b Papa Dog's Blog: Schrödinger’s Quick Pick

Papa Dog's Blog

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Schrödinger’s Quick Pick

Yes, I play the Lottery, and yes, I know it’s a stupid thing to do and a complete waste of money. I remember talking about it once with Papa Pirate, who’s resolutely rational about it and scornful of me for buying tickets when the odds of winning are so close to zero as not to make a difference. “Well,” I said, “my odds are slightly better having a ticket than not having a ticket.” He disagreed. “My chances of winning by finding a ticket are the same as yours.” It was a snappy comeback, though of course a little suspect mathematically. The supply of discarded tickets is much smaller than the readily available supply for purchase – factor in the competition of other passers-by who might spot a discarded ticket before Papa Pirate does, the likelihood that he’d even pick up a ticket if he saw it, the percentage of time in the day he spends in locations likely to yield a ticket, and so on and so forth. Definitely, my chances with a ticket in my pocket are almost zero, but his chances without one are almost almost almost almost almost zero. And, hell, the man’s a vegetarian who affects a vampire motif. Who should be talking sense into whom here?

Perversely, I actually have a scientifically sound justification for playing the lottery, and that is Schrödinger’s Cat. As soon as I buy a lottery ticket, my lotto-based wealth becomes a potentiality. I may hold the winning ticket. I may not hold the winning ticket. Until the draw is held, there’s no way of knowing with 100% certainty. So, for two or three days I’m not a multi-millionaire, but I’m not not a multi-millionaire. It’s a peaceful easy feeling, and it allows me to trudge to work in the morning with a spring in my step knowing that while I’m not rich enough to afford to quit, I’m also not not rich enough to afford to quit.

Yesterday I bought some Quick Picks at Wally’s World on the way home from BART. Wally was carrying on a telephone conversation about some sporting event while he rang up the purchase and wasn’t paying much attention. As I left the store, it occurred to me that there was something not quite right about the ticket. It took me a few minutes to realise what it was: there were two more picks on it than I had paid for. I stopped and looked back at the store. Wally was serving other people, still chatting away at the phone. I looked ahead at the circuitous road to home. I was already running late from work and Mama Dog would be getting impatient. Then I thought: “Well, score!” and went on home.

For the next 24 hours, I would periodically think about the two unpaid-for Quick Picks in my briefcase. What if one of them made me not not rich? My ethics were apparently slippery enough that letting Wally rip himself off on my behalf for two bucks was okay, but what if he was ripping himself off for twenty million bucks? Okay, that’s not what the situation would be…they weren’t his tickets, just random numbers spit out by the machine, and if one of them happened to be a winner he’d get a percentage of the winning amount for having sold the ticket. He wouldn’t give a shit about the missing two bucks then. But…around and around I went.

On my way home tonight, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I stopped in at Wally’s, and marched right up to the counter. “I owe you two bucks,” I said, handing over a twenty. He looked at me quizzically. “There were two extra picks on my Lotto ticket yesterday,” I explained. He nodded and shrugged. “So what, two bucks?” he asked, making the change. “Yeah,” I said. “I just wouldn’t have felt right winning all those millions if the tickets weren’t paid for?” He gave me a big grin and handed me the change, thanking me. I went home feeling like a good guy after all. It would be a good story if my belated honesty bought me the luck I need to become not not rich for real. In the meantime, my fortune remains an indefinable probability for the next day or so, and that’s just fine with me.


Blogger Brownstein said...

And this, ladies and germs, is the difference between a Canadian and an American.

10:55 PM  
Anonymous big sister said...

Yippee for honesty!

I always go back - no matter how small the $$ - if something like this happens. I am especially vocal about it if I have a small person looking up at me. I know for sure that we teach our kids by what we do, not by what we say.

At the end of the day I look easily into the mirror and sleep well. Small things maybe but they are lessons that are invaluable.

Making the world a better place one choice at a time.

4:43 AM  
Blogger mircat said...

I sent someone $10 so I could get in on the $340 million Powerball jackpot, such a believer in luck and odds am I! The odds are currently 1 in 146,107,962.00 that I'd win the grand prize. But what the hell....

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you spend money on a movie, you are 100% guaranteed to come home that number of dollars poorer, and nobody looks askance at you for having thrown away those dollars. It is pretty clear that you are getting about as much entertainment from your lottery purchase as you do from a movie (even if the lottery jollies are self-generated), dollar for dollar.

Still, I can't help but recall Steve Wozniak, who in the early days of the lottery resolutely played the numbers "1 2 3 4 5 6" on the theory that the odds on getting that sequence are exactly as good as any other.

3:59 PM  

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