Gambling

Gambler (film)
Gambler (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gambling has probably been a human activity since two cavemen had a bet over their respective hunting prowess. Or maybe it was over which of them could stay upright longest after sampling the newly invented alcoholic grog. Gambling games generally have probabilistic component, though the contestants generally try to remove or circumvent it, usually by such techniques as remembering the order that cards come out or ‘card counting’. This latter technique involves keeping track of the high cards that come into play.

For some people gambling can become a problem. Sometimes susceptible individuals can become ‘addicted’ to gambling to the extent that they embezzle and steal so that they can continue to gamble. They may rationalise this by claiming that they are only trying to regain what they lost, or repay the people who they have stolen from, and indeed, because of the probabilistic nature  there is a chance that they might be able to do that. However the chance is very very small.

English: Poker Chips
English: Poker Chips (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When a gambler starts gambling the reason that they gamble is the thrill of the possibility of winning big. Once the gambler has used up all his or her resources and has borrowed or stolen to keep gambling then the fear of losing and the fear of people finding out would be the predominant emotions, especially the fear of being found out.

They probably think to themselves that their luck must turn sooner or later and they must start winning, however this is just not true. Suppose the gambler is $100,000 in debt and chooses odds of evens. Then to win $100,000 he or she must wager $100,000 and to do that he or she would have to steal another $100,000. Such a theft is more likely to be noticed than a smaller amount and there is an even chance of losing and being $200,000 in the hole.

Slot Machines
Slot Machines (Photo credit: ragingwire)

As a result, it is likely that a ‘problem gambler’ would choose to go for longer odds and therefore smaller amounts of stake money, but with less chance of winning.

Statistically, over a large number of gamblers and a large number of wagers on something like a horse race, if all the money taken on wagers is paid back to punters then the average return, over all punters taking into account the stakes and the winnings paid out, is exactly zero! Of course, not all the money taken in in bets is paid to the punters. If the bets are on a totalizator system then the organisation running the ‘tote’ takes out taxes and administration costs so the payout will be less than the amount taken in.

English: Tote Bookmakers - Westgate
English: Tote Bookmakers – Westgate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If the system is a ‘bookmaker’ run system then the bookie needs to cover his costs so he (or she) arranges his books so that not all the money taken in bets is returned to the punters. There is a very small chance that under some circumstances he cannot cover all the bets made, but it is rare for this to happen. A bookie will sometimes ‘lay off’ a bet somewhere else if he feels exposed as a result of a large bet.

What this means to the gambler is that, on average, he is going to get back from the system less than he puts in. What a gambler hopes is that his personal return is positive, and he will in fact beat the odds. It is highly likely that he won’t though. A ‘problem gambler’ is unlikely to be a clever gambler and is likely to continue to lose.

Lotto 5-4-3-2-1 logo in use from 2008 onwards
Lotto 5-4-3-2-1 logo in use from 2008 onwards (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lotteries are different. Although Lotto is referred to as gambling, it is different from card games like poker or betting on horses. Again the average return is going to be zero or negative. However, with a lottery, the only way to increase your chance of winning is to buy more tickets. There is no real or illusory skill involved. As a result the lottery is unlikely to attract the ‘problem gambler’.

Of those who do take part in the lottery there are some who fall foul of the “Gambler’s Fallacy”. Some people use the same numbers draw after draw after draw in the belief that their particular set of numbers must come up sometime. This is not so at all. It doesn’t do any harm, though, as their particular numbers are just as likely to come up in one draw as any other. In fact, if their numbers do come up, they are equally as likely as any set of numbers to come up the next week too.

Horse racing
Horse racing (Photo credit: Paolo Camera)

I confess that I don’t see much sense in betting on horses or dogs or whatever. I don’t have the skills necessary to increase the odds in my favour, though the so-called ‘professional gamblers’ appear to have those skills, and ‘problem gamblers’ definitely don’t.  I do buy lotto tickets, though, but I’m not too upset when I lose and the rare small win is fun.

The Winner Takes It All
The Winner Takes It All (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Where do ideas come from?

ideas
ideas (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

I was watching this on Youtube, and I found myself saying “Yes, but…”. What Stephen Johnson says in there is all true. I like his idea of a “slow hunch” that takes several years or decades to develop. Stephen’s environmental approach looks at the places that provide the environment where ideas flourish, such as coffee shops which flourished in the 17th century and later. The Wikipedia article notes that

Though Charles II later tried to suppress the London coffeehouses as “places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers”, the public flocked to them.

Apparently Charles did not like the new ideas emanating from the coffee shops and thought that doing away with them would do away with the ideas. I’m not so sure – the discussion groups from the coffee shops would almost certainly have moved elsewhere.

Lloyd's Coffee House
Lloyd’s Coffee House (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ideas certainly sprang from the coffee houses which mutated into or gave rise to the London Stock Exchange, Lloyd’s of London and some famous auction houses. I refer you to the Wikipedia article.

Stephen Johnson describes the environments that provide fertile ground for new ideas, and similar places have been invented and reinvented over the years. While Universities were, I believe, originally set up as places for the studying of religion, the concentration of bright people and the opportunities for discussion inevitably led to ideas which were not to the taste of the religious establishment.

Victoria University, Kelburn, Wellington, New ...
Victoria University, Kelburn, Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My “yes, but..” in relation to the Youtube article was not in relation to the matters Johnson discusses, which was the types of environments that favour new ideas, but how the ideas are formed in the human brain. Johnson talks about one person having “a piece of the puzzle” that completes a new idea, but I think that that is an oversimplification. I see it more like a huge floating jigsaw puzzle, with no edges and maybe many many puzzles. Each person gets millions of puzzle pieces and each person does his or her best to fit together as many pieces as possible and some of the pieces may be assembled incorrectly. I’m thinking of the “Intelligent Design” people when I write that.

a drawing of a 4 piece jigsaw puzzle
a drawing of a 4 piece jigsaw puzzle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An idea in that model is simply a realisation that that piece or pieces of the puzzle over here seem to fit with the piece or pieces over there. Any idea is based on innumerable prior ideas or realisations.

Ideas also seem to change over time. I think that I recall that when the idea that white light can be split into many colours was first put to me I accepted it with some reservations. Sort of “If you say so”. But today it seems obvious to me, though it can be that probes into the obvious turn up the un-obvious.

Classic Albums: Pink Floyd – The Making of The...
Classic Albums: Pink Floyd – The Making of The Dark Side of the Moon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So where do ideas come from? I’m uncertain. I’m not sure that there aren’t several sources of new ideas, but one that I keep coming back to is that there might be some process in our brains of which we are not conscious that continually and somewhat dumbly searches the puzzle pieces and tries to fit them together. It probably has guidance rules that say that, metaphorically, knobs must fit into sockets, there should be no gaps or space between puzzle pieces.

I call the process dumb because it seems to favour picking close by pieces, and it seems to repeatedly try the same configurations that have failed previously. I say this because sometimes, looking at a fact a new way or introducing a concept from another field may result in a totally new solution to a problem.

Visual Example of the Eight Queens backtrack A...
Visual Example of the Eight Queens backtrack Algorithm (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m aware that I’ve used the word “idea” in a number of senses above, but I hope that it doesn’t detract too much from the argument. I’m also aware that I’ve stretched the jigsaw analogy well beyond the bounds!

As a final comment, I think that people misunderstand the Eureka Moment. The moment occurs not when one solves the puzzle, but the moment that one realises that the puzzle is solved. For instance, when a mathematician works on a proof he may get stuck on a particular step. He may try several solutions, proceeding from the solution under test through several other steps in the proof before he discovers the solution which works. The Eureka Moment happens when he discovers that the solution he is trying is the correct one, not when he chooses the solution. A subtle but definite difference.

archimedes
archimedes (Photo credit: Sputnik Beanburger III)