Monday, June 27, 2011

It's All So Simple, Really

My problem wouldn’t go away
No matter what I’d do or say
No matter what I’d think or wish
My problem still stayed problem-ish
And so I looked for expert thought
To ask advice on what I ought…
I saw a doctor on TV
Who said he had advice for me:

“Remember, as you walk along:
You might be right—you might be wrong.
You’ll find two sides from which to choose
Each side could win—why must one lose?
There is no right and wrong, you know;
It’s only thinking makes it so
So close your eyes—just shut them tight—
And all your choices will be right!

Some say that two and two are four;
I don’t believe that any more—
It might be five, or six, or three,
They’re all the same (at least, to me).
Don’t close your mind! Go on! Ask why
The answer can’t be e or pi!
Of course it could! And so, it might!
It could be wrong; it could be right!”

I slowly turned and walked away
And thought on what he had to say;
I knew my odds were awfully slim
(Of course, that’s why I looked to him)
I realized, to my great delight
He’s either wrong, or else he’s right!
A simple fifty-fifty shot
Is better than I ever thought!

So now, when playing cards or dice
I never have to worry twice—
The odds I’d get the card I got?
I’d either get it or I’d not!
The trick to feeling really wise
Is simply to dichotomize:
This little trick is really nifty:
Everything is fifty-fifty!

And now, when faced with tricky choices,
Hordes of disagreeing voices,
Climate change, or vaccination,
Ayurvedic medication
Follow science? Follow gods?
I now know how to play the odds—
To find which side is best to join…
I close my eyes and flip a coin.

Technically, this post was inspired by reading some of PZ's give-and-take on Twitter with Deepak Chopra's followers. Science and magic, after all, are both possibilities, and there's no reason to think that either of them is more right than the other.

I've known people who reason like that. You probably do, too. Someone who will buy a lottery ticket, thinking that their odds are pretty decent--either it will win, or it won't, so there's a fifty-fifty shot. Or that there is a 50-50 chance the Large Hadron Collider will destroy the universe.

This is why courses in statistics and probability should be mandatory. And early. And repeated.

After all, sometimes it's not something trivial like the destruction of the universe. Sometimes it's something important, like vaccinating your child.


Anonymous said...


Whenever you're called on to make up your mind,
and you're hampered by not having any,
the best way to solve the dilemma, you'll find,
is simply by spinning a penny.

No - not so that chance shall decide the affair
while you're passively standing there moping;
but the moment the penny is up in the air,
you suddenly know what you're hoping.

An older favorite poet of ours

Cuttlefish said...

I love it, Anonymous! In fact, I've used that method, and taught it to my students, though I've never seen it in rhyme before!

Melissa said...

Wonderful! To both you and the anonymous poster. :)

yokohamamama said...

Excellent verse, Cuttlefish-san! And thanks for the link to the Daily Show clip. My sis needs to see that... 50/50 chance she'll have time to watch it, but... ;-)

I feel so refreshed now-- my daily dose of Seuss/Lear/LHC all rolled into one!

Anonymous said...

Sorry I meant to credit Piet Hein and his translator whose name I cannot find.


Kathie said...

Did you see this parody of the Miss USA evolution question?

"Miss USA 2011 — Should Math Be Taught In Schools?"

Anonymous said...

You sir are a god!