Friday, December 5, 2008

Something New, #221

What are the Odds?

I love life's coincidences. You know, those weird things like you find out you and a new friend were at the same Osmond Brothers concert in 1974 or two friends you grew up with who never knew each other, but now their kids go to the same high school and you figure that you all know each other 20 years later. I have a story about a friend's kidney donor that has so many layers of coincidences, it freaks everyone out. I love novels about how these past and present coincidences link together, like in Holes, Fried Green Tomatoes, and The Madonnas of Leningrad.

When The Big One and I saw the Art in the Age of Steam two weeks ago, there was a painting I just loved called The Railway Station. I loved how many stories it tells. If I were a writer, this is what I'd write a novel about. I stood in front of it for a good 15 minutes, and went back to look at it several times.

Exactly one week later, we visited the Philbrook in Tulsa's exhibit, Paintings from the Reign of Victoria: The Royal Holloway Collection, London. The first painting in the first gallery was The Railway Station by William Powell Frith.

"Hold the phone, how did this painting get from one current exhibit to another?" There was a docent nearby that heard The Big One and I talking about this, and he said this was the first time the painting had ever been out of England. After I told him about the painting at the Nelson, we figured out that the first one I saw was a copy, made by one of William Powell Frith's students.

So that got me to thinking, what are the odds that in one week, I would see the original and a copy of a painting without planning it?

I learned there is such a thing as a probability calculator.

"The Probability Calculator computes an unknown probability, based on the value of related known probabilities. Here are the types of problems that the Probability Calculator can handle:
Find P(A), given P(A').
Find P(A), given P(B), P( BA ) and P(A ∪ B).
Find P(A), given P(B), P(A ∩ B), and P(A ∪ B).
Find P(A), given P( BA ) and P(A ∩ B).
Find P( BA ), given P(A) or P(A'), P(B), and P(A ∪ B).
Find P( BA ), given P(A) or P(A'), and P(A ∩ B).
Find P(A ∪ B), given P(A) or P(A'), P(B), and P( BA ).
Find P(A ∪ B), given P(A) or P(A'), P(B), and P(A ∩ B).
Find P(A ∩ B), given P(A) or P(A'), P(B), and P(A ∪ B).
Find P(A ∩ B), given P(A) or P(A'), and P( BA)."

Yeah, I couldn't figure it out either. Well, actually, if I knew the right variables to plug in, I would be able to figure out those odds, but there are too many unknowns. But if I ever figure out those unknowns, I'm ready.
Anyway, I feel lucky that the universe blessed me with the opportunity to see two versions of this painting in two different locations, exactly one week apart.

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