The story so far…

Blogs are, by nature, last-in-first-out creatures, but there is a continuing linear thread running throughout this one via selected posts. Posts categorized as “The Dice” develop a continuing theme of the ties in this world between the natural probabilities that impact our lives, human volition, and our inevitable “theodicies” by which we interpret these impacts.

You can follow this thread by starting here and following the Dice logo at the bottom of these posts:


The subject of human volition (i.e., “choice” or “free will”) naturally evolves into questions of ethics and morality. You can skip some of the early math stuff and start with “The first ethical dilemma,” and then follow the Dice logo from there.

Summary of the “Dice” posts to date for your browsing pleasure:

    1. Yes, Virginia, we still draw lots – How political fate can hinge on a game of chance, like much of the rest of life.
    2. The math of lots and the Greek Fates – The Greeks figured out some of this concept called “probabilistic randomness” a long time ago.
    3. Albert Einstein and his dice – part 1 – Why Albert Einstein, contrary to the name of this blog, liked to say that God doesn’t play dice, and why he was likely wrong.
    4. Albert Einstein and his dice – part 2 – A deeper dive into the peculiar way in which Einstein liked to use “God language.”
    5. Taraji P. Henson meets Gottfried Leibniz – The German polymath Leibniz invented not only calculus but also the word “theodicy” (the justice of God).
    6. Why there is always a winner, but it’s probably not you – How the math behind lotteries, a French mathematician and his Law of Large Numbers have had a greater impact on you than you think.
    7. You are a lottery winner! – More on how lottery math brought you into this world.
    8. The probability of coincidence – Why coincidences are not as coincidental as you think they are.
    9. Cancer, probability, normality and theodicy – part 1 – The harder side of probabilistic randomness in four parts, this one looking at the stubborn statistical randomness of some types of cancer.
    10. Cancer, probability, normality and theodicy – part 2 – A look at how even “out of whack” probability distributions become predictable, called the Central Limit Theorem.
    11. Cancer, probability, normality and theodicy – part 3 – More on the tyranny of the “normal” curve.
    12. Cancer, probability, normality and theodicy – part 4 – A look at how various world religions have dealt with the “theodicy” of cancer’s randomness.
    13. Wait for it…wait for it… – Our French mathematician returns with his math on the randomness of time, called “Poisson processes.”
    14. The gun violence lottery – As if the math of cancer is not depressing enough, a look at the probabilistic randomness underlying gun violence.
    15. Will you choose the cake or the fruit? – It turns out that your own “intentional” choices may be more probabilistically random than you think.
    16. Fingers, toes, and Bernie Madoff – How the math of randomness should have brought down Bernie Madoff’s financial scam several years earlier than it did.
    17. The ever-changing river – What happens when philosophers and theologians get hold of Poisson processes.
    18. Do bad things really happen in threes? – No, but there is some interesting math here anyway for pondering the next time you are on hold for customer service.
    19. Me and my homunculus – The search for the “little person” inside my head controlling what I say and do.
    20. The casualties of culture – The math of poverty and and addiction.
    21. Ant choices and “t+1” – The math of “emergence” and collective intelligence.
    22. Hearing, seeing, and choosing in logarithms – part 1 – The math inside our heads is different from the one we usually use on the outside, especially in how your ears work.
    23. Hearing, seeing, and choosing in logarithms – part 2 – Back to how your head does math, especially in how your eyes work.
    24. Zeno’s paradox and the infinitesimal – The more you look for some “yes-no” switch in our brains, the farther away it appears to be.
    25. The first ethical dilemma – Our hunter-gatherer forebears, their ethical choices and probability.
    26. North Korea and Game Theory – The oldest ethical dilemma is still new.
    27. Free will, determinism, and “the nudge” – The Determinists face off with the Compatibilists. Do we really have free will?
    28. Ethics or morality – Is there a difference? – Dealing with overlapping words.
    29. Ethics from the bottom up – Flipping the order in which we think about ethical decision-making.
    30. Your four (or more) ethical brains – You don’t have an angel and devil on your shoulders, but your own brain is often arguing with itself.
    31. King Hammurabi and your “deontology brain” – A big part of your brain likes to make up rules.
    32. The Ten-ish Commandments – The most famous source of rule-based ethics is not what it seems to be.
    33. Divine command ethics – What happens when we assume rules come via lightening bolts.
    34. Making the exception – Every rule has an exception, including this one.
    35. If it’s not illegal... – A lot of very important people like to confuse legality with morality, and vice versa.
    36. Are rules and duties sufficient? – In short, no. Yet much of the world thinks morality is only about rules.
    37. Primal morality and torture – The oldest part of our brain does some pretty awful stuff when it takes over.
    38. Telos: Seeking the “good end” – Looking at morality based on the end goals and consequences of our choices.
    39. Police in my rear-view mirror – We all resort to a bit of “end goal” thinking when we feel a threat.
    40. Iowa, abortion and ethical nuance – What some nuns taught me about “ethical nuance” when it comes to a difficult subject.
    41. Monday morning quarterbacking and unintended consequences – Just because we intend to “do the right thing” doesn’t mean things will turn out well.
    42. Ends, means and the banality of evil – A couple of literary references to round out the discussion of “end-based” ethics. Machiavelli and Arendt were prophetic.
    43. Who is my neighbor? – Sometimes both “rules” and “ends” become irrelevant when your neighbor comes into the picture, or some refugee and her baby on the U.S. border.
    44. John Rawls and justice ethics – A look at one of the most articulate advocates for social justice as a primary way of “doing ethics.”
    45. When you can’t save them all – The very good people who dedicate their lives to alleviating justice can be overcome with this realization. It is the occupational hazard of “justice ethics.”
    46. “Big Picture” ethics – When rules, ends and empathy prove insufficient for answering the tough moral questions, humans have found ways to “go meta.”
    47. The Big Question: Who ought I be? – This is one of the toughest “meta-ethical” questions you can ask yourself. Most of the time we don’t ask because we won’t like the answer, especially when it comes to dilemmas like little children taken from their parents at the U..S. border.
    48. Faith, hope, charity and Roy Rogers – Everything I know today I learned from cheesy 1950s TV westerns.
    49. The moral conversation – How to interpret the different “ethical voices” literally churning around in your head.
    50. A moral conversation about immigration – A timely real-life exercise of the prior post to develop a sense of “ethical nuance” when talking about the immigration issue in the U.S.
    51. Your moral probability – The probabilities about how we react to the ethical dilemmas that face us largely determine who we really are.
    52. “Signaling” our way out of an ethical dilemma – There is a “way out” of difficult moral quandaries, but we likely need to find improved ways to communicate first.
    53. Why be ethical? – Is there any point to all this?
    54. Playing Yahtzee® with God – A look at how it is possible to “tweak the odds” of events in our lives and yet still not have control over the final outcome.
    55. Money is choice. We have quantified much of human volition in comparison to alternative “choices,” even though the dollar itself, like emerging cybercurrencies, is an artificial construct.
    56. Choosing to hit the baseball. Even the best baseball players are “successful” in only one out of three attempts at getting a hit. How much of our “choice” is also probabilistic?
    57. Rain events, the sand pile effect and climate change. You learned an important math lesson about climate change in kindergarten.
    58. “Free will” versus “free won’t”. We see daily examples of how *certain people* have a big problem with impulse control, especially when using social media. Here is a look at the math and biology of restraint.
    59. The “values voter” – Whose values? The traditional “values” of “values voters” and their religious leaders fold like a cheap suit in the groveling to please President Trump.
    60. Brett Kavanaugh, moral luck and the veil of ignorance. An alcohol-infused party many years ago changes the lives of a fifteen-year-old girl and a future Supreme Court nominee based on the roll of the cosmic dice, and becomes a contemporary example of the ethical concept of moral luck.
    61. Can self-driving cars be moral? A look at the application of moral theory to technology-driven objects.
    62. Bad habits and the Bayesian brain. A probabilistic way to look at how our brains make subconscious and conscious decisions.
    63. Brains, minds and twisting vines. Sometimes we give our brains more credit than they deserve. A brief look at embodied cognition.
    64. The three languages of right and wrong. Why we so often “talk past one another” when discussing the most important moral questions of our day. It ain’t the Bronze Age any more, folks.
    65. Hurricane Dorian: Wishin’, hopin’, thinkin’ and prayin’. An impending hurricane is a good opportunity to look at how people express theodicy on a daily basis.
    66. Schlemiels, schlimazels, probability and free will. What I intend to do often is not the end result. I think it is a math thing.
    67. William Barr and the binary God. There are multiple ways to “do ethics.” The worst way is where you describe all who disagree with your narrow sectarian view of God as “militant secularists” out to “destroy democracy.”
    68. Gaslighting and the ethic of veracity. My long-time ethical credo detailed here has been a diversity-tolerant “good people disagree.” I have had to confront the reality, however, that some of these clowns on my TV are NOT “good people.”
    69. Probability in 1000 words. I use this word a lot, so this is my attempt to be pithy about the different ways I use it.
    70. Impeachment and the death of professional ethics. Where I realize that all my years of study about classical and professional ethics have been turned irrelevant by the current administration.
    71. Free Will in 1000 words. My new pithy take on a controversial word. You can “choose” to click on this…or maybe not.
    72. Theodicy in 1000 words. A pithy look at the big “Why me?” questions.
    73. COVID-19 and real-life lifeboat ethics. The coronavirus scare has put lifeboat ethics front and center, and not in a good way. I don’t like lifeboat ethics.
    74. Lifeboat ethics #2 – Ventilators and PPE. Shortages of ventilators and PPE for treating COVID-19 patients are forcing hospitals to play that bad “lifeboat ethics” game again.
    75. The ethical theory of “Sucks to be you!” Classic utilitarianism has taken an ugly turn in the coronavirus crisis.
    76. Driving drunk in Coronavirus World. There are similarities to people’s behaviors when either coming out of a tavern or going without a facemask with a nasty virus in the air.
    77. How bad are we really? Humankind by Rutger Bregman. A nightly morality play on the news makes us choose who is “good” and who is “evil.” Bregman’s book says that we are basically decent folk.
    78. A Florida coronavirus film noir in four acts. In four months Florida has worked its way through a dark movie of successive uncertainty, probability, doubt and renewed fecundity.
    79. The Covid attack on empathy, sympathy and compassion. I often hurt emotionally when you hurt. But political messaging like “old people are going to die anyway” can dampen the natural move from empathy to sympathy to compassion.
    80. Rescuing moral probity. The public-facing morality of American politicians has long been a pretty thin veneer, and recent events have pretty well trashed it completely. It could come back in a better form, however.
    81. Type I versus Type II errors in election security. Covid tests and Voter ID laws both have unintended statistical consequences.
    82. Moral luck, Donald Trump and the coronavirus. Donald Trump escaped the Grim Covid Reaper (so far at least) and now thinks he is Superman.
    83. Chasing Benford’s Law down an election rabbit hole. The counter-intuitive probability function called Benford’s Law was grossly misused by conspiracy theorists after the 2020 presidential election.
    84. When innumeracy kills. More than most recent tragedies, the inability of people to grasp the concept and consequences of exponential growth has made the coronavirus crisis many times more deadly than it needed to be.
    85. Watching yourself watch yourself. The recent discovery of long-theorized “time cells” in human memory has some interesting implications for how humans consciously “choose.
    86. Probability, uncertainty and inanity with the coronavirus. Some math tips on telling the charlatans from the prophets.
    87. Betting your life on “The Truth”. Choosing to believe in conspiracies like QAnon or 8 million fraudulent votes is often a bad bet made by your brain.
    88. Affective risk aversion and Covid vaccine denial. The similarity between fear of rollercoasters and fear of Covid vaccines. But it goes only so far. The latter aversion has a better chance of killing you than the former.
    89. Worth a read: A Series of Fortunate Events by Sean B. Carroll. How DNA mutations are related to quantum randomness.
    90. Betting against the house on the Covid vaccines. The coronavirus knows more about the odds and the risks than you do. Vaccine hesitancy is a dangerous “brain misfire” and a bet against “the house.”
    91. Israel, Gaza, and ethical nuance. The concept of ethical nuance, where simple answers to tough ethical dilemmas are usually counterproductive, gets a hard workout in the Middle East.
    92. What Matilda Beagle saw. When we try to understand what is “real” in our human world, sometimes it helps to step outside of our species.
    93. Biden, the bishops, and a failure to communicate. Ethics is a language that we use to communicate social norms with each other. Too often the talking can’t happen.
    94. When your pain becomes our pain. Before there were Senators, indeed back to earliest human society, people figured out that we often need to “share the pain” to protect our fragile community. We need to relearn that.
    95. The capricious God of Covid. Religious vaccine deniers are playing a risky game of Monopoly without understanding the math of the dice. And prayer never helped me win Monopoly.
    96. Worth a read: A Thousand Brains by Jeff Hawkins. I have posited “four ethical brains” in our heads but Jeff Hawkins ramps it up with his model of human volition using thousands of brains at the same time. No wonder my head hurts.
    97. Dopesick, homelessness, and the casualties of culture. What if “There but for the grace of God go I!” is really just a probability function? With drug abuse & homelessness, it may well be.
    98. What are the odds that I am dead wrong? With all these folks believing all manner of crazy stuff, one of us is dead wrong. I am betting that it is not me.
    99. Ethics 101 – They are still confusing legality and morality. The Supreme Court’s narrow religious sectarian biases are killing pluralistic democracy.
    100. TL;DR. This is Internet-speak for “too long; didn’t read.” If 99 posts on theodicy and probability over four years are too much, then a couple of recent mass shootings gives the opportunity to sum these topics up in a short post.Binary morality meets a complex abortion reality.
    101. Binary morality meets a complex abortion reality. Religions have long held binary views in theory if not in fact But now, our secular courts are imposing a binary morality based on their own sectarian religious loyalties.
    102. When Supreme Court decisions have evil consequences. We did it with big tobacco marketers. It’s time to “name and shame” Supreme Court Justices and other enablers of gun violence and the destruction of women’s civil rights.
    103. Separating the ethic from the dogma. The current mess regarding state abortion legislation illustrates well the difference between a society’s shared ethics and sectarian religious dogma. Courts and legislatures are currently playing in the latter camp.
    104. Hurricane Ian, probability, and the Greek Fates. The projected path of a hurricane is usually represented by a series of probability curves going into the future. When a “twelve” is rolled, people can die.

6 thoughts on “The story so far…

  1. Pingback: Bad habits and the Bayesian brain – When God Plays Dice

  2. Darrell Puls

    Hello, Richard! It’s been more than 50 years since Bruce and I graduated from Wyoming Park High School. You were, what, a couple of years behind us? We reconnected about 15 years ago when I was finishing my seminary doctorate and I was in Independence for an intensive. Actually, it was my second doctoral program, the first being at U of M in the late 70’s. I am currently Dean of Academic Affairs at a small, independent Christian college here in Washington state.
    Bruce just put me onto your blog from New Zealand because you were writing about narcissism and Trump. I’ve written two books on narcissism in the clergy and blog about it so he thought I would be interested. I am!
    It’s refreshing to read a blog that actually asks intelligent questions and assumes the readers have a certain level of intellectual inquisitiveness.

    1. @rklindgren Post author

      Darrell: Thanks for the comment. I will check this out. Go (no-longer-existent) Wyoming Park Vikings!

  3. Pingback: Worth a read: Infinite Powers by Steven Strogatz – When God Plays Dice

  4. Pingback: Bad habits and the Bayesian brain – When God Plays Dice

  5. Pingback: TL;DR – When God Plays Dice

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