Wunder mathematisch betrachtet

Angesichts der – steigenden? – Beliebtheit esoterischer Dummheiten weltweit, ist jede qualifizierte Kritik daran, sehr zu begrüßen. So auch das Buch der beiden renommierten französischen Wissenschaftler Georges Charpak und Henri Broch: Debunked: ESP, Telekinesis, Other Pseudoscience (John Hopkins University Press).

Freeman J. Dyson bespricht* es ausführlich in der New York Review of Books 5/2004 und erläuterte darin auch die mathematische „Erklärung“ von Wundern des Mathematikers Littlewood:

The book also has a good chapter on „Amazing Coincidences.“ These are strange events which appear to give evidence of supernatural influences operating in everyday life. They are not the result of deliberate fraud or trickery, but only of the laws of probability. 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 stat-ing his law about them. He defined a miracle as an event that has special significance when it occurs, but oc-curs with a probability of one in a million. This definition agrees with our common-sense understanding of the word „miracle.“

Littlewood’s Law of Miracles states that in the course of any normal person’s life, miracles happen at a rate of roughly one per month. 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. Broch tells stories of some amazing coincidences that happened to him and his friends, all of them easily explained as consequences of Littlewood’s Law.

* Der Artikel ist mittlerweile Teil des kostenpflichtigen NYRB-Archivs

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