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Mathematics LibreTexts

12.1: Introduction to Probability

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    The probability of a specified event is the chance or likelihood that it will occur. There are several ways of viewing probability. One would be experimental in nature, where we repeatedly conduct an experiment. Suppose we flipped a coin over and over and over again and it came up heads about half of the time; we would expect that in the future whenever we flipped the coin it would turn up heads about half of the time. When a weather reporter says “there is a 10% chance of rain tomorrow,” she is basing that on prior evidence; that out of all days with similar weather patterns, it has rained on 1 out of 10 of those days.

    Another view would be subjective in nature, in other words an educated guess. If someone asked you the probability that the Seattle Mariners would win their next baseball game, it would be impossible to conduct an experiment where the same two teams played each other repeatedly, each time with the same starting lineup and starting pitchers, each starting at the same time of day on the same field under the precisely the same conditions. Since there are so many variables to take into account, someone familiar with baseball and with the two teams involved might make an educated guess that there is a 75% chance they will win the game; that is, if the same two teams were to play each other repeatedly under identical conditions, the Mariners would win about three out of every four games. But this is just a guess, with no way to verify its accuracy, and depending upon how educated the educated guesser is, a subjective probability may not be worth very much.

    We will return to the experimental and subjective probabilities from time to time, but in this course we will mostly be concerned with theoretical probability, which is defined as follows: Suppose there is a situation with \(n\) equally likely possible outcomes and that m of those \(n\) outcomes correspond to a particular event; then the probability of that event is defined as \(\frac{m}{n}\).

    12.1: Introduction to Probability is shared under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by David Lippman via source content that was edited to conform to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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