brian cox

How to beat the house (or at least win at Monopoly)

We live in an unpredictable world. What are the chances?

No matter how old we get, we never quite seem to get used to the idea of not being sure what's going to happen next. Recently on an episode of The Infinite Monkey Cage the risible hosts and panel discuss how to deal with chance events, the gambler's fallacy and (possibly most important of all) winning strategies for Monopoly!

Listen to the Infinite Monkey Cage on BBC Radio 4 online

Learning how to cope with uncertainty and understanding how to deal with probabilistic events is one of the most important skills we can have. Our instinct is to ignore the problem, trying to pretend that we can predict the future instead of taking the more humble approach and asking, "What is the responsible way to make decisions given my limited knowledge of the world?"

Games offer an useful sandbox to explore these ideas without real-world consequences (of course, I'm not referring to gambling with real money here). In the same way as I've described magic tricks as a safe way for people to explore the limits of their own reason — playing with being deceived by harmless tricksters where the worst possible outcome is someone fails to find the card you picked.

The Infinite Monkey Cage is always a funny and educational resources if you don't mind the British accents. You can subscribe to the podcast just about anywhere. 

Deception on The Infinite Monkey Cage

There is a delightful BBC Radio Podcast called The Infinite Monkey Cage, with theme song by Eric Idle and hosted by Robert Ince and Brian Cox (the guy Stephen Hawking pushed into the river on the Monty Python reunion show.)

This is the episode from January 19, 2015, entitled Deception. It's available on iTunes or from the BBC.

No one does the panel discussion as well as the Brits and it's a very interesting discussion. And includes a magician and respected academic, Richard Wiseman.

One of the most intriguing things they mention, which I don't hear discussed very often, is that we are not very good at knowing when we are being deceived. There is a natural tendency to both accept things at face value, and to assume others will accept things at face value.

It also turns out that many of the "tricks" you are supposed to be able to use to detect deceptions (facial ticks and other visual cues) don't really work.

I guest listener be warned.