Miracles happen all the time, if you can recognize them. We’re not talking about supernatural events here, but about those odd events that are so out of the ordinary, they go beyond mere coincidence.
In fact, if you define them a certain way, you might discover you are far more likely to experience a miracle than, say, to come down with swine flu.
An online science information service called Danceyplace might convince you. More on that later.
The panic caused by humanity’s inability to digest numbers and make rational judgments based on measured probabilities are, right now, far more dangerous than the flu itself.
That’s why it is so infuriating to see the decisions by the Chinese government to both ban imports of Canadian pork and to quarantine a group of visiting Canadian students, ostensibly because swine flu might infect their herds, and thereby their people.
That is such a barefaced lie that it beggars the imagination to think Canadians would swallow it.
Swine flu originated in China, for gosh sakes. Perhaps not this particular strain, but the original Chinese strain has probably killed more people than the strain that showed up in Mexico ever will.
We have to say probably, because we can never know how deeply the Chinese government suppresses and distorts information on the incidence of flu within its borders.
Canada, on the other hand, like a good neighbour alerted the world to the fact a farm worker who returned from a vacation in Mexico (in all probability) brought the new flu virus with him, whereupon it jumped into the hog population where he worked.
Science says you cannot get H1N1 flu from eating or handling pork, and in any event, the infected herd has already recovered from its case of the sniffles.
But the lying Chinese government will not miss a trick to drive down the price of the pork it will eventually happily import once again.
In the same way, the U.S. government issued lie after lie regarding our beef in the BSE scare not long ago, and they are apparently preparing now to close their border to Canadian hogs, hoping that by some miracle their hog population will be spared the sniffles.
That would indeed be a miracle, seeing as their agricultural industry is reliant on the daily travel of thousands of migrant workers from Mexico.
To close the border to Canadian pork but keep it open for Mexican farm workers is so cynical, it makes you wonder why we do any business with them at all.
But back to mathematics, probability and miracles.
A recent Danceyplace posting looked at the work of mathematician John Littlewood, who has a law named after him: Littlewood’s Law of Miracles.
He defines a miracle as one of those one-in-million events to which we accord real significance when they are noticed.
By his calculation, we experience about one miracle a month. The radio plays a song just in the moment you begin thinking about it; you pass a pawnshop and on a whim go inside and discover an heirloom musical instrument.
Seeing and hearing events at a rate of one per second, a one-in-a-million event comes once a month, he says. If you can but recognize it.
This week, while in a downtown coffeeshop, reading the paper about the cynical Chinese border closing, a 20-something woman took the seat immediately beside me, a little too close for strangers.
I glanced up, made eye contact and she sat back in shock. “I though you were my boyfriend! From the back, you looked just like him!”
Well, for this old guy, it’s enough to restore your faith in miracles.
Now, can the Chinese and Americans restore our faith that they are respectable trade partners?
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.