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Poisson Distributions Define Reality, Not Our Choices

There are many people of average height in the world, and a smaller number of very tall and very short people. The more extreme the height, the rarer the people with that height.

Everything from the frequencies of photons emitted by a laser to the velocity components of a gas molecule do the same thing. That same smooth bell curve happens all throughout the sciences. It’s inescapable.

The answer is a mathematical fact called the central limit theorem. In slightly imprecise nonmathematical language it says the following: any time you have a quantity which is bumped around by a large number of random processes, you end up with a bell curve distribution for that quantity. And it really doesn’t matter what those random processes are. They themselves don’t have to follow the Gaussian distribution. So long as there’s lots of them and they’re small, the overall effect is Gaussian.

Science Blogs

Thomas Pynchon used the standard distribution as an insightful metaphor in Gravity’s Rainbow.

We don’t control our actions; we are actors expressing patterns much larger than ourselves.

Thus our pretense of being individuals, equal, etc. is just that — pretense and a denial of obvious scientific reality.

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