Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Red means STOP

I consider myself a “rational” person – a “skeptic”, I put my faith in probability and the natural world. I am a member of the “Skeptics Society” and “Oregonians for Science and Reason”. I don’t believe in the supernatural be they UFOs, ghosts or God(s).

“Luck” is merely a perception; the personal attitude one takes regarding events that randomly happen in one’s life. Psychologists have studied luck and found that people’s perception of whether or not they are lucky can be altered by the way they look at it. All in all, good things and bad things happen to people in statistically predictable ways.

So all is in order in the universe and my outlook remains resolute and unbiased… except in one anomaly I cannot seem to reconcile: traffic lights.

You see, traffic lights somehow perceive my approach and turn red, forcing me to stop, with an uncanny regularity which I can only deduce are ordained directly against me. I notice, for example, if I am a passenger in a motor vehicle, the lights seem distinctly biased toward the green. However, if I am the driver, the light will invariably turn read as I approach.

My wife dismisses my belief; actually, she accuses me of being “irrational”. But I remain steadfast, as evidenced any time I need to be somewhere by a fixed period of time. My research further hypothesizes that the number of red traffic lights I encounter is inversely proportional to the amount of time required to reach my destination on time. In non-scientific terms; the more late I am for an appointment, the more of the traffic lights I encounter will be red.

My wife suggests I keep a notepad in the car on which to tally the number of red and green traffic lights I encounter on my journeys. I dismiss her suggestion – Why should I try to disprove what I already know to be true. Besides, I have lots and lots of time to think about this theory... while I am stopped at the many traffic lights on my way.


Rachel said...

Reason is overrated, after all, no?

Who cares about scientific accuracy when you KNOW the truth!

Rachel Noy said...

I'm now a member of the skeptic society too! The traffic light thing made me laugh.

I used to be very open minded to all that stuff until I started learning magic tricks and realised how easily we're fooled.

One of my favourite probability-based ones is getting three identical coins, and putting a red sticker on one of them. The aim is to get the one with the sticker. You then mix them all around, remembering which one has the sticker on. You get the other person to pick a coin, you then pick up the coin with the sticker. You ask them if they want to swap with you, and they ALWAYS say they'll stick if they don't have the sticker (which has always happened when I've done it, bar once), even though when they picked there was a 33% chance of it being the right one, if they were to swap it would be 50%.

Maths is fun! Gotta love human nature.

Robert the Skeptic said...

What you are describing, Ms Noy, is what is commonly referred to as "The Monty Hall Problem", named after the American TV game show.

Explained here:
You actually have a 66.% chance of picking the coin with the sticker... Unless what you are really doing is a coin version of "The Three-card Monty", in which case you have NO chance of picking the right card (or coin).

Rachel Noy said...


Maths was never my strong point. All I know is it's very funny and goes against instinct completely.

That's really interesting, about that game show.

Thanks for the maths lesson and the great Youtube vid Mr Skeptic!