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The Truth About Dice


Dispel any myths you may have heard about dice having a mind of their own. If the skeptic within you urges you to read further then please, reader, do so. There are some all-too-often unexamined elements which contribute to the magical art of dice rolling. The real magic is in the person rolling it. While the dice wizards may agree with me on that, I disagree with them on who is really in control of said magic. I'm talking about perspective, confirmation bias, probability, superstition and amusement.

What is perspective? I'm sitting in front of a keyboard. I can see a monitor and barely the plug for it behind. I cannot see where the monitor nor tower are plugged in. How one views the world from their relative position is perspective. This goes much further than literally of course. It's these figurative views that we're interested in at the moment. Perspective has to do with a lot of what (and how) we believe. Many people have tried to convince me that they can make their dice roll high (or low) through some sort of will or intention. I do not see it as a fact but merely their belief. They will continue to see it as fact since they found proof for it before. Often they'll continue finding proof for it after.

There's this tricky thing called confirmation bias. If I want to believe that my girlfriend is happy to be with me then my mind will "highlight" instances that confirm this. It doesn't mean it makes or fabricates them confirmation bias just means those instances stand out for me. The same goes for if I want to believe she's unhappy. My perspective will hiccup on those instances that seem to confirm my fear. This will cause me to remember these instances before others in what is known as availability heuristic. We could say that people who remember more ones and twenties being rolled simply remember more ones and twenties being rolled that's it. Not that more of those numbers were rolled. Those rolls were more significant for them than other rolls and thus carried more weight as far as their availability heuristic was concerned. With confirmation bias this compounds itself, often without our realization, and causes people to ignore the laws of randomness.

If you're a student of probability then surely you saw my mention of confirmation bias before you read it. Confirmation bias influences our perspective, so how can we ever know what is objective? Well that's really hard to do with some things. With dice it's pretty simple. Keep a log. Use the scientific method to gauge the data and probability consistently while keeping to the law of large numbers. The greater the quantity of data within the set then the greater the reliability of the data. Three-quarters of a classroom of twenty people is far less significant than three-quarters of a city of two-million, even though the ratio is the same. Stick to the laws of probability. I roll two six-sided dice and I most often bet on seven as the total sum. When that is not an option I'll bet on six or eight. Whichever number I'm hoping for is irrelevant: Math doesn't care about intentions. Even though seven, six or eight won't come up all the time they will come up often enough to justify betting on those odds instead of any others with two six-sided dice. Odds cannot be controlled through will but only predicted through education.

Students of psychology might have seen availability heuristic coming. Superstition is a powerful thing. Turning away from what we as a species have learned (such as probability) and holding to what we believe (such as dice-spirits or dice-altering willpower) is superstition. That's not to say some incredibly random and superstition-inspiring events won't ever happen. In a recent game online my friend rolled a series of ones consecutively. The odds of this is overwhelming to consider since we were using twenty-sided dice. This should not inspire superstition. Think again of the law of large numbers. Imagine how many people are using the dice-rolling website we were (very many). Not as many as would be necessary to ensure that such odds would be certain. You roll a ten-sided die and I'll roll a ten-sided die while we both hope for a one. The odds are then two times those than if only I rolled that die. Gather enough data and even astoundingly improbable things will happen. Including five ones in a row from a twenty-sided die.

There was a lot of amusement in those five ones in a row. There's also a lot of amusement finding out who does and doesn't believe in the power of the dice. I certainly don't look down on anyone who does believe in such things because those beliefs aren't hurting anyone (unless you're a risky or compulsive gambler). After I figured out the probability and psychology portion of perspective and dice rolls I have found it fun to test the waters. In a game years ago a non-player ally was on the verge of death and I let others pick which number for me to roll (10% chance) in order for him to live. I discovered that one of my players was very determined in his guesses as though picking this number over the others might change the odds. Many others are like him, too. It's a fun way to learn about people and how they believe even around something as seemingly insignificant as a table and some dice.

Still don't believe in the math and psychology of my argument? Keep on keeping on. I'd love to hear your rebuttal either in e-mail or on the forum!

Further reading...
Availability Heuristic
Law of Large Numbers
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Content copyright © 2014 by Leif Sutter. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Leif Sutter. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Leif Sutter for details.

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