18 June 2012

Choice is not Freedom Penn (from Penn and Teller)

I've always been fascinated by the ways people can fool each other. Known ways that people can convince each other of things that aren't true. In school, I studied a lot of statistics, which when used correctly can be the best way to prove something is true, but when used incorrectly can be used to prove almost anything.

Another subject which deals with trickery more straight on is magic. Magic is a fascinating subject to study. Today I'm going to talk about one of the most ingenious tools in the magicians arsenal. It's called the magicians choice.

Imagine a magician goes up to you with a coin. He says, "I know exactly what you're going to flip! In fact, I've written it down already." You flip the coin, and it lands on heads. "Aha!" says the magician, and pulls an envelope out of his pocket. You open the envelope, and it says "Your first flip will be heads." Flip it again he says. Heads again. He pulls out an envelope from his pocket, which reads "Your second flip will be heads." This exercise can theoretically go on forever, all because of the magicians choice.

You see, the magician had many envelopes, two for each time you flipped the coin. For each attempt, one envelope said that you would pull heads, and the other said you would pull tails. After you had already flipped the coin and had it land on heads, the magician chose which envelope to have you open. The magician made a choice you never knew about. Hence, the magicians choice. You thought the magician had a fifty percent chance of picking where the coin would land, but in fact the magician had a 100% chance.

In this case, you had a choice, but you did not have freedom. You had zero chance of beating the magician.

So, in life, remember that even if you have a choice, you don't necessarily have freedom.