Random AsidesSkepticism

Pair O’ Normal Events

I am seriously getting excited about TAM8 in Vegas!
I had such a blast last year! So many things to do and so many people to see and talk to. This year one thing is for sure, I am definitely going to keep an eye on James Randi.
I so want to catch him investigating a pair o’ normal events!

funny james randi tshirt

Thanks to Neatorama for the design and thanks to Lee for sending me the link!

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. Since I AM coming to TAM 8, I think have a pair 0′ normal events that might be able to stump the Amazing one and win the millionth of a dollar challenge.

    Explain this pair o’ normal events:

    Every time I inhale, I then exhale.

    Muwah ha ha. I shall be victorious.

  2. I wonder how many skeptics gamble. I don’t enjoy it myself, but I know of one skeptic who does. (not to excess)
    I maintain that the skeptic demographic should have a lower percentage of gamblers than non-skeptics. My friend thinks its entertainment and likens it to the large number of skeptics who enjoy fantasy fiction and video games. Merely a correlation but not actually a cause.
    I don’t think it would be worth the trouble to investigate. Just an interesting side point.

  3. @Non Believer: It’s funny but yes, it was something I was curious about a s well. The fact is very few skeptics will gamble because we all know the odds. You might see a few people play but very very few. If anything you will see skeptics playing poker. Usually for charity.

    South Point will be filled with skeptics but the house wont make their money off us on the slot machines. However, the bar usually does pretty well that weekend. ;)

  4. @Non Believer: I would tend to think that, despite the entertainment aspects of most gambling, it is still different from video games or fantasy fiction in terms of ROI.

    Let’s say I put $30 down on a poker table. That’s two or three games, taking a couple hours. If I’m lucky* and skilled, I might parlay that into more money, or more time of entertainment… but if I’m not lucky, I’ve spent $30 for a couple hours at a low-stakes poker table.

    If I put $30 down on an RPG, however, I can play for years. $30 on a hardcover fantasy novel is hours the first time through, and I may well read the book multiple times. $30 on a video game is a couple months subscription to something like WoW, or an old classic videogame that can be played multiple times (go ahead… ask me how many times I’ve beaten Quest for Glory I. I can’t answer you. I don’t know anymore.).

    *Luck is a topic that fascinates me as a skeptic, especially the idea of personal luck. “Good luck”, when taken as “an accumulation of random, uncontrolled, or subconscious factors that has a positive outcome” obviously exists. If you find a $20 on the ground, that’s “good luck”… there are a number of factors beyond my control that resulted in someone else dropping a $20, me being the first to notice it, and it being sufficiently anonymous that I can ethically keep it. But are people “lucky”? In a pure sense of the concept of luck (i.e. random factors tend to go their way), you might have a few people who are statistical outliers… random factors do tend to go their way, but that’s because they’re random factors. But there’s also other aspects to “being lucky”… one of which is effective utilization of information to reduce random, uncontrolled, or deleterious circumstances affecting you. A person who does so effectively, to the point of subconscious reflex, will seem “lucky”, even though it’s an accumulation of other factors that influenced their positive outcomes. But then you have to wonder if such a trait can be taught, inherited, or neither. And if it IS neither, how do we classify someone who, through random chance, gained an exceptional ability to to reduce or mitigate uncontrolled, random, or deleterious circumstances?
    Thoughts like these are why I don’t gamble… and why, despite the Thor’s Hammer on my right arm, and the raven on my left should, my most common prayer is to Fortune.

  5. I can’t imagine EVER wanting to go to Vegas…gambling, environmental irresponsibility, tackiness, consumerism, history of organised crime, drunken idiots, artificiality, shallow and parochial. These are all the images which it conjures up for me. Why would skeptics want to endorse these values?

  6. @GeoTraveller: Take away the gambling and you pretty much described every major metropolitan city. Why not take skepticism there and everywhere else too? And just so you know you don’t have to gamble or join the mob while attending TAM, it’s completely optional.

  7. Amy: (haven’t figured out how to do links yet)

    It’s a pet peeve of mine. My wife doesn’t mind it. The point is that Vegas actually symbolises these things. Most other major metropolitan cities may have some of these traits, but they aren’t proud of them like Vegas appears to be. If I believed in hell, it would be something like Vegas. Give me the desert any day. I think we need to be more than a little skeptical about Vegas itself. Maybe that should be a point for discussion at TAM?

  8. @GeoTraveller: To do a link to someone just click on the little arrow on the top right of the comment.

    I completely agree that the desert is beautiful. I love Red Rock Canyon. And I think most skeptics are skeptical of Vegas or at least skeptical of the gambling.

  9. @Amy:
    I was clicking on the number not the arrow, no wonder it didn’t work!

    I questioned my dad’s decision to buy a lottery ticket last weekend. All he could think about was the winners, and not the losers. He seemed convinced that if he paid his dues every week then one day it would be his turn.

    I wonder if there is some evolutionary psychology thing going on here? We still think we have the same odds as we did when the sample size was a small community. We simply can’t imagine the true nature of the odds. I know I can’t, but at least I can rely on the logic to stop me taking silly risks with my cash.

    I don’t necessarily begrudge the odd one off indulgence of the heart over the head. However, the one thing that makes me think twice about gambling EVER is the thought of actually giving money to those who do take advantage of people who don’t understand the odds or can’t resist the urge.

  10. @Mark Hall:

    It’s basically an expensive hobby to some people. The point of a hobby is that it is done for enjoyment. And each person has to decide for themselves how much money is “worth it” for the amount of time and enjoyment they get out of it. As long as the person is doing it for fun and not because they expect to gain money from it, there’s just no objective way to decide whether they are being rational when they spend a certain amount of money for a certain amount of entertainment.

    Yes, it is more expensive than some other hobbies, but it’s also less expensive than others. I could easily spend $30 taking a date to see a mediocre movie, or getting a half-hour massage. And one night of heavy drinking in a nice bar would cost even more than that. I personally don’t enjoy gambling and would go so far as to say that lotteries are unethical. I also think that casinos spend a lot of money and effort to trick people into spending more money than they can afford. However, I don’t think it’s inherently irrational for someone to enjoy gambling as an expensive hobby.

  11. My gambling tends to be mostly poker, as there is an element of skill involved, and you’re playing against other people rather than “the house”. I also occasionally bet on sport.

    I do the lottery if there is a big jackpot and I have a couple of quid spare when going past the shop on my way home from work on Friday night, but otherwise don’t bother. The only time I played it every week was when the place I was working at ran a syndicate. I simply couldn’t bear the thought of our numbers coming up and only me turning up for work on Monday morning.

    Sure gambling is expensive, and you’re unlikely to win, but then with other things that one could spend ones money on, you have zero chance of getting money back, so I don’t see a problem with people doing it despite the incredibly slim odds – as long as they can afford to do so. I’d agree with @catgirl in saying that it’s an expensive hobby.

  12. I was very disappointed to have missed last year’s TAM after having such a great time the year before. I don’t gamble but may play in a poker tournament that is a fund raiser for JREF but that will be about it. My sister lives in Vegas and I like to visit for the sun, golf with my brother in law, and a couple nights out for dinner or perhaps a show. I do enjoy finding the odd slot machine that actually takes real coins when I have some in my pocket, and I’ll feed the machine just to get rid of the change but I’ve never won a thing. And if you get out of Vegas a ways the desert is indeed beautiful. One of my favorite golf courses in on the Paiute Indian Reservation 20 miles north of Vegas where three courses wander around the desert with not a building or road in sight, huge cactus on the hills, road runners scurrying about and a beer cart that comes by every hour…, heaven.

  13. @James Fox: There are some fantastic place to eat in Vegas and the shows are a blast. I agree. I am also a HUGE Frank Sinatra/Rat Pack fan so I get a cheap thrill every time I roll into town and hear Frank over a loudspeaker.

    And honestly I like Vegas because it doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. It knows it is cheap and tacky and over the top and is totally out to mesmerize you. Everything about the city is based on a lie and the town is completely upfront about it. The odds are available if you want to know them. The town itself is like a giant mirage built smack dab in the middle of the desert. It even looks fake. When you think about it, it’s the ideal spot for a skeptical convention. Sneaky statistics, slight of hand, magicians, smoke and feathers, ‘easy’ money every single trick in the book. And then a few thousand skeptics roll into town. Ahhhhh bliss.

  14. I don’t see any particular reason a skeptic shouldn’t gamble if they see it as entertainment and don’t take it seriously at all. I’ve been to Vegas a few times but gambled very little. On one visit my boyfriend placed his only roulette bet as we were on our way out of the hotel to go home, and won about $900. The one and only time I bought a lottery ticket, I won $300. Of course neither of those things should’ve been expected, and if we had expected either of them then we’d be silly.

    Vegas is a fun city to just go and be decadent in for a weekend. Fancy-shmancy casino hotels, gift shops full of kitsch, Penn and Teller (who did an amazing show and were lovely people to meet), about nine dozen Cirque du Soleil shows, excellent restaurants….there’s plenty to enjoy without gambling. Just be careful trying to walk from the MGM to the Mirage during the summer time if you don’t want to make a pit stop at Margaritaville to recover from the heat. Wish I could go to TAM 8 but sadly can’t afford it this time around. Hope to join you at a future incarnation!

  15. @Amy: In the past ten years there has been an explosion of good restaurants in Vegas. There has not however been a similar positive trend with my disposable income. But being a foodie may get me to at least one good restaurant while I’m down there. I hear Mario Batali’s restaurant at the Venetian is amazing!

  16. @Amy: And, and, and why not? The last time I was in Vegas I ate at Wolfgang Puck’s at the Venetian and heard all about the structural engineering in the ceiling over St Mark’s square and the canals during the meal from my brother in law, who did all the engineering design work for the Venetian and South Point where TAM is.

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