Trying to add some precision to its
meaning, Mathematician J.E. Littlewood defined
it as "an event that has special significance when it occurs, but occurs with a
probability of one in a million."; what word is it?
Etymology, Etymology, and more Etymology
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According to physicist
"The paradoxical feature of the laws of probability
is that they make unlikely events happen unexpectedly often.
A simple way to state the paradox is
Littlewood's Law of Miracles. Littlewood was a
famous mathematician who was teaching at Cambridge University when I was a
student. Being a professional mathematician, he defined miracles precisely
before stating his law about them.
defined a miracle as an event that has special
significance when it occurs, but occurs with a probability of one in a million.
This definition agrees with our common-sense understanding of the word
Littlewood's Law of Miracles states that in the
course of any normal person's life, miracles happen at a rate of roughly one
The proof of the law is
simple. During the time that we are awake and actively engaged in living our
lives, roughly for eight hours each day, we see and hear things happening at a
rate of about one per second. So the total number of events that happen to us
is about thirty thousand per day, or about a million per month.
With few exceptions, these events are not miracles
because they are insignificant. The chance of a miracle is about one per
million events. Therefore we should expect about one miracle to happen, on the
average, every month."
[Note: The above
passage was taken from The New York Review of
Books (Freeman Dyson reviewing Debunked! ESP,
Telekinesis, Other Pseudoscience by Georges Charpak and Henri
You can read the review at:
I get up at 6 am and go to bed at 12 am, I am awake
for 18 hours not 8. Should I have miracles more often? The calculation is all
wrong, and I think that the whole law makes no sense at all.
I find Littlewood's endeavour
unsatisfactory, because it amounts to begging the question. Miracles are often
associated with divine providence - the notion that god or gods interceded in
human life to make something unnatural occur.
Since god is but a metaphysical postulate, a
miracle cannot be the result of a rational action. it therefore is little more
than a synonym for an unexplainable random occurrence.
Consequently, the attempt to "prove" anything about
a miracle is fruitless.
A miracle is an event contrary to the
laws of nature. A god could perform several miracles a day, and they would all
be miracles. The frequency shouldn't matter. Any rare event will eventually
occur, but it is not necessarily a miracle. It is even possible, although
extremely unlikely, to be dealt two royal flushes in a row, but it is not a
miracle. I think Littlewood is confusing probability with transgressions of the
laws of nature.
description of "miracle" is tidy, but insufficient. One connotation for
"miracle" demands the presence of religion or faith-based
For this to
be true, one would have to "recognize" the event as having special significance
... what if an event was specially significant to some but not to others, does
that mean it was not a miracle? Or, what if the event was a commonplace event
but you deem it to be specially significant to you on any given day...is it
still a miracle? Using this definition miracles are subjective to
interpretation...is that really the "common-sense" understanding of the
If you are a
believer, this doesn't hold water. Miracles happen without a mathematical
significance and happen as those who believe trust in a higher being decides
that a miracle needs to happen.
Aside from the religious notion of a miracle -
which I personally believe in - and have received. One miracle a month - is
based on the assumption that events only take a second.
Actually, events could on average take say 10
minutes, and under the same mathematical law - that means one miracle every 10
years - which altogether seems more realistic. Does this mean that you could
lotto once every 10 years - no way - this that miracle is 1:100 million chance,
so that would be once in a thousand years, which means no hope,
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