Bayou-Picayune Podcast, S02 EP25: The roll of the dice
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Did you know it was Galileo (1564-1642) who first figured out the percentages for each roll of the dice?
Even though six-sided dice go far back in human history and there were countless mathematical and scientific geniuses who predated Galileo, no one ever thought to calculate the actual odds of each total, from two to twelve.
Why? Why hadn’t any mathematical wizard calculated the odds before Galileo?
Eratosthenes, for example. Working from Aristotle’s mathematical and observational deductions that the Earth was round, Eratosthenes, around 200 B.C., calculated the circumference of the Earth as 28,700 miles. (In fact, the actual circumference of the Earth is 24,901 miles.)
How was he able to make that amazing deduction? By measuring the shadow of an obelisk in Alexandria, Egypt, on the summer solstice against an obelisk in Aswan that did not have a shadow.
And someone with those mathematical and observational skills could not calculate the odds of rolling dice?
Then there was Hipparchus, who, around 150 B.C., calculated the longitude lines at the equator to be about 70 miles apart. (Actually, the longitudinal lines at the equator are 69 miles apart.)
And Hipparchus couldn’t predict the probability of a roll of dice?
It’s really a very simple mathematical deduction to figure the odds of rolling any number with two six-sided dice. There are only thirty-six different combinations. (For the numbers two and twelve, each has a 2.8 percent probability; for rolling a three or an eleven, there is a 5.6 percent chance for each; four and ten each has an 8.3 percent chance; for five and nine, each is 11 percent; there is a 13.9 percent chance of rolling a six and a 13.9 percent chance of rolling an eight; and you have a 16.7 percent chance of rolling seven.)
So, the real question, the deeper question, is why didn’t ancient man with all his genius calculate the odds on dice?
The answer appears to be rooted in a deep-seated belief (or superstition) that the gods, God or some higher power (such as Fate) dictated the number that comes up with each roll.
That was why ancient man cast lots when making important decisions. They were, in effect, leaving the decision up to the gods or the Fates.
Apparently, in the minds of ancient man, the roll of the dice had nothing to do with luck, chance or odds. It was the result of intervention by a higher power.
Today, we think we are much more enlightened than the geniuses from the past. Modern man does not believe in a higher power. He clings to a smug attitude that there is no God, that everything can be reduced to numbers and probabilities.
What modern man does not seem to comprehend is that probability is not science. It is a feeble attempt to predict the future (something which the great mathematicians before Galileo didn’t bother with).
Ancient man focused his efforts on reality, not trying to predict the future.
Today, we, with our shallow minds, betray our smug beliefs in ways which show we still hold on to ancient “superstitions.”
How? We still exhibit subliminal traits when rolling dice.
Psychologists point out that, when a gambler or a game player breathes or blows on dice before rolling them, he is subconsciously breathing his spirit on to them as though appealing to the higher power which governs the roll — even if that person doesn’t believe in a higher power.
At this moment, for example, in any casino, you will find the most devout atheist blowing on his dice.
I suppose, when it comes to laying down his money on the outcome of a roll, he is still not willing to let go of his “superstitions.”
So, keep breathing (on your dice), my friends.