This Lighter Side article features a logical fallacy that manifests in our everyday lives, namely the gambler’s fallacy.
It is a fallacy in which an inference is drawn on the assumption that a series of chance events will determine the outcome of a subsequent event. In layman’s terms: believing an event is “due”. In roulette, it is when the ball lands on a streak of red numbers and the anticipation increases that it is due to land on a black number, even though the odds are still 50/50.
It’s generally invoked when we deal with things that frighten us. People who fly a lot tend to think that, after so many flights, they’re “working their way” towards a crash, even though every flight is independent of the last. People fall into the fallacy’s clutches after lightning strikes and shark attacks, thinking that neither can happen in the same place twice. And, of course, if we notice we’re on a lucky streak, or an unlucky one, it has to end soon or be balanced out by something good. If something – for example rainfall or temperature…or an actuarial exam pass rate – is below average for a season, people talk about it increasing soon to get the numbers up to average. We can’t help thinking that, in all cases, the past explains the future.
Luckily, if we identify the fallacy, we can counter it by logical thinking and remind ourselves that most events are just random.