~~~~~~

Keith Devlin is "The Math Guy" on NPR and, apparently, a lot of people like math as was evidenced by our large crowd. Dr. Devlin has written 28 books, but this was his first attempt at weaving history in with math. His book recounts a letter written in 1654 from Blaise Pascal to Pierre de Fermat that solves the long-standing "problem of the points." Devlin's subtitle refers to this missive as "the letter that made the world modern." Why? Well, the solution to the problem of the points resulted in the theory of probability which quickly led to more sophisticated gambling, then ideas about life expectancy, insurance, annuities, and all manner of actuarial processes. Probability theory led people to think rationally about the future and how it might develop.

Keith Devlin is "The Math Guy" on NPR and, apparently, a lot of people like math as was evidenced by our large crowd. Dr. Devlin has written 28 books, but this was his first attempt at weaving history in with math. His book recounts a letter written in 1654 from Blaise Pascal to Pierre de Fermat that solves the long-standing "problem of the points." Devlin's subtitle refers to this missive as "the letter that made the world modern." Why? Well, the solution to the problem of the points resulted in the theory of probability which quickly led to more sophisticated gambling, then ideas about life expectancy, insurance, annuities, and all manner of actuarial processes. Probability theory led people to think rationally about the future and how it might develop.

Dr. Devlin was a lively speaker and brought along a short powerpoint presentation which was very helpful during the illustration of the solution of the problem of the points. Basically, the problem of the points was this: say two players were playing a game of flipping a coin and the winner was the person who could win 3 out of 5 games. A pot of money was the prize. What if, however, the players had to quit the game with one of them ahead 2-1? How should they then split the pot? It seems that the person (A) who has won 2 games should take 2/3 of the pot and the other person (B) take 1/3, right? Wrong. Fermat and Pascal correctly theorized that, if played out, there were only 4 possibilities that would occur in the two remaining games: Person A wins the next two tosses (A wins the pot,) Person A wins the next toss and Person B wins the last toss (A still wins the pot,) Person A loses the next toss, but wins the last toss (A still wins the pot,) or Person B wins the next two tosses (B wins the pot.) Thus, out of the four possibilities, A wins 3 times and B wins 1 time. Therefore, with the game suspended at 2-1, Person A should take 3/4 of the pot and Person B should take 1/4 of the pot.

This explanation was much better with animation and Danny Glover's voice explaining it on Dr. Devlin's powerpoint slides. Anyway, imagine that this solution, which seems simple to us now, was of such magnititude that it shaped our present day world. No wonder the author was so excited about it!

## 43 comments:

interesting books. Gotta check it out

HIiii,congratulations and regard u'r blog to be blog of note...

mixedgreen

Now I just had to comment- Math relating to gambling...now I'll have to check out that book.

I will have to stop by and visit next time I am in the Bay Area. Congratulations on becoming a "Blog Of Note" for November.

http://usadastangas.blogspot.com/ fantastic blog

Good blog. Please visit mine also -

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Great Blog. Really well put together.

Brad

The affection for books, the people who write them and the people who read them is apparent in this fine blog.

I love books, and I love book stores. Thanks for sharing and congratulations on the Blog of Note.

Michael Lockridge

shortstoriesbymlockridge.blogspot.com

Any math geeks out there please, please comment on my 'Fermat's margin proof!' post at my blog.

(and don't just comment somethng like, "DRIVEL!", that won't be very helpful)

Nice book blog !

I always love Math. The wonder of Math never fails to amaze me...

http://usadastangas.blogspot.com/ fantastic blog

I'm on the lookout for book blogs to trade links with. Do let me know should you be keen. Thank you and have a nice day.

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...inspiring wealth into your life!

Congratulations on being listed as one of the Blogs of Note!

Terrace Crawford,

http://www.terracecrawford.com

Very interesting blog! Unfortunately, I can't go to Kepler's because I don't live at the USA... But I'll bookmark this blog so I stay tuned with the latest nice books.

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I love to read. I am glad I found this blog.

Math does have great insight in such daily life problem that we ordinarily think in a wrong way. Yes, to me, this could be a great book. I would buy it. Thanks for the introduction.

I have learned about probability since senior high school. I find that your introduction is more interesting than as described in my textbook. Now I am a Ph.D student and use advanced probabilistic theories to solve problems encountered in engineering fields. However, I like your article. Funny.

Since the last years of 20th century, we are shocked by increasing sufferings of various kinds. Unusual natural disasters like global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis all took place recently. Moreover, global financial systems are also collapsing.

It is reasonable to conclude that there must be something wrong. The survival of human beings comes to a critical point. Each person cannot by himself reverse the situation.

However, if all of us can unite together, we can get a very strong power to create our future.

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Just sign your name and make a good wish for the world. We will present the result to Mr. Ban, the Secreatary-General of United Nations, so that the United Nations can understand our supports and wishes.

love sarah Vowell

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Great books! I am always looking for new stuff to read and you have some interesting suggestions.

great books

Hi,

Thanks for sharing this book. Another enjoyable book about math- or really, numbers- is

Asimov on Numbers. I recommend it.http://www.amazon.com/Asimov-Numbers-Isacc/dp/0517371456

Great book, I will read it if I have the chance.

good blog

congrats on being selected for a blogs-of-note!

dogsdeservefreedom

I'm also love yours site. I read good article about the first crusade, it is First Crusade 1095-1099

Hello - Fine blog! Congratulations on the blog of note - I'm a UK writer. When the book makes it to the US I'll be sure to stop by CA! Best wishes

a great blog!!!!!!!

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There is alot to read on this blog. Very interesting though. I want my blog to be as good as yours.

Hi there! I found your blog while looking for blogs about books. I would love to have you and your readers check out my book -- Learn Me Good -- the hilarious story of Jack Woodson and his first year as a public school math teacher. It's available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Learn-Me-Good-John-Pearson/dp/1411665899/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1227554418&sr=8-1

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good Blog .. very well discriptions for books.

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Hey, I'm not from where your bookstore is based but I like your selection and your reviews. Keep up the good work, it's a shame I'm not from your area!

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