View Full Version : Probability distortion

Professor Tanhauser
2007-Dec-13, 09:08 AM
Ok, I'm not exactly a scientist. (I may have been one if not for some things that the educational system did to me in my youth....:() Nonetheless, according to some people you don't have to be a scientist to write good Science Fiction, and I'd like to try.

I have the germ of a story involving the discovery of an apparently abandoned alien habitat and a team of experts called in to explore/study it.

One of the people called in is an old fashioned role playing game writer/designer who is one of the few people in the future who still create "sit around the table" role playing games. (Yeah, yeah, we know, we're all going to hell, now shut up, jack chick, before I stuff your tracts down your throat.:))

He gets called in because the alien site bears a strange resemblance to some material he wrote for a RPG, and because some of the scientist were familiar with it. (Gamers forever!!!:dance:)

So he gets more or less shanghaied into this expedition lead by some military jerk type who doesn't like civilians in general and "fantasy game weirdos" in particular.

Well, one thing our hero discovers is that in the alien site, dice roll strangely. (The commander had disallowed "fantasy games" as being "psycholigically questionable" for base personnel)

Nonetheless, Our Hero discovers that dice roll oddly. Roll one dice and it rolls a normal spread of results.

Roll two dice with the intent of seeing, for instance, who rolled higher and they roll normally.

Now, roll two dice with the intent of adding the results. Hooo-Boy! Things get weird! The ONLY results you get are 6,7 and 8.

Statistically speaking, when rolling 2 dice and adding the results the most likely results would be a 6,7 or eight as each or them has 3 combinations that would result in them, while the others only have 2 or 1 combination.

So, it seems that something is affecting probability in the alien site, and not only doing that but doing so in a fashion that seems to "know" how the dice are being rolled and what for. Two people roll a die each to see who rolls higher, normal results. One person rolls a pair to add the results, he gets nothing but the most likely results. Roll more dice to add together and the most likely results come up exclusively.

So something is screwing with probability, essentially evening it out so that only likely results happen. What other effects would this have on things that I might want to add and would they have been noticed unless someone was looking for probability distortions? Would, for example, all electrons in the area have the same spin or would they have a perfectly random distribution? Any effects at the quark level?

Any ideas with this would be appreciated.

2007-Dec-13, 01:16 PM
Hmmm....I guess it's only a work of fiction, and we have to suspend disbelief to a certain degree.

However, in reality I think everyone would just drop dead on the spot. Only a minority of encounters beween molecules result in a chemical reaction. So in this site where only the most probable things ever happen, most chemical reactions would just stop. Since life is essentially a bunch of coordinated chemical reactions, every living thing would just suddenly die when they entered the place.

2007-Dec-13, 03:18 PM
The only thing I can imagine that would produce such specific (and as kzb pointed out, selectively nonlethal) results would be a hidden telekinetic AI, capable of monitoring and manipulating events in the habitat, and with a mischievous sense of humor.

2007-Dec-13, 03:34 PM
General Science? Has this thread been mis-posted?

2007-Dec-13, 04:18 PM
Thread moved.

mike alexander
2007-Dec-13, 06:05 PM
ProfT, it all depends on what you're going for.

Example: In Algis Budry's Rogue Moon, a vaguely similar idea is examined: an alien artifact on the Moon that kills anyone who attempts to enter it. By the end of the story absolutely nothing is revealed as to the artifact's purpose, but people find a (frankly horrible) way to eventually enter and examine it. The essential mystery remains.

For a problem-solver type of story, you still don't necessarily need an explanation on the mechanistic level; it can remain descriptive. This, in turn, depends on where you want the plot to go.

If I understand your concept correctly, the idea is that the manner in which you conduct a probability-testing experiment affects the outcome, with certain methods (the 'all-at-once' vs. 'sequential' test) resulting in a diminution of outliers. I think there's something intriguing here,although it's not yet a story.

You could have the characters perform another test to see if it's just dice. One good one might be looking at runs of heads/tails in coins. Flip a coin 1,000 times and tally up the distribution of runs, then put 1,000 coins in a jar, shake it up and pour them out, then pick coins at random and see if you still get an approximation of the binomial distribution (I've actually done this aas a demonstration; always fascinating to see it work). Then they could deliberately try to push the results in one direction or another (Check the wear patterns in carpets near doors. it follows a normal distribution, most worn at the center. Very old stone stairs have wear that also follows the distribution).

I'd say your first decision is whether the point of the story is to examine the effects of the mystery on the characters, solve the mystery itself, or both. The title could be "Not Likely".

Professor Tanhauser
2007-Dec-14, 07:29 AM
Well, ITFp I do not appreciate this being labeld "Babbling" as I was seeking advice from scientists. I didn't do anything to deserve being treated condescendingly. Just because some of you may have college degrees you don't have to belittle everyone else.

As to the story, I had the idea that the aliens had solved the secret of using stable muons to create matter, and the probability field would in fact be what stabilized the muons and made their exotic matter constructions possible.

The "distorted probability" would be a side effect.

To make other tests, they could use a computerized random number generator effect to see what happened. The idea was the field only worked if there was a "bell curve" type of probability. Say you roll a dice. OK, in theory that's a flat probability line, each result has the same chance to come up.

Now, say you roll two dice and sum the result. Aha, now we get into a bell curve centering on the number 7, altho 6 and 8 are equally likely. The field tends to cause the most likely results to come up if there's a "bell curve" in the probability.

Part of the effect would seem to depend on an observer being present, much as in the famous "twin slit" experiments in which the outcome changed depending on whether or not information from the photometers was recorded.

As to something like this killing people, that's a major point, But if the effect is in some way affected by an observer, then maybe it requires the possiblity of an observer and hence does not kill potential observers....

2007-Dec-14, 08:08 AM
I'm not sure the BaBBling section is what you think it is. This is the area for topics that don't really fit anywhere else. General Science would apply if you were trying to run the math of a real event or idea, or if you wanted to discuss biology or other hard science in the real world. BaBBling is the best spot for anything about a fictional/non-real nature (with the exception of the ATM section, but that's very different). Basically, getting something moved here isn't an insult to the poster or idea. It's more like moving the salt from the spice rack to the baking cupboard.

As for the story itself, if the statistical probability plays out when
someone is watching then you might look at it from the angle that the observer is the one influencing the results. If I land on a distant planet and expect to be able to breathe based on the atmosphere, I will be able to. If I roll dice and expect (subconsciously) the result to be one of the statistically probable ones, it will be. You could play this up by having a character that honestly expects that since the 6 has more holes than the 1, that the side with the 1 will be heavier, and thus he rolls only sixes every time.

For this, I think you would need to either have a super being that is capable of reading the thoughts and influencing things, or go with the "it's all in his head" thing, where none of it happens in the real world. An example is Erfworld, (http://www.giantitp.com/comics/erf0001.html) a web comic that uses a similar idea. The main character is a tabletop gamer, mostly strategy that gets pulled into a fantasy world that uses tabletop style turn based rules for combat. He's summoned there to be the ultimate warlord, but has to learn the rules of the system day by day. It's got some funny bits from time to time, as well as some pg/pg-13 stuff every now and then.

Professor Tanhauser
2007-Dec-15, 09:08 AM
Thanks for the reply, the idea again was that the probability distort was a side effect of something that stabilizes muons, allowing muonic matter to exist.

One of the discoveries would be that being made of stable muons, the matter was closer to the quantum level and more affected by an observer than normal matter. I.E. they can't open any doors they find in the alien structures, until a character stands before one and envisions it opening, at which point it does.

The limit is that only possible things can happen. Energy cannot be created of destroyed, nor can mass. Time travel can't be done, basic physics must be observed, etc.

But the muonic matter can do anything possible under those criteria...