Friday, July 03, 2009

The Wisdom of Crowds

A common refrain on the internet these days is the importance of crowd-think. That is, that there are patterns to be distilled out of the collective decisions of large groups. And there probably are, if you can be bothered to be enough of a code-stroker to extract those patterns. For our part, crowds seem to have the same amount of wisdom as the average individual, minus about 100%. Or maybe as much as a large pile of sausage casings, we're not sure. Another word for crowd, after all, is mob. Can we get a "Hell yeah!" for the wisdom of mobs?

Despite this, we'd like to do something different this week... We'd like to hijack the wisdom of our own personal mob to solve a problem that's been nibbling at us. No tricks! It's an actual problem, a mental exercise that defeats our feeble think-muscles. Maybe you will conquer it and can crow to us of your victory.

Here it is: This whole thing is like a game show. You've got three curtains. Behind one is a shiny new glittering something or other. Behind the other two is a kick in the pants! You have to pick a curtain and hope for the best.

After you pick your curtain, the host decides to make things interesting. He pulls back one of the curtains to reeveeeaaallll... a kick in the pants!

So now you've got two curtains left. The host offers to let you switch to the other unopened curtain or stick with your original choice. And here's the core of the problem: Do you have a better chance of winning the shiny something by switching or by sticking?

You started with a 1 in 3 chance of being right. Now that one of the wrong choices has been revealed and eliminated, you've got a 1 in 2 chance, right? That's a 50/50 proposition, a coin toss. Why should you switch?

Because, according to the stupid book we got this problem from, switching gives you a 2/3 chance of being right. The authors explain it thusly: "Since by the time it comes to sticking or switching, the big prize must be behind one of the two remaining doors, there must be a 2 in 3 chance that the prize is behind the other door (i.e., a 2 in 3 chance your first guess was wrong)."

Wha? Huh? "There MUST be?" How MUST there be? The authors offer a variation to help illustrate the right choice (switching). Imagine, they say, the same set up with 1000 curtains; 999 of which hide kicks in the pants. The host reveals 998 of them to be booby prizes, and you're left with two curtains.

Switching, they say, gives you a 999/1000 chance of being right - and this is true- and it's pretty certain that you'll win with odds like that. However, this explanation pretends that your original choice doesn't count as a choice. That is, with 998 of 1000 decisions already made, adding one more decision (whether it be your original or a new choice) comes to 999. So you've got a 999/1000 chance of winning, no matter which one you choose. You're stuck with 50/50.

Marilyn vos Savant, smartest person who ever lived, says this is wrong. The the authors of the stupid book say this is wrong. Do YOU say this is wrong? Can you explain it in plain english? We're tempted to offer a prize, like some trade credit, but it all hinges on your being able to explain it, not your ability to understand it yourself, so that makes winning a little hazy. After all, we can just claim absolute ignorance (not much of a stretch), and we're off the hook. But do your best, and we'll work something out.


This week:

All items mentioned below are first come, first serve. If you want something, let us know post-haste (because they're also for sale on the interweb)! All new items sell for cover price, used items as marked. Sadly, trade credit cannot be used for new items.

Our books are always searchable via ABEbooks.


Aesthetic Theory, Theodor Adorno

More of an absolutist than he would ever have admitted, Adorno's critiques of Enlightenment ideals rendered the entire mass bath water and admitted of no baby. However, having this book on your shelf will certainly make you more attractive to graduate-degree-seeking potential sexual conquests, so it's kind of a trade-off.

($19) [Sold]


Scientific Self-Defence, W.E. Fairbairn
(Paperback, out of print)

Dapper '20s gents knocking the bejeezus out of one another. If the previous book shines a lust-light in the eyes of eurostyle glasses-wearing, ivory-tower-dwelling hotties, then this one will land you all kinds of booty among those who are impressed by a good wrist-fracturing or swift knee-capping. Get out there and make some poor sap yelp like a caned puppy! There's a reason the human body has all those pain-receptors - so you can get lucky!

($18) [Sold]


, Michel Butor
(Hardcover, out of print)

Another of the elite and rigorous French literary giants we keep trotting out. Not well-known to English-speaking audiences, but hey, when you've got tonight's Deadliest Warrior pitting an Apache brave against the entire Taliban, well, it looks like old Butor's gonna have to suck the sour baguette of obscurity a while longer.



Women Pirates and the Politics of the Jolly Roger, Ulrike Klausmann, et al.
(Paperback, out of print)

Just, you know, gettin' on with it - slittin' throats, hoardin' capital, wenchin', groggin', reefin' the bloody topsail and keepin' the scurvy away with a lime a day. But in a girly way.



The Complete Dirty Laundry Comics, Robert Crumb, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, and Sophie Crumb

The book is kind it's own reward, so can we just forget about it for a second and bitch about people who refer to Robert Crumb exclusively as "R. Crumb"? The original title of this book was Bob and Aline's Dirty Laundry, for chrissakes! If one more person comes in and asks for R. Crumb, mistakenly thinking this puts them inside some hazily-defined circle of hipness, we will personally tattoo his full name inside their eyelids with one of Bob's cast-off Grumbacher pens!



Mexican Fireworks!


Everything's turning into a pile of shit.

Except this:


The Wire ate our lunch!


# of weeks since Spine and Crown inception: 192

# of weeks since inception that no mention of Spine and Crown has appeared in the print edition of The Stranger: 192


Post a Comment

<< Home