Fatal Numbers: Why Count on Chance by Hans Magnus Enzensberger - Read Online
Fatal Numbers
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Acclaimed poet and essayist Hans Magnus Enzensberger takes a fresh, sobering look at our faith in statistics, our desire to predict the future, and our dependence on fortuitousness. Tracing the interface between chance and probability in medical diagnostics, risk models, economics, and the fluctuations of financial markets, Fatal Numbers goes straight to the heart of what it means to live, plan, and make decisions in a globalized, digitized, hyperlinked, science-driven, and uncertain world ...

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ISBN: 9781935830108
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Fatal Numbers - Hans Magnus Enzensberger

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Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Fatal Numbers

Why Count on Chance

Translated from the German by Karen Leeder

With a Foreword by Gerd Gigerenzer


Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc.

New York 2011


Subway Line, No. 3

~ Philosophical thinking is Yoga for the Mind® ~

Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc. provides a publication venue for original philosophical thinking steeped in lived life, in line with our motto: philosophical living & lived philosophy.

Smashwords Edition

ISBN 978-1-935830-10-8

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Published by Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc.

P. O. Box 250645, New York, NY 10025, USA

www.westside-philosophers.com / www.yogaforthemind.us

English Translation and Foreword Copyright (c) 2010 by Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc.

Original publication: Fortuna und Kalkül: Zwei mathematische Belustigungen

Copyright (c) Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main 2009

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. For all inquiries concerning permission to reuse material from any of our titles, please contact the publisher in writing, or contact the Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. (CCC), 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923, USA (www.copyright.com).

The colophon is a registered trademark of Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc.

Our special thanks to Paul Newman for reviewing the manuscript, and to David Fried for allowing us to use his Way of Words, No.1, 2008 as a cover image. Cover image copyright (c) 2010 by David Fried

This book is also available in print

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

Enzensberger, Hans Magnus.

[Fortuna und Kalkül. English]

Fatal numbers : why count on chance / Hans Magnus Enzensberger ; translated from the German by Karen Leeder ; with a foreword by Gerd Gigerenzer.

p. cm. -- (Subway line ; no. 3)

Includes bibliographical references (p. ).

ISBN 978-1-935830-01-6 (pbk. : alk. paper)

1. Probabilities--Philosophy. 2. Chance. I. Title.

QA273.A35E5913 2011







Fatal Numbers


On the Metaphysical Antics of Mathematics


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Two gorgeously dressed young women sit upright on two chairs calmly facing each other, yet neither is aware of the other’s beauty. One is blindfolded, a wheel in her left hand, which human figures desperately climb, cling to, or tumble from; the other gazes into a hand-mirror, lost in admiration of herself. The blindfolded beauty is Fortuna—the fickle, wheel-toting goddess of chance. Her companion is sober Sapientia—the calculating, vain, divine being of science. The portrait was made in Paris some 500 years ago.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s book is about the breakdown of the opposition between Fortuna and Sapientia’s alter ego, science. It is about the golden fruits of their intimate relationship, and the attempts of each to snatch the other’s possessions. Science sought to liberate humans from Fortuna’s wheel, to banish luck, and replace chances with causes. Fortuna struck back by undermining science itself with chance and creating the vast empire of probability and statistics. After their struggles neither remained the same: Fortuna was tamed, and science lost its certainty.

Today, we live in the mesmerizing world