By George Gamow
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Additional resources for Un, deux, trois... l’infini
It is the ultimate symbol of the unknowable. The future of the dice seems knowable only when it becomes the past. I have always been extremely unsettled by things that I cannot know. Things that I cannot work out. I don’t mind not knowing something provided there is some way ultimately to calculate what’s going on. With enough time. Is this dice truly so unknowable? Or with enough information can I actually deduce its next move? Surely it’s just a matter of applying the right laws of physics and solving the appropriate mathematical equations.
The probabilistic techniques developed by mathematicians like Fermat and Pascal to deal with uncertainty were incredibly powerful. Phenomena that were regarded as beyond knowledge, the expression of the gods, were beginning to be within reach of the minds of men. Today these probabilistic methods are our best weapon in trying to navigate everything from the behaviour of particles in a gas to the ups and downs of the stock market. Indeed, the very nature of matter itself seems to be at the mercy of the mathematics of probability, as we shall discover in the Third Edge, when we apply quantum physics to predict what fundamental particles are going to do when we observe them.
For example, if Fermat needs 2 points for a win while Pascal needs 4, then you consult the 2 + 4 = 6th row of the triangle and add the first four numbers together and the last two. This is the proportion in which you should divide the spoils. In this case it’s a 1 + 5 + 10 + 10 = 26 to 1 + 5 = 6 division. So Fermat gets 26⁄32 × 64 = £52 and Pascal gets 6⁄32 × 64 = £12. In general, a game where Fermat needs n points to Pascal’s m points can be decided by consulting the (n + m)th row of Pascal’s triangle.
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