Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 8:28 pm | Fair 62º


Brian Burke: About Your Divorce (Letter 137) — Delusional Detectives Don’t Believe in Coincidence

Oblique Strategy #32 — Timing is critical, and coincidence is more frequent than you realize.

It’s the goal of this column to nudge anyone who might be interested in a first-hand exploration of randomness to a website that allows you to generate as many sets of random numbers as you need to get a sense of the relationship between coincidence and randomness.

I use the Internet to move you and the story from one location to another. I hope you’ll stick with me. The story is simple, but it is too long for one column, so this will be Part I.

During the course of a divorce, or any life-changing crisis, people become more attuned to the passage and role of time. We are aware of how quickly time can pass and how limited it is. We also realize how it can stretch on, seemingly without change.

We become acutely attuned to how others are experiencing the passage of their lives and how their experience is different from our own, which allows us to better time important interactions.

I’ll remind readers (again) that the average interval between physical separation and entry of judgment in a South Santa Barbara County divorce is 29 months.

Divorce is a life changing and life-defining crisis and takes up a lot of time, during which we get better and better at timing requests.

We also get better and better at deferring our responses to the actions of others until we have a subjective sense that timing for what we are going to do or say is opportune.

Divorce is a time in life where the experience of synchronicity becomes increasingly familiar. Synchronicity is a subject that seems both vast and deep.

Some believe it is subjective evidence of the divine, or that it affords a glimpse into how everything in the universe is related to everything else. Others would say that we mistake synchronicity for randomness.

My thoughts are more aligned with the former, but I know that stories about synchronicity always bore the audience — at least when I tell them — because the meaning attached to the synchronistic event is subjective and significant only to the person telling to story.

Nevertheless, I delight in synchronistic experiences myself and believe that they must have some significance and it must be positive.

I mention it here to make it clear that I do not intend to negate or minimize anyone’s experience of synchronicity with the story that follows.

Anyone who reads detective fiction knows the plot device that allows the author to connect two disparate plot lines by having a senior cop say: “Yea, but I don’t believe in coincidence.”

Mystery writers who use the trope may or may not be aware of a frequently-cited finding from “behavioral economics” to the effect that the human mind has a built-in glitch when it comes to appreciating the inherent randomness of the world we live in.

The cop who doesn’t believe in coincidence is a fictional representative of a cognitive defect.

You are becoming a new person during the course of a divorce, so it’s a time and opportunity to learn new things — especially stuff that’s easy. I am going to link you to three potential learning experiences. Each is free, easy and safe.

  1. The story is framed by the game of roulette. It you don’t gamble, learning a little bit about roulette will show you that while your intuition about randomness is probably off, your intuition about gambling — at least in the popular form of roulette — is sound.

    If you are a gambler, you know — or should know — that no casino game is more hopeless than roulette.

    Here’s a short description of how the game is played and how the odds are so stacked in favor of the house.
  2. The Random Number Generator is one of the coolest things online. I may propose it as a way to settle disputes but, for today, I hope to get anyone even remotely interested in having a direct experience of Randomness to give it a try. (Here’s a short guide for using the Generator.) 

    When you generate a set of random numbers, they appear in a vertical line in the order they were selected. For the numbers to make sense, they need to be organized.

    If you use Excel, Numbers or a similar program, copy the set and paste them into a spreadsheet. If you are (understandably) afraid of Excel and don’t know how to create and use a spreadsheet, I’ll teach you to do both in less than five minutes.

    If you are going through a divorce, you don’t need to pay lawyers and accountants to make spreadsheets when you can do it yourself. It’s a skill you really need to have. Click here to learn more.
  3. If you are ready to look at the spreadsheet set up for the story, it’s posted to a Google Drive file folder that contains the spreadsheet I used, duplicate sets of instructions, and a couple of blank sheets you can use until you get your own Google Drive account.

    Here’s the link to the sheet and here’s the link to the file folder. [In Google Drive click the box in the lower left corner and you’ll get a set of thumbnails to show what it contains; click on the thumbnail to open any file.]

•        •        •

Harry, Red Shoes and a Red Dress: A Divorce Lawyer’s Fantasy

My friend Harry is a divorce lawyer, but otherwise he isn’t a bad guy. His wife, Heather, is very funny and irreverent. I’ve known her since college and have always liked her.

Harry and Heather had this deal where they went to Las Vegas once every five years to enhance their appreciation of their lives in Santa Barbara.

You’d think a drive past the county line and back would do the trick, but they would get a bargain flight and a bargain hotel room for a stay of three days and three nights.

To their credit, they always came home after two nights, except for the time when Harry met the woman wearing red shoes and a red dress.

As usual, Heather drifted from one game to the next, far more interested in the people than the gambling. Harry’s game was roulette.

He liked it for the only good reason I know: He claimed that the game is so rigged he couldn’t possibly be tricked into believing he had a fair chance of winning.

He had a system that allowed for the orderly transfer of money from his pocket to the casino. His betting budget consisted of 100 new $1 bills.

Just before he stepped up to the roulette wheel he used his iPhone to go to the Random Number Generator, where he would get one number between 1 and 38. Then he would bet $1 on that number for 38 consecutive spins.

On Harry’s big night his number was 20. He bet on it 38 times in a row. During those 38 spins the ball never dropped into fourteen of the 38 slots.

Fourteen Random Loser Numbers and Harry’s 20 was one of them and, for that set of spins, Harry was also a Random Loser.

That’s not how anyone would have described the woman in the slinky red dress and the matching red shoes who was playing to Harry’s left. Harry couldn’t help but notice her, the shoes, the dress — and her in the shoes and the dress.

She was well and definitely dressed for an audience. And, like Harry, she bet on the same number 38 times in a row. Her number was 38. She too was betting with brand new bills — hers came from a stack of Ulysses S. Grants.

Every time she put another $50 bill on her number, she had to make a revealing stretch across the table.

Harry had learned not to look, partly because he’s the kind of guy who always gets caught and partly because he still didn’t understand the difference between a frank and appreciative peek, which might be okay, and a leer, which is definitely not okay.

Moreover, he wasn’t on the prowl, so why look? That’s what he said anyway.

Instead of studying her physique, he wondered why the woman in red chose the number farthest away from where she was standing. Or had she decided to stand at the place that was farthest away from her number?

That she had decided to stand where she was because it was next to him never crossed his mind, which is the kind of thing that makes Harry an okay guy.

After the first eight spins Harry was down $8; Red was down $400. The ninth spin was 38, Red’s number. She did a little jump.

It was the up and down motion, not the woman, that caught Harry’s eye, but he couldn’t help but get an eyeful.

She made the reach to take $1,750 off the table, leaving $50 for the next spin. Again the ball dropped into the 38 slot, and Red hauled in another $1,750. Harry thought he heard her curse under her breath.

She asked to no one in particular, “What were the odds of getting that second 38?”

Harry couldn’t resist answering the question as they both continued to bet on their numbers after every spin. “Once you got the first 38, the odds of getting a second 38 were exactly the same as they were for the first spin.”

Roulette goes fast. She placed her bet on spin 38 while asking, “Are you saying that it’s as easy to get two 38s in a row as it is to get one 38 and some other number?”

Harry said, “No.” Then Red hit again with another 38 and another $1,750 from the casino.

Harry was going to explain the difference between reckoning odds for two successive events and the odds for a single event, but Red’s immediate experience would overwhelm what he had to say about abstract probabilities.

She would think she had won because she was smart or because she deserved to win; that’s the way people are.

They both lost the next seven spins. Harry said, “That’s my limit. That’s it for me.”

Red said to Harry, “Mine too; I’m too stupid for this game.”

Harry asked, “Stupid? You just picked up $1,800 times 3 against 35 losses at $50 each which means, according to my iPhone, you should have $3,650, which isn’t chump change.”

Red said, “What was stupid was not leaving the money on the table after 38 came up the first time. It came up again — two in a row — what would I have won if I left the whole $1,800 on the table?”

Harry used his phone to answer, “It would have been $64,800. But all roulette bets are bad before you just happen to win.”

Red said, “I don’t think of money being real unless it’s enough to change my life in a significant way and $1,800 isn’t enough to do that for anyone.”

Harry asked, “If you had left the $1,800 on the table and won, do you think you would have left the $64,800?”

“What would I get for three 38s in a row?”

“That would be $2,332,800.”

“Two million bucks would be just about what I’d need.”

“For what?”

She said, “To get out of my nightmare of a marriage.”

Harry said, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

She said, “You have no idea.”

Oblique Strategy #33 — Timing is critical and coincidence is more frequent than you realize. “Harry, Red Shoes and a Red Dress: A Divorce Lawyer’s Fantasy” continues in Part II.

— Brian H. Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he is also the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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