|(quoted from The Gigantic Fluctuation)|
"Half of what?" I asked, and immediately realized I had put my foot in
it again. He was very surprised at my question.
"Don't you even know the theory of probability?" he asked.
I answered that we hadn't got to that yet at school.
"In that case, you won't understand a thing," he said, disappointed.
"Then you explain it," I said angrily, and he obediently complied. He
told me that probability was the likelihood of one or another event coming
to pass according to the ratio of the favourable cases to the whole number
of cases possible.
"And where do the sandwiches come in?" I asked.
"A sandwich might fall butter-side down or butter-side up," he said.
"And so, generally speaking, if you try dropping a sandwich at random, it
will sometimes fall one way and sometimes another. In half the cases, it
falls butter-side up, and the rest of the time butter-side down. D'you see?"
"Ye-es," I said, for some reason remembering I hadn't had supper yet.
"In such cases, they say that the probability of a desired result is
equal to half--to one-half."
He went on to say that if you dropped a sandwich one hundred times, for
example, it might fall butter-side up fifty-five or merely twenty times,
rather than fifty: that only by dropping it for a very long time, over and
over, would it fall butter-side up in approximately half the number of
cases. I pictured this miserable, open sandwich (maybe, even a caviar
sandwich) after it had been thrown a thousand times on the floor, even if
the latter wasn't too dirty. Then I asked were there really people who did
such stupid things. He set in to explain that, actually, sandwiches were not
used for this aim, but money, like when you toss for something. And he
explained how it was done, burying himself deeper in a labyrinth of
examples, so that soon I stopped following him and sat looking at the gloomy
sky, and thought it would probably rain. From this first lecture on the
theory of probability, I can recall only the half-familiar term
'mathematical expectation'. The stranger used this term repeatedly, and
every time I visualized a large hall, like a waiting-room with a tiled
floor, where people sat with briefcases and blotting-pads, from time to time
throwing money or sandwiches up to the ceiling, and awaiting something with
fixed attention. Even now, I often see it in my dreams. And then the
stranger almost deafened me with the ringing term: 'the maximum theorem of
Moivre and Laplace', adding that all this had nothing to do with the matter.
"You know, this isn't what I wanted to tell you, not at all," he said,
his voice losing its former liveliness.
"Excuse me," I inquired, "I suppose you're a mathematician?"
"No," he answered dully. "How can I be a mathematician? I'm a
Out of respect, I said nothing.
"Well, so it seems I haven't yet told you my story," he recalled.
"You were talking about sandwiches," I said.
"You see, my uncle was the first to notice it," he continued. "I was
very absent-minded, see, and often dropped sandwiches. And mine always fell
"Well, that was lucky," I said.
He sighed bitterly.
"It's lucky when it happens once in a while... But when it always does!
Just think ... always!"
I did not understand what he meant, and told him so.
"My uncle knew a thing or two about mathematics, and was interested in
the theory of probability. He advised me to try tossing money. We both
tossed. Even then, I didn't realize that I was under a curse, but my uncle
did. That's what he told me then: 'You're under a curse!'"