Freeman Dyson on the paranormal

In The New York Review of Books, Freeman Dyson reviews Debunked! ESP, Telekinesis, and Other Pseudoscience by Georges Charpak and Henri Broch, translated by Bart K. Holland. It’s a nice chatty review that reveals as much about Dyson’s views on the subject as it does Charpak’s and Broch’s. I was struck by this:

Littlewood’s Law of Miracles states that in the course of any normal person’s life, miracles happen at a rate of roughly one per month. The proof of the law is simple. During the time that we are awake and actively engaged in living our lives, roughly for eight hours each day, we see and hear things happening at a rate of about one per second. So the total number of events that happen to us is about thirty thousand per day, or about a million per month. With few exceptions, these events are not miracles because they are insignificant. The chance of a miracle is about one per million events. Therefore we should expect about one miracle to happen, on the average, every month. Broch tells stories of some amazing coincidences that happened to him and his friends, all of them easily explained as consequences of Littlewood’s Law.

Statistically each person should have one miracle per month? Where are all my miracles?! Dammit.


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