in that we tell stories to make sense of our behavior and experience--when we have incentive to do so--when events are selected for such attention. But, he was wrong in thinking that these stories are only "after the fact". These stories are what connect events together and make them less than independent by investing "us" in them. I use the story I made up about what came before to bring that information to bear on future decisions, and thus events. And, that storytelling process involves many parts of my brain.
I would like to see a study done in which neuroscientists observe the brains of people playing "shnik, shnak, shnook", and do a statistical analysis of the results. There could be 3 groups. One would be like a control group in which participants are just given the rules of the game and told to play. The second group would be instructed to play, but do their best to not think about what had happened in previous games, or what they or their partner might play next--just pick a play right on the "shnak". The third group would be instructed to try to use strategies. This group might be broken into subgroups given various strategies and "algorithms" to use, with one group simply instructed to think about the results of previous games and anticipate coming results in order to win.
I would predict that you would "observe" more "randomness" in the brains of those instructed to not think about it than the in the other groups. I would predict that the first group would also have game results that appeared random, whereas you might find patterns emerging in the other groups, especially the third one.
So, yeah, great show. There's a lot of time to think and tell stories in "shnik, shnak, shnook".
Oh, and a final comment on "freewill": if you are doing what you want to do given your situation, that is freewill, and it doesn't matter how predictable your behaviors are. We can be absolute automatons and have freewill if we want to do what the "machine" dictates. If you don't want to make the choices that your are making, there's always God and AA and such.

Jul. 09 2009 03:55 PM
Leo B.

Congratulations on becomming a Daddy!
I've never responded to or cared much for a (dare I say) celebrity baby birth until now :)
You guys truly have something special here and now the addition of your little miracle to your life will add a new dimension to your thoughts that I can't wait to hear become apparent.
As a father of an 8-month-old I must share the advice I somewhat sloughed but have come back to...sloooow down. Soak in every moment of those early days and weeks - they are gone in a flash!

Jul. 08 2009 10:45 AM

Sorry, meant to say Robert instead of Michael.

Jul. 07 2009 01:05 PM

Oh Michael and his prayer...At 12:12 in the podcast Michael suggests that prayer, as a method to change statistical outcomes, works. Science fail. At least it wasn't a sermon like "in silence"

Jul. 07 2009 12:43 PM

Hi all, Great show! I just discovered it and couldn't help commenting right away.

I just wanted to say that Schnick Schnack Schnook is flawed as a game. It becomes "Well, Paper, Scissors" because rocks have lost all purpose. If you chose "well", you need "paper" to beat it. Then if you pick "paper", I need "scissors" to beat it. I could pick "rock" to beat "scissors" but then again "well" can do that and so much more.

Unless you agree with rocks being discriminated against and exploited, you can't let this go on!

Jul. 06 2009 03:39 PM

Congratulations, Jad!

If you haven't chosen a name yet, please consider "Mrad." That way we can call you Abu Mrad Abumrad. :)

Jul. 06 2009 12:37 PM

Back in my high school days I worked as a scorekeeper for a non-professional bowling tournament, The Hoinke Classic. It attracted bowlers from around the world because they took the difference between your league average and a 220 scratch, then added the necessary pins to level the field. In other words, anybody could win if they just bowled better than their league average that particular day.

Which nobody ever seemed able to do! I quickly learned that if after a hot first game the bowler offered to buy me a snack, I'd better accept because they inevitably went downhill from there to wind up back at their average, and become too cranky to offer again.

Jul. 06 2009 11:44 AM
A Girl, Charlie

Congratulations Jad!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!! !!!!!

First, I love the frequency of the shows, you guys are so much fun to listen to! and please keep featuring higher mammals, they always add something great to the show! Oh and though you may not do another podcast on how you make the podcast, maybe you could do a show on sound? Really getting into that and would love to know some of the very cool techniques you use when editing the show

Second, how can you find comfort in the existence of free will, while practically saying it doesn't exist after? By saying that the universe is extremely complicated yet always predictable, doesn't that take away any sense of free will, and place it as just a part of another pattern? And if free will is just a pattern, then we don't really seem to have much control over any decision, etc., since it would happen no matter what, being that everything was a pattern and would occur regardless of any "conscious decision" we made. This would only give us the illusion of free will, right? There may very well be a very complicated equation that comes close to predicting the batting average of baseball players [and the rest of everything else in the universe?!], but if the brain really does use a randomness factor in making decisions, then a pattern may only come close to predicting these things, unless there is some way to incorporate randomness into an equation. Also, things like music, may have patterns in them and progressions that are expected, many times by ourselves while we are listening or composing, but as a musician, i don't see how you could write an equation for predicting exactly how a piece will go, or be written etc. And if the universe has the appearance of being ultimately planned, where did the patterns originate? It seems as if you have to incorporate some randomness or, as they said, we could not exist.

Nevertheless, life is beautiful :) great shows radiolab-ies

Jul. 03 2009 06:46 PM

Congratulations to Jad and his family! Great episode, I'm so glad the podcasts are coming so frequently, it's such a treat.

Jul. 03 2009 02:35 PM
sarah adina smith

Hey Guys - help me out:

The reasoning in this podcast is really confusing me... you are talking about statistical data as if it predicted, rather than described behavior. And I think there is a huge difference.

When you "zoom out," retrospectively, the athlete's performance seems unsurprising in light of the arithmetic mean of their lifetime performance. And the "streakiness" of their streak seems unsurprising in light of the probability of all performances over time.

However, you can only draw conclusions and calculate averages from data already created. Which is to say, this has little or no bearing on the predictability of an athlete's performance NOW.

They have to create this data with their own sweat and focus before you get a chance to crunch it into your statistical crunching machine.

This temporal distinction matters (when the observer observes).

It matters because athlete X could have stayed home and ate peanut butter sandwiches but instead athlete X chose to play baseball (or basketball, or whatever)... athlete X earned that data.

It's hard for me to understand why achievement should be any less inspiring, given the fact that if you "zoom out" far enough, everything seems to fit within the confines of a pattern.

That pattern is beautiful and awe inspiring, but it doesn't make behavior on our everyday level any less subject to chance and will.

Thoughts? Clarifications? Is there something I'm missing?

Jul. 02 2009 09:07 PM
David Bell


Correction for my last paragraph there: "What used to be thought of as “random” has not been shown to follow a pattern;"

That should be "has been shown" not "has not been shown"!

Jul. 02 2009 07:52 PM
David Bell

Congrats, Jad.

These two shows have gotten me intensely interested in the idea of randomness, yeah! I still can’t get over the central contradiction I think you guys brought up in the hour long show, but then seemed to ignore towards the end, and then further ignore in the podcast: Just because there is no DETECTABLE pattern does not necessarily mean that there is no pattern. This may just mean that the pattern is very very complicated.

When Steve Strogatz, the guest mathematician on the show, said he didn’t know how to incorporate the recently proven psychological factors of how athletes perform into the equation which predicts their performance, there didn’t seem to be any doubt in his mind that the answer was indeed out there. As a scientist, I think he’ll continue to look for this method, and odds are, eventually, he or someone else will find it.

There is also the issue that Jad, representing all the non-scientists out there (i.e. most of us), finds “comfort” in the idea that we are not like coins, we cannot be predictable, there is randomness to our existence. It was said on the show that “People have to be unpredictable if they are to survive in the natural world.” It think part of this question was addressed in the listener comments after the full hour long show: there is a tendency to confuse the existence of randomness with the existence of free will. It seems much more comforting to me to think that we have conscious control over our decisions than to think that our decisions are at least to some extent random. However, I think this aversion to predictability (even if no one knows understands the odds yet) goes deeper than this. People have always disliked letting go of previous beliefs just because a small group of very highly educated and specialized scientists say that they are wrong.

I think, at least at this point, I have to conclude that all the evidence presented to me so far seems to point to the model of a very complicated, but ultimately predictable universe without what we know as randomness. What used to be thought of as “random” has not been shown to follow a pattern; what evidence suggests that discoveries in the future won’t explain the phenomena which looks “random” to us today?

Jul. 02 2009 07:49 PM
Joshua Scott

Joe Dimaggio "only" batted .409 during his 56 game streak. As a comparison, he batted .381 over a 120 game season in 1939, and .357 in 1941 (the year of the streak) so the streak wouldn't be too much out of the normal for DiMaggio.

Jul. 01 2009 09:06 PM

Snick, Snack, Snook isn't play-balanced. Check out these variants:

Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock

The Ultimate Rock, Paper, Scissors Chart (25 permutations)

Jun. 30 2009 07:14 PM

When you get a hit for 56 straight games, it helps a lot to have friends decide what is a hit and what isn't. In reality DiMaggio's hit streak ended in the thirty range. Gotta love home town scorers. Flipping a coin, it is heads or baseball a hit (or error) can be decided on a whim.

Jun. 30 2009 06:11 PM

Oh my gosh! Congrats Jad! You have to put a picture up of your baby! Hmm! Now you might have to rethink the M*A*S*H question from Morality episode... ;)

Jun. 30 2009 05:59 PM

you guys sure ask the big questions. So fun.

Jun. 30 2009 05:09 PM

Maybe Smokin Joe cheated

Jun. 30 2009 04:50 PM

Redundantly... Congratulations, Jad!

I was relieved after I had listened to this podcast. In the full "Stochasticity" show after the hot-hand segment, I wondered why technique wouldn't be factored in. Sure, without technique changes I would assume humans would be very much like coins. With them, on the other hand, shot percentages, etc., could change drastically.

I guess that's what the podcast said, and I'm happy about it.

Jun. 30 2009 03:37 PM

Congrats, Jad! You're good people and the kind who definitely SHOULD procreate :)

Jun. 30 2009 02:48 PM

congratulations jad :):):)

Jun. 30 2009 02:11 PM
Donovan Wadholm

"...Hockey. The sport no one cares about."

That's more financial contributions for you!

Congrats Jad on the new addition to the family.

Jun. 30 2009 11:51 AM
Michelle Arellano

Congratulations Jad and family!!! So happy for you guys... This news does bring up something from a past episode though. From the "Morality" episode you did way back, there was a question regarding the ending of M.A.S.H. where you asked would you kill one person to save a village. And now that Jad is on the other side of the parental fence, I'm curious if his opinion has changed in reference to that decision. As a relatively new mom of twin girls, this episode really struck a cord in my heart.

Anyways, LOVE THE SHOWS!!! Again, congrats! Enjoy!!!!

Jun. 30 2009 10:05 AM

It is interesting to note that no matter where we seem to fall, whether we are predictable like a coin or have a property in our brains that make us more like a roulette table, it looks like Free Will is slipping away from us.

Jun. 30 2009 09:45 AM

Congrats to Jad!

This stochasticity theme has been my favorite Radiolab topic to date. I love the quote "People have to be unpredictable if they are to survive in the natural world." For some reason I find this very comforting. Perhaps my inner chimp can relate.

Jun. 30 2009 09:22 AM

Congratulations Jad! It makes me so happy to hear this news. Thank you for such thoughtful father tributes in "Time" and the piece "Scared" featured in the AV Smackdown episode.

Jun. 30 2009 09:07 AM
Connor Walsh

HUGE congratulations Jad, Mom and Baby!

Oh an only in America could mathematicians do a statistical analysis of every baseball game ever – well maybe there and in some big gambling operation in Japan!

Jun. 30 2009 05:15 AM

I'm from Spain and I listen you from internet... I'm our fan! I like science and the radio and your combination of the two items is spectacular. Thank you for your job!!!!!!

Jun. 30 2009 05:02 AM

JAD! Congratulations! Wonderful, wonderful news!

and no matter how it is explained, statistics will never make much sense to me.

Jun. 30 2009 01:00 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Supported by