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Chance and Luck   By: (1837-1888)

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Chance and Luck, by Richard Proctor

PREFACE. The false ideas prevalent among all classes of the community, cultured as well as uncultured, respecting chance and luck, illustrate the truth that common consent (in matters outside the in°uence of authority) argues almost of necessity error. This, by the way, might be proved by the method of probabilities. For if, in any question of di±culty, the chance that an average mind will miss the correct opinion is but one halfand this is much underrating the chance of errorthe probability that the larger proportion of a community numbering many millions will judge rightly on any such question is but as one in many millions of millions of millions. (Those who are too ready to appeal to the argument from common consent, and on the strength of it sometimes to denounce or even a²ict their fellow men, should take this factfor it is fact, not opinionvery thoughtfully to heart.) I cannot hope, then, since authority has never been at the pains to pronounce de¯nitely on such questions respecting luck and chance as are dealt with here, that common opinion, which is proclaimed constantly and loudly in favour of faith in luck, will readily accept the teachings I have advanced, though they be but the common place of science in regard to the dependence of what is commonly called luck, strictly, and in the long run, uniformly, on law. The gambling fraternity will continue to proclaim their belief in luck (though those who have proved successful among them have by no means trusted to it), and the community on whom they prey will, for the most part, continue to submit to the process of plucking, in full belief that they are on their way to fortune. If a few shall be taught, by what I have explained here, to see that in the long run even fair wagering and gambling must lead to loss, while gambling and wagering scarcely ever are fair, in the sense of being on even terms, this book will have served a useful purpose. I wish I could hope that it would serve the higher purpose of showing that all forms of gambling and speculation are essentially immoral, and that, though many who gamble are not consciously wrong doers, their very unconsciousness of evil indicates an uncultured, semi savage mind. Richard A. Proctor. Saint Joseph, Mo. 1887. Contents Laws of Luck 1 Gamblers' Fallacies 15 Fair and Unfair Wagers 39 Betting on Races 51 Lotteries 62 Gambling in Shares 80 Fallacies and Coincidences 94 Notes on Poker 111 Martingales 122 3 Laws of Luck To the student of science, accustomed to recognise the operation of law in all phe nomena, even though the nature of the law and the manner of its operation may be unknown, there is something strange in the prevalent belief in luck. In the operations of nature and in the actions of men, in commercial transactions and in chance games, the great majority of men recognise the prevalence of something outside lawthe good fortune or the bad fortune of men or of nations, the luckiness or unluckiness of special times and seasonsin ¯ne (though they would hardly admit as much in words), the in°uence of something extranatural if not supernatural. [For to the man of science, in his work as student of nature, the word `natural' implies the action of law, and the occurrence of aught depending on what men mean by luck would be simply the occurrence of something supernatural.] This is true alike of great things and of small; of matters having a certain dignity, real or apparent, and of matters which seem utterly contemptible. Napoleon announcing that a certain star (as he supposed) seen in full daylight was his star and indicated at the moment the ascen dency of his fortune, or William the Conqueror proclaiming, as he rose with hands full of earth from his accidental fall on the Sussex shore, that he was destined by fate to seize England, may not seem comparable with a gambler who says that he shall win because he is in the vein, or with a player at whist who rejoices that the cards he and his partner use are of a particular colour, or expects a change from bad to good luck because he has turned his chair round thrice; but one and all are alike absurd in the eyes of the student of science, who sees law, and not luck, in all things that happen... Continue reading book >>

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