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Have you had your miracle this month?

Illustration for article titled Have you had your miracle this month?

Miracles should happen, according to one mathematician, to everyone. And they should happen at a rate of about once per month. More if you keep your eyes and ears open.

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John Edensor Littlewood released, in 1986, a little book of various mathematical ways of looking at the world. A few of the ideas in that book had legs, but the one that's strode well into next century and is still going strong is Littlewood's law. This one crosses math with religion, or at least the appearance of religion, so it's no wonder that it caught on.

Littlewood's law states that what we think of as miracles should happen to everyone about once every thirty-five days. He defined a miracle as an event that has a one in a million chance of happening. When it came to human beings Littlewood was generous. He assigned miracle-spotters union hours, assuming about eight hours of alertness per day every day. If one defines thinks of each second as another possible event, it should only take a million alert seconds, or thirty-five eight-hour days, to witness a one-in-a-million event. If that's the case, I think we're all a little behind on our miracles.

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Math has taken on the supernatural before. We've covered Kurt Gödel's logical proof of the existence of God. In both that argument and this, the - hah - devil is in the definitions. If you define God a certain way - in this case, as the greatest imaginable being in the universe - it's possible to prove God exist's. If you define miracles as one-in-a-million chances, it's possible to prove that they are but routine occurrences.

Via NY Review of Books.

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DISCUSSION

Spaceart
Ron Miller

Uh...if a "miracle" can happen on any sort of predictable basis—-even if it's only one chance in a million—-I think perhaps Mr. Littlewood needs to revise his definition of "miracle."

Besides, what hat did he pull that "one-in-a-million"criteria from? Why not one in a thousand? One in a billion? One in a googol?

As you say, "If you define miracles as one-in-a-million chances, it's possible to prove that they are but routine occurrences." And a routine occurrence is no miracle.