A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

Critical Thinker's Dictionary

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Littlewood's law of miracles

Mathematician John Littlewood (1885-1977) calculated that a typical person would experience about one miracle a month during his or her lifetime. He defined a miracle as something deemed to have special significance and occurring with a probability of one in a million. He based his calculation on assuming that the typical person is awake and alert about eight hours a day and that events occur at the rate of about one per second. (For those who will do the math, you actually need about 35 days to experience one million events at the rate of one per second. But this is miracle math, so we must cut Littlewood some slack.)

See also coincidences and miracle.

further reading

Bollobás, Béla. (1986). editor. Littlewood's Miscellany,  Cambridge University Press.

Dyson, Freeman. (2006). "One in a Million," a review of Debunked! ESP, Telekinesis, Other Pseudoscience. (Johns Hopkins University Press 2004) by Georges Charpak and Henri Broch, translated from the French by Bart K. Holland. The review is chapter 27 of The Scientist as Rebel (NYRB).

Last updated 19-Dec-2013

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