What are the odds?

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Imagine that you have bought a ticket as a space tourist. You ask what are the odds of survival and they tell you “Astronauts have a 97% chance of survival” (true).
Then you ask “yes but what are *my* chances of surviving *my* trip?”.

The correct answers are either we don’t know or 50/50. Nobody knows what is going to happen to you personally in a single event. I believe probabilistic language is at best unhelpful and at worst misleading.

“If we replace that government system over a weekend with this system, the probability that we will bankrupt the nation is only 3%”. What am I supposed to do with that information? We are not going to do it multiple times. The probability tells us nothing about the single event. It’s either going to work or it isn’t, AND NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING, unless they’re psychic.

“Chance” only tells us what the frequency will tend towards with an increasing number of occurrences. It tells us zero about one event, because we aren’t psychic. It is impossible to predict the future.

One outcome is more likely than the other but that means nothing for a single event. The outcomes are equally possible. We are taking a 50/50 bet. A very big bet in these examples.
We need to find ways to take smaller bets (or accept and discuss the true risk).

So many people are incapable of accepting the fact that the future is unknowable. I spoke about it on this podcast