I pity da Phools!
I met a man crying over a red lottery ticket. His name was Regular Phool, and he was shocked and disgusted that his ticket didn’t win. “Why, why?” he demanded to know. Even though I didn’t see what was so amazing about the fact that his ticket didn’t win, I could sympathize, if only a little, with his predicament. Perhaps it was a little easier as a neutral observer, than as the ticket-holder, to see no puzzle in the fact that the ticket didn’t win. I did think him a bit weird, though, to be amazed that his ticket didn’t win. Boy, was I about to be schooled – I hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.
Further on, I met a woman staring in amazement at another ticket, green as it happens, from a different lottery. Her name was Beyonda Phool, and her ticket had won. I thought to myself, “at last, a normal person, who recognizes that it’s the winning ticket that’s the surprise, not all the losing ones.” But I had it backwards. For she was not amazed that her ticket had won, she was amazed that a certain other number had NOT won. You see, in the green-ticket lottery, which was familiar to me, one cannot select one’s own number. So, I could understand how a number that she considered special could be a different number than the one on her ticket. What I could not understand was why it was so puzzling that the “special” number (apparently she’d never heard of the proof that every natural number is special) did not win. “Why didn’t the special number win?” she demanded to know. Her burning question had no hold on me. I had no answer, but I couldn’t sympathize, either. I figured she was the weirdest person I would ever meet.
Wrong again! Later, I met Beyondandonda Phool, staring in amazement at a blue lottery ticket. It was a winner, and – why was I not surprised? – that wasn’t what amazed her. What amazed her was why the “special” number wasn’t the winner. Not just A winner, mind you: she wanted to know why the “special” number wasn’t THE winner, to the exclusion of all others including hers. I resolved to try to find out what was so darn puzzling to these Phools.
“So the special number did win also, then?” I asked her.
She didn’t know. There was some talk that more than one ticket could win, although something about the rules of the game seemed to prevent winners from being aware of each other. According to Beyondandonda’s friend, whose name I think was David – or was it Louis – no wait, maybe he had two first names – anyway, he argued that there was good reason to think all tickets were winners. But she was inclined to the opposite view, that there was only one winning ticket. Still, regardless of whether David/Louis was right, what confounded her was why the special number was not the sole winner.
“Well, there are lots of tickets in the lottery, right?” I asked. “And is there any reason to believe that some tickets are more likely to win than others? Because if not, I just cannot see what’s so mysterious. And if it’s possible that more than one ticket wins, that just makes the question even less pressing.” She objected to the term “lottery”, however, because no one knew whether all tickets had had a chance to win, or whether the chances were equal or not, or even whether the game was rigged. But the fact that the special number was so special, she argued, made it particularly interesting case. Much more interesting, she claimed, than (for example) ticket numbers 1 million through 2 million, combined.
“Supposing I agree that it’s much more interesting than those other tickets combined,” I countered, “how does that show it’s more likely? And just how many tickets did you say there were?” On the relative likelihood question, she had nothing to offer but further pleas about specialness. But in answer to my other query, she assured me that there were an infinite number of tickets. At this point, I gaped at her and began backing away.
By the way - not that it matters – the “special” number was zero, or as Beyondandonda called it, Nothing. And the blue-ticket game was called What Is. Then she asked me once more if I could shed some light on her burning question, Why isn’t Nothing the sole winner of What Is? “Sorry,” I called, hurrying away now, “Not interested.”
Random link, apropos of nothing