The Lottery Game

Can You Predict What Will Happen Next?

Lottery Java Applet

What does "RANDOM" mean? Think carefully before you answer! The definition may not be as obvious as you think. After checking the dictionary definition, consider the following four statements... which ones do you think are true?

  • Flipping a coin is not random because there are only two possible outcomes.

  • Rolling a six-sided die is not random because there are only six possible outcomes.

  • Whether I win the state lottery or not is random because there are so many people playing the lottery at the same time.

  • The weather is random, because so many conditions affect the weather that we cannot predict.

The experiments and models you will find on this site can be summarized in seven words: The growth of order out of randomness. The world around and within us is filled with randomness. Yet instead of being torn apart by this randomness, nature survives and thrives on it. How can this be? Before we can begin to answer this question, we must study randomness itself.

Is the present always influenced by the past? Suppose you are flipping a coin and, by chance, flip four heads in a row. Does flipping three heads in a row affect the next flip - the fifth flip - why or why not? Is the fifth flip more likely to be another head? Or is the fifth flip less likely to be a head?

  • Do you believe in "winning streaks," meaning that three heads in a row is more likely to lead to a head on the next flip?

  • Or do you expect your "luck to run out," meaning that three heads in a row is more likely to be followed by a tail on the next flip?

  • Or do you expect equal chances of getting a head or tail on the next flip, independent of what happened before?

Try out the Lottery Java Applet. Click on "Flip 4 Same" which will flip until either 4 heads or 4 tails are flipped in a row. Now choose one of these above strategies and stick to it.

Is your strategy a winner? A loser? Or do you break even?

If you want to learn more, check out these cool sites:

This lesson is taken from Fractals in Science. Page was developed by Paul Trunfio and the JAVA applet was written by Gary McGath. Please send comments to Copyright 1996-2000, Center for Polymer Studies.
[ Java Applets Page | CPS Home | About CPS | Send Us Your Comments ]