Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/221

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209
THE ILLUSION OF CHANCE.

least a thousand miles,[1] and dragon-flies certainly two hundred miles from land.[2] During a recent voyage from New Zealand to New South Wales, and thence to Japan, frequently, for several days in succession, moths and butterflies were visible in the air nearly every hour in the day.

 

THE ILLUSION OF CHANCE.
By WILLIAM A. EDDY.

STUDY of the movements of events reveals dynamical, necessary sequences, and contemplation of the laws of probability, treated mathematically, generally involves a mental attitude at variance with theories of luck and premonition. It is believed that a rational treatment of the question will help to dispel superstitious ideas by disclosing the chain of continuity in all known actions. First, we will consider events mathematically, or as illustrating the laws of probability; and, second, as related to the practical question of success in life. The subject includes indirectly the question of ethics. Wrong or injurious action seems to disappear into a vast labyrinth. As we judge superficially or by immediate effects, we are easily misled into a belief that fraud may result in permanent gain, or that oppression will cure some political evils. It is important, for instance, that we have right ideas regarding the tendency in affairs whereby continued injustice or abuse of power comes to retribution. The jarring of the just relations of things leads to complications too subtile to be controlled, as the tyrants of history found by terrible experience, and the fact that our control is partial, as noticed definitely further on, should cause fear of the improper use of power. These truths well justify an examination of the subject.

Before considering the more complicated question of partial control in its relation to success, we will first glance at the simple or direct relations between familiar events, as seen in the calculable uniformity in the average results of great numbers of so-called games of chance. The numerical results of card-playing and dice-throwing, as examined by Professor Venn, have reaffirmed what is generally known

  1. "December 13, 1876, latitude 17° 24' north, longitude 44° 12' west. While taking the sun at noon, noticed a number of grasshoppers about the vessel. Made several unsuccessful attempts to capture one of them. The nearest point of land is the Island of Montserrat, latitude 16° 48' north, longitude 62° 12' west, distant 1,023 miles." (Extract from a private log.)
  2. In the vicinity of the river La Plata, violent westerly gales, called pamperos, are of frequent occurrence. One of the surest precursors of these gales is the appearance of numerous dragon-flies in the air. I have seen these insects collecting about the ship fully two hundred miles from land, off the entrance of the river, while the wind was still blowing a gale from the eastward.