The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives

This New York Times bestseller by American physicist and author Leonard Mlodinow proves how the understanding of chance can allow us to make more informed decisions in our daily lives. In addition, he also proves through the manipulation of statistics and probability the cognitive biases humans have leading to us making irrational decisions under the perception that they are rational. In this review and analysis, I will highlight the key ideas he raised in each chapter.

Chapter 1: Peering through the eye piece of randomness

  • When we look at extraodinary accomplishments in sports- or elsewhere- we should keep in mind that extraordinary events can happen without extraodinary causes. Random events often look like nonrandom events and in interpreting human affairs we must be careful not the confuse the two.

Chapter 2: The law of truths and half truths

  • If the details we are given fit our mental picture of something, then the more details in a scenario, the more real it seems and hence the more probable we consider it to be- even though any act of adding less-than-certain details to a conjecture makes the conjecture less probable. This inconsistency between the logic of probability and people’s assessments of uncertain events interested Kahneman and Tversky because it can lead to unfair or mistaken assessments in real-life situations.

Chapter 4: Tracking the pathways to success

  • Mathematical Expectation (Pascal):
  • Weighing the pros and cons of one’s duty to God- if you act piously and God exists, then you gain- eternal happiness- is infinite. If, on the other hand, God does not exist, your loss is small- the sacrifices of piety. To weigh these possible gains and losses, Pascal proposed, you multiply the probability of each possible outcome by its payoff and add them all up, forming a kind of average payoff.
  • Hence, the mathematical expectation of your return on piety is one-half infinity (your gain if God exists) minus one-half a small number (your loss if he does not exist). The answer to this will be infinite, thus the expected return on piety is infinitely positive. Therefore every reasonable person should follow the laws of God (Pascal’s Wager- foundation of game theory)

Chapter 5: The dueling laws of large and small numbers

  • Zeno’s paradox: suppose a student wishes to step to the door, which is 1m away. But in order to reach the halfway point, she must first arrive halfway to the halfway point. And so on, ad infinitum. Because the sequence goes on forever, she has to traverse an infinite number of finite distances. That, Zeno said, must take an infinite amount of time. Zeno’s conclusion: you can never get anywhere.
  • However, the sum instead of approaching infinity, approaches 1 (since distance set is 1m). Zeno’s paradox concerns the amt of time it takes to make the journey, not the distance covered. If she is allowed to move at a constant speed without pausing at Zeno’s imaginary checkpoints- then the time it takes to travel each of Zeno’s intervals is proportional to the distance covered in that interval, since the total distance is finite, as it is the total time- motion is possible.

Chapter 6: False Positives and Positive Fallacies

  • Bayes’s theory: the effect on the probability that an event will occur if or given that other events occur
  • The fundamental difference between probability and statistics: the former concerns predictions based on fixed probabilities; the latter concerns the inference of those probabilities based on observed data.

Chapter 9: Illusions of patterns and patterns of illusion

  • Whenever we have a new idea- instead of searching for ways to prove our ideas wrong, we usually attempt to prove them correct. (Confirmation bias) This presents a major impediment to our ability to break free from the misinterpretation of randomness.
  • Eg. When ppl recognize that the sequence consists of increasing even numbers, they seek to confirm their guess instead of attempting to falsify their idea by testing a sequence that includes an odd number.
  • As philosopher Francis Bacon put it in 1620,”the human understanding, once it has adopted an opinion, collects any instances that confirm it, and though the contrary instances may be numerous and more weightly, it either does not notice them or else rejects them, in order that this opinion will remain unshaken.” In addition, we also interpret ambiguous evidence in favour of our ideas.

Chapter 10: The Drunkard’s Walk

  • Laplace’s Determinism: the idea that the state of the world at the present determines precisely the manner in which the future will unfold.
  • Conditions: 1) the laws of nature must dictate a definite future, and we must know those laws. 2) We must have access to the data that completely describe the system of interest, allowing no unforeseen influences. 3) We must have sufficient intelligence or computing power to be able to decide what, given the data about the present, the laws say the future will hold.
  • Small differences led to massive changes in the result (Lorenz’s Butterfly effect) When we look back in detail on the major events of our lives, it is not uncommon to be able to identify such seemingly inconsequential random events that led to big changes.
  • Determinism in human affairs fails to meet the requirements for predictability alluded to by Laplace due to:
  • 1) Society is not governed by definite and fundamental laws in the way physics is. People’s behaviour is not only unpredictable, but as Kahneman and Tversky repeatedly showed, also often irrational.
  • 2) Even if we could uncover the laws of human affairs, as Quetelet attempted to do, it is impossible to precisely know or control the circumstances of life.
  • 3) Human affairs are so complex that it is doubtful we could carry out the necessary calculations even if we understood the laws and possessed the data. “Chance is a more fundamental conception than causality.” (Nobel laureate Max Born)
  • Perrow’s normal accident theory: theory of why, inevitably, things sometimes go wrong, it could also be flipped to explain why, they sometimes go right. In fact, economists like W. Brian Arthur argue that a concurrence of minor factors can even lead companies with no particular edge to come to dominate their competitors. “In the real world,” he wrote, “if several similar-sized firms entered a market together, small fortuitous events- unexpected orders, chance meetings with buyers, managerial whims- would help determine which ones received early sales and, over time, which came to dominate. Economic activity is… [determined] by individual transactions that are too small to forsee, and these small ‘random’ events could [ac]cumulate and become magnified by positive feedbacks over time.”
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Langkawi Trip 2015

Cable Car Ride + Sky Bridge

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Oriental Village:

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Trick Eye Museum:

This was my first experience visiting a trick eye museum, but the it was pretty amazing in my opinion. The prices were definitely cheaper than that in Singapore and the exhibitions were fantastic. Being photographed with them makes it seem as though you are really part of the exhibit.

As a background context, the Langkawi Art in Paradise 3D Museum is the largest 3D art museum in Malaysia and second largest in the world. It features more than 200 impressive artworks that appear almost realistic. It is accessible within a 20-minute drive from Langkawi International Airport, and I will suggest visiting this attraction together with the Langkawi cable car and the Oriental village, given their proximity.

As the Museum is divided into nine interactive zones including optical illusion, aquatic, safari, fantasy, classic, castles, landscapes, Egyptian, and Malaysian zones, leaving a good 3h is a must in order to truly explore the different regions. Presented in three-dimensional forms, many of these paintings seem to spill out from their framed canvases, allowing visitors to step into a magical realm of their choice.
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Island Hopping Tour:

There are so many different boat operators along the beaches offering island hopping tours you will be spoilt for choice. The prices are nearly all the same though so not to worry about being ripped off.
After booking your tour, the first stop you will be making is the island Pulau Dayang Bunting, well known for the Lake of the Pregnant Woman. It takes about 20 minutes to reach this unique island from Teluk Baru jetty. You will be given 1h to spend at the island and you can choose to either hike up a long flight of stairs to gain a birds’ eye view of the island, or you can rent a kayak to kayak around the lake.
 
Pulau Dayang Bunting is part of UNESCO World Heritage Geoparks and it is said that if you look at the mountains at the fringes from the lake, you will be able to see an outline of a woman lying on her back who is 6-7 months pregnant.
Next stop: Eagle Feeding!
The boat operators will bring you to the ideal spot for eagle feeding where you will be greeted with the spectacular view of the majestic birds swooping in to catch the food.
Lastly and also my favourite island: Pulau Beras Basah

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Here, you will be also to swim and snorkel, enjoying the crystal clear water and the huge array of fishes 🙂

Parasailing:

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Sunset by the beach:

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Singapore Christmas 2016

Christmas Wonderland @ Gardens By the Bay

With so much time on my hands after my exams, I got to visit the Christmas Wonderland together with Hwi Soo unnie 😀 The place opens at 3pm but we reached at around 7+pm and managed to catch a glimpse of the sunset as well 🙂 Overall, I felt that you didn’t need to go so early as most of the lights only switch on after dark anyways xD

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The above “castle” is actually an ice rink inside, if you do want to skate however, do remember to wear appropriate clothes and to reach earlier as the slots available do get booked pretty fast >.<

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Taiwan Trip Dec 2016 Part 2

Taipei 101 food:

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Taipei 101 countdown:

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I managed to catch the sunset before the countdown~ A piece of advice for any travellers, if you do want to watch the sunset while you’re up there, do check out what time the sunset is and queue up at Taipei 101 around 1h before the sunset. The queue to enter the viewing deck can take up to an hour so it’s best to be early. There is no time limit of how long you need to spend up there so you could finish watching the sunset and watch the night view as well 😀

Countdown 2016:

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5 minute fireworks! 🙂 There are many places near 101 where you can enjoy the show and there is even a live concert, although it is definitely very crowded. xD

Anyways, I also managed to make new friends despite going to the countdown alone 😀 Taiwanese people are really nice and friendly, so don’t be afraid to speak to the people around you ^^

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Ferrero Rocher cupcakes

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(Makes 6)

Cupcakes

25g cocoa powder

90g flour, butter and milk

1/4 tsp salt, bicarbonate soda and vanilla extract

110g sugar

1 egg

6 ferrero rocher

Frosting

150g nutella

120g butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat a fan-forced oven to 180C (356F) or 160C (320F) for a fan forced oven. Line a cupcake tin with cupcake liners.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the cocoa powder, plain flour, salt, bicarb soda and sugar. Turn mixer on low speed and allow it to mix for a couple minutes to help everything combine well (alternatively you may do this by sifting the ingredients together). Add the softened butter there is no butter visible and it’s well incorporated into the dry.
  3. Next, add milk and eggs in a jug and whisk until well combined.
  4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients in a slow and steady stream until no dry ingredients are visible. Scrape down the bowl and mix for another 20 seconds.
  5. Fill each paper 3/4 of the way (using an ice cream scoop to transfer the batter into the cupcake liners makes this a quick and easy process otherwise you can use two tablespoons).
  6. Insert one Ferrero Rocher in each cupcake liner. Bake for 20-25 min or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Allow them to cool completely on a wire cooling rack before frosting.
  7. For the frosting, combine the nutella and butter at room temperature using a handheld whisk
  8. Chill the frosting for around 10-15min before piping it onto the cooled cupcakes.

Mad Max: Fury Road

I’ve been meaning to post this since I saw the movie when I was in Taiwan end of December 2016. Around one month late review, but better late than never haha! Also, the movie is quite old itself, having been released in 2015:  starring Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky and Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa. They join forces as they try to flee from cult leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne). The film is set in a future desert wasteland where gasoline and water are scarce commodities.

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While Max tries to free himself from being a blood bag to sick War Boy Nux, he encounters Furiosa who is also trying to escape together with Immortan Joe’s five wives. Joe is shown to be a cruel dictator who rules by limiting the amout of water available to the rest of the civilians while keeping it to himself.

After Max manages to get rid of Nux, Max and Furiosa fight pursuing bikers together as Joe’s car, with Nux now on board, surmounts the blockade and eventually attacks the War Rig. This eventually allows Nux to board and hide himself in the Rig. Furiosa explains to Max that they are escaping to the “Green Place”, an idyllic land she remembers from her childhood. Meanwhile, Capable (another of Joe’s wives) finds Nux hiding in the Rig, distraught over his failure, and consoles him. They drive the War Rig overnight through swampland and desert, reuniting with Furiosa’s clanL the Vuvalini the next day.

Furiosa is devastated to learn that the swampland they passed was indeed the Green Place, now uninhabitable. After some discussion, Max convinces the rest to return to the undefended Citadel, which has ample water and greenery that Joe keeps for himself, and trap Joe and his army in the bikers’ canyon.

As the group heads back to the Citadel, one of the clan’s women had a conversation with The Dag, one of Joe’s wives.

The Dag: You kill people with that, do you? (pointing at the weapon)

Keeper of Seeds: Killed everyone I’ve ever met out here. Headshots all of, snap! Right on the medulla.

The Dag: I thought some of you girls were above all that.

Keeper of the Seeds: [after a pause] Come here. Take a peek.

The Dag: [gasping] Seeds.

Keeper of the Seeds: This are from home. Heirlooms. The real thing. I plant one every chance I get.

The Dag: Where?

Keeper of the Seeds: So far nothing’s took. Earth’s too sour.

The Dag: Ah! So many different kinds.

Keeper of the Seeds: Trees, flowers, fruit. Back then everyone had they field. Back then there was no need to snap anybody.

[Side note: At this point I’ll just like to add that this conversation is so impactful, precisely because it is not as far off a consequence as we think it is. In a few decades, we would have turn many areas into wasteland with our excessive deforestation and climate change that will make these areas uninhabitable.]

While en route, they are attacked by Joe’s forces, rendering Furiosa seriously wounded. Joe captures Toast, one of his wives, who manages to distract him long enough for Furiosa to kill him. Nux also sacrifices himself by wrecking the Rig, killing Rictus (Joe’s son) and blocking the canyon, allowing Max, Furiosa, the wives, and the surviving Vuvalini to escape successfully in Joe’s car, where Max transfuses his blood to Furiosa, saving her life.

[Nux was my favourite character throughout the movie, I was so glad when he became good- then heartbroken when he sacrificed himself T.T I was really hoping he’ll lead a normal life with Capable too 😦 They were so cute together hahaha!]

At the Citadel, the impoverished citizens are overjoyed at the sight of Joe’s corpse. Furiosa, the wives, and the Vuvalini are cheered by the people and welcomed by the remaining War Boys. Max shares a respectful glance with Furiosa before blending into the crowd and again departing for parts unknown.

(Ending scene) Narrator: “Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of our better selves?” -The First History Man

[Watching this movie, I am reminded of my favourite poem: The Lorax by Dr Seuss. Here is just a short extract:

I am the Lorax, he coughed and he whiffed.

He sneezed and he snuffled. He snarggled. He sniffed.

Once-ler! he cried with a cruffulous croak.

Once-ler! You’re making such smogulous smoke!

My poor Swomee-Swans…why, they can’t sing a note!

No one can sing who has smog in his throat.

And so, said the Lorax,

–please pardon my cough–

they cannot live here.

So I’m sending them off.

Where will they go?…

I don’t hopefully know.

They may have to fly for a month…or a year…

To escape from the smog you’ve smogged-up around here.

Well, I have my rights, sir, and I’m telling you

I intend to go on doing just what I do!

And, for your information, you Lorax, I’m figgering

on biggering

and BIGGERING

and BIGGERING

and BIGGERING,

turning MORE Truffula Trees into Thneeds

which everyone, EVERYONE, EVERYONE needs!

And at that very moment, we heard a loud whack!

From outside in the fields came a sickening smack

of an axe on a tree. Then we heard the tree fall.

The very last Truffula Tree of them all!

Now all that was left ‘neath the bad-smelling sky

was my big empty factory…

the Lorax…

and I.

UNLESS someone like you

cares a whole awful lot,

nothing is going to get better.

It’s not.

SO…

Catch! calls the Once-ler.

He lets something fall.

It’s a Truffula Seed.

It’s the last one of all!

You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.

And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.

Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.

Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.

Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.

Then the Lorax

and all of his friends

may come back.

Quoting Al Gore from An Inconvenient Truth: “And that is what is at stake, our ability to live on planet Earth, to have a future as a civilization. I believe this is a moral issue, it is your time to seize this issue, it is our time to rise again to secure our future.” If we want our future to CHANGE, Change has to start NOW and it has to start with US.]