Why did he do it?

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Why do people become murderers or rapists, or even petty thieves. I mean, sure, sometimes a person could irritate you to the point where a fleeting thought of carnage crosses your mind. But most people would immediately shut down that thought and even be shocked and revolted by it. They certainly wouldn’t act on it.

Surely no one wakes up one morning and thinks “Oh, I’ll become a career criminal,” or “Oh, I’ll violently attack someone today.” It’s easier to explain when the person is immersed in a culture where crime is normal and maybe even expected of one. But there are law abiding people even within the worst of environments, where crime is common.

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Fear of consequences is often used to try to deter people from crime, but in many cases the fear of consequences is not enough to prevent a person committing a crime. Prison may be seen as normal and expected. So called petty criminals may expect to be thrown in to jail many times in their lives and to them it cannot be much of a deterrent.

Of course, one’s better judgement can be nullified by drugs or by alcohol. Many assaults happen when the person who assaults another person is drunk or high on drugs. Other crimes like rape, burglary, and vandalism are also more likely to happen when a person is intoxicated.

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One way that is often suggested to reduce crime is to increase the severity of the punishment, so that fear of consequences is increased. However, this has limited effect only. People still committed murder even when capital punishment was still used. When in a blind rage, if a person is mentally ill, or if the person believes that they can get away with a crime without being caught, then the consequences often do not come under consideration.

In a court of law it is assumed that the person knew that consequences and still continued with their action. In many cases I believe that this is simplistic to say the least. A person sees another person leave a phone or wallet somewhere that the first person can take it from. Often the first person doesn’t think through the consequences of the theft. They don’t even consciously think that they can get away with it. They just react to the item being accessible.

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Also each successful theft reinforces the thief’s feeling that he or she will not be caught, so they do it again. In fact, of course there is a chance that they will be caught each time that they commit the theft, and the more times that they commit the crime, the more likely it is that they will eventually get caught.

If they are likely to get away with the crime nine times out of ten, then if they commit the crime seven times, the chance of them getting caught is better than even. Maybe one way to reduce crime is to teach criminals statistics!

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It seems that the propensity to commit crime is inherent in human beings. It is not related to social standing, as crimes of theft and of fraud are seen to be committed by people of all social standings. The criminals, even those higher up the socioeconomic ladder tend to make the mistake of repeating their crimes, which, as I mentioned above, renders them more likely to be caught.

Of course those lower down the socioeconomic ladder commit simpler crimes like theft and violence often fuelled by alcohol and drugs, and those higher up commit the so-called white collar crimes. A person’s position on the ladder doesn’t seem to bear much relation to whether or not they commit sexually related crimes, and in fact, a person’s higher standing often seems to protect them against being caught – they are able to convince people to look the other way when such a crime is committed, by using their influence or by using their money to buy people off.

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If the propensity for crime is to be found at all levels of society, and the punishment of criminals is relatively ineffective as deterring criminals from committing crime, what is there that we can do about it? In my opinion, not a lot. But nevertheless we need to try, if only to reduce it to the minimum possible.

That is what society, from the beginning up to the present day is trying to do, of course. The consequences of being caught committing a crime don’t stop everyone, but it is likely that they do stop some people. Over harsh penalties from crimes don’t work beyond a certain point, and this has been recognised in societies that have dumped capital punishment.

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We try to keep down crime by locking up those who are caught committing it. Again this has only limited effectiveness as well as, effectively, targeting those at the low end of the socioeconomic ladder. A rich person who is fined for jumping a red light is likely to notice it much less than a poor person. The fines represent a much bigger portion of a poor man’s income than that of a rich man.

The only way to reduce crime to zero is to change the human race. If the genes for criminality and violence were to be bred out of the human race, then we would have no problem with crime. Women would not be raped and funds would not be embezzled. People would not drink drive, and would not bash other people.

However, the genes for criminality might be perilously close to the genes for creativity. Creative individuals are often those who break the rules, who go beyond what is allowed. Creative individuals also tend to be those who are close to the boundary between sanity and insanity. They are the eccentrics among us, the ones who do not fit in.

Maybe we could prevent crime by changing the human race, but we risk creating a society which also has no artists, no eccentrics, and essentially no Leonardo DaVincis, no Isaac Newtons, no Shakespeares, no Albert Einsteins. Society would be the poorer for that.

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Oddities

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Humans and not very good at calculating odds and how probabilities work. For instance, if we are tossing coins and we get six heads in a row, the probability of getting yet another head is still fifty-fifty. Yet people feel that after a series of heads that it is more likely that more tails than heads will turn up for a while, so that the ratio of heads to tails returns to the expected one to one ratio.

But the expected ratio of heads to tails for all subsequent tests is one to one. It’s as if a new set of tests is being started, and so any lead that has already built up is, in all probability, not going to be reduced.

This seems odd. If we have done one thousand trials and have turned up 550 heads to 450 tails, the ratio of heads to tails is about 0.818 and the ratio of heads to the number of tests is 0.55. Surely more tests will take the ratios closer to the expected values of 1.0 and 0.5? Surely that means that there will be more tails than heads in the future?

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Well, the answer to both questions is no, of course. The ratios for the whole test may move closer to 1.0 and 0.5, but equally, they may move further away. In the extreme case, there may never be a tail again. Or all the rest of the throws may result in tails.

Interestingly, if the subsequent tests produce a series of heads and tails, the difference between the number of heads and tails stays at around 100, but the ratio of tails to heads for the whole test slowly creeps closer to 1.0 and the ratio of heads to the total number of tests closes in on 0.5 as more and more trials are done. By the time we reach two million tests, the two numbers are not very far from the expected values, being 0.9999 and 0.5000 respectively.

So, if you think to yourself, as you buy a lotto ticket “Well I must eventually win, if I keep buying the tickets”, it doesn’t work like that. You could buy a lotto ticket forever, literally, and never ever win. Sorry.

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Lotto and sweepstakes are, I believe, a different type of gambling from other forms, such as betting on horses or poker and other gambling card games. Lotto, sweepstakes and raffles involve no element of skill, and the gambler’s only involvement is buying the ticket. Betting on horses or cards involves skill to some extent, and that skill comes down to things like working out the probabilities of a particular card coming up and the probabilities of other players having certain cards in their hands.

Both types of gambling encourage the gambler to gamble more. If a gambler doesn’t win on the Lotto he or she might say to his or herself “Better luck next time.” Of course, luck does not exist, but probabilities do, and this is a mild form of the Gambler’s Fallacy described above. Nevertheless, people do win and the winners appear on television for us all to see and emulate.

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There’s two sorts of strategy for winning the Lotto. First there’s the “always use the same numbers” strategy, and then there’s the “random numbers” strategy. If you always use the same numbers, goes the theory, then eventually there must be a match. That’s wrong of course, since the number combination may not appear before the end of the universe.

The random number strategy argues that there is no pattern to results so it is silly to expect a particular pattern to eventuate. This strategy acknowledges the random nature of the draw, but doesn’t give the gambler any advantage over any other strategy, even the same numbers strategy. It is certainly easier to buy a randomly generated ticket than to fill in a form to purchase the same numbers every time.

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Some people experience a run of luck. They might have three things happen to them, so go and buy a lotto ticket while their luck holds. Then is they win they attribute it to their lucky streak. It’s all nonsense of course. They conveniently forget the many, many times that they bought a ticket because of a lucky streak, only for the ticket to be a loser.

The proceeds from the sales of lotto tickets don’t normally all go to holders of winning tickets. Firstly the operators of the system need to recoup their costs. It’s not cheap to own and operate those fancy machines with the tumbling balls and it also costs to employ the people to check that the machines are fair.

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If one of the balls is dented, will that affect the probability of that ball being selected? Maybe, just a little, but the draw should be fair so those providing the lotto equipment spend a large amount of effort to ensure that they are fair, and the costs of that effort must come out of the prize funds.

Secondly, the state or maybe the lotto organisation itself will often withhold part of the lotto sales takings for local or national causes, such as cancer research, or societal things, like the fight against teen suicide. The money for humanitarian causes is deducted from the prize funds.

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One of the humanitarian causes is often the fight against problem gambling. It’s ironic and somewhat appropriate that funds from gambling are used to combat problem gambling. It seems that some people get such a thrill from gambling that they use all their, then borrow or steal from others to continue to gamble.

They invoke the Gambler’s Fallacy. They suggest that their luck must change sooner or later. It doesn’t have to, and may never change, but they continue to spend money on their gambling. They also don’t take account of the fact that they might win, eventually, by sheer chance, but it is unlikely that their winnings will cover what they have already gambled away. They have a tendency to believe that one big win will sort things out for them. It won’t of course.

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So, the only true fact about Lotto and similar draw is that you have to be in to win. But just because you are in doesn’t mean that you will win. You probably won’t. The best way to treat Lotto and other similar games is that you are donating to a good cause and you might, but probably won’t get something back. So, I’m off to buy a lotto ticket. I might win thirty million dollars, but I won’t cry if I don’t.

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Space – the Final Front Ear

Portrait of William Shatner
Portrait of William Shatner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sorry about the fabricated mondegreen, which obviously references the Star Trek series of films and TV shows. Captain Kirk saw space, or more correctly distance, as a barrier, but it really is one of the factors that determines the structure or shape of our Universe.

It is interesting to me, that, although the Universe is finite, if it derived from a Big Bang, there is a human urge to explore outwards, as if it were infinite. That is probably one of the factors that led scientists such as Fred Hoyle and others to support a Steady State Theory of the Universe.


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Personally, I believe that there is no such thing as a steady state in anything. When we see something which appears to be in a steady state or equilibrium state we should look for the feedback factors that are keeping it that way. For example a pendulum hangs straight down when at rest because any deviation from that position results in gravitation forces pulling it back to the rest position.

If friction is low the pendulum will actually pass through the equilibrium position and swing to the other side, whereupon gravity will slow it and draw it back towards the equilibrium position again. Eventually friction will slow the pendulum down and the pendulum will again hang vertically.

De :en:Image:Pendulum.jpg
De :en:Image:Pendulum.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So we have two forces, gravity and friction, resulting in the pendulum returning to the equilibrium position. No pendulum lasts for ever, as the pivot will wear out or an elephant may step on the thing, so the equilibrium will only exist for a finite time, but it will last long enough for us to use in clocks or in scientific experiments.

Space is itself expanding as I understand the theories and some of it is out of our sight, over an event horizon, which is a locus where everything is moving away from us at the speed of light. That doesn’t much our location special – it is true of any point in the Universe. LGM on a planet around a star that is over the event horizon from us have their own event horizon, and while they may be able to see a star inside our event horizon and we in theirs, we cannot see each other.

Alien (creature in Alien franchise)
Alien (creature in Alien franchise) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Space separates us form the LGM, but it also separates from things local to us. Ben, our dog, is over there, about 3 metres away. My cup is mere centimetres away. It is fair to say, I think, that this is the essence of space – it is hard to conceive a universe which doesn’t incorporate a spacial concept. Or rather, a separation concept to allow things to be different from one another.

Space is not the only “separation concept” that I can think of. Things can also be separated in time, so two different bodies can exist in the same spacial position, but just not at the same time. Time is so connected to space that Einstein and others were able to link time and space into a complex space/time concept.

Time dilation spacetime diagram06
Time dilation spacetime diagram06 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The similarity between the space dimension and the time dimension is striking. You can even measure distance in time units as astronomers do when they talk about light years. We also do it when we say that a distant town is three hours away.

We less frequently talk of time in distance units, for example, when we say things like “six laps later”, to describe the time between two events in a car race. At some level we acknowledge that time and the space dimension have a lot in common.

English: MMTC workout. 10 of 1 mile laps witho...
English: MMTC workout. 10 of 1 mile laps without rest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Space in the sort of concept that everyone knows and experiences but no one thinks deeply about. There’s no doubt that space separates events from one another. You can’t have two solid objects occupying the same space at the same time, without catastrophe ensuing. Scientists have been trying to achieve this for years, with the aim of harvesting the energy generated from the ensuring nuclear fusion.

Space appears on the macro (normal) level to be continuous. We appear to move smoothly from one location to another when we walk, incidentally forcing the air out of way as we do so. There is no sudden jumps that we notice, we don’t hop from point to point like a chess piece on a board.

Animation of the Knight's tour
Animation of the Knight’s tour (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The philosopher Zeno came up with a number of paradoxes related to movement, that is getting from point A to point B. For instance, the athlete Achilles could not overtake a tortoise in a foot race, because Achilles would need first to reach the tortoise’s starting point, by which time the tortoise would have moved on. Achilles would then have reach the point that the tortoise had reached now, by which time the tortoise would have moved on. And so on, ad infinitum.

Of course Achilles does overtake the tortoise, and I believe the main issue in this case is related to the summation of an infinite number of decreasing distances, which intuitively one might this would sum to an infinite distance. In fact the sum of the distances is a finite number. If Achilles runs 10 times as fast as the tortoise and they start 10 feet apart then Achilles overtakes the tortoise after he has travelled 11 and 1/9 feet exactly.

Triumphant Achilles in Achilleion levelled
Triumphant Achilles in Achilleion levelled (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zeno’s paradoxes still inspire debate, but his conclusion was that movement, the smooth transition of something from one place to another is an illusion. One of the assumptions used is that distance is a continuously varying property, but it may be that it is not, and there are hints of that at the quantum level. The Planck length is the smallest distance about which statements can usefully be made and it is impossible to determine the difference between two locations less than one Planck length apart. Perhaps we do hop from place to place like chess pieces, or at least our atoms and their constituent particles do.

Max Planck 1910
Max Planck 1910 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Space and time enable events to happen uniquely, and without collisions. Events may happen in the same place as long as they happen at different times. It may be that events of different probabilities happen at the same place and time, so long as the sum of the probabilities of all events is one. It may therefore be that probability is a dimension with the same sort of status as the space and time dimensions. This would require that our view of probability, of one event out of many being the one that actually happens is an illusion and that events of all probabilities happen in a sense.

English: The probability pattern for a single ...
English: The probability pattern for a single electron atom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)