Saturday, August 29, 2009

Chance in a lifetime

For many years I have always held a German number-lottery ticket. I buy only the cheapest one, which merely makes me a participant. Unlike many people, I don't try to improve my chances by poring over the results of previous drawings to decide what numbers to select, or by subscribing to "systems", and I don't look forward feverishly to the drawings. I always check the same six numbers, and remain indifferent to anything except the million Euros (more or less) that would flow my way if I "won".

Some acquaintances indulge themselves in mild ridicule at this minimalist approach of mine. They think either that the lottery itself is a waste of time, or that I should invest more. At the end of his Memoirs of my Life and Writings, I find Gibbon explaining my views on this subject. I too see no reason to be perfectly easy about anything:
The present is a fleeting moment, the past is no more; and our prospect of futurity is dark and doubtful. This day may possibly be my last: but the laws of probability, so true in general, so fallacious in particular, still allow about fifteen years. [Mr. Buffon, from our disregard of the possibility of death within the four and twenty hours, concludes that a chance, which falls below or rises above ten thousand to one, will never affect the hopes or fears of a reasonable man. The fact is true, but our courage is the effect of thoughtlessness, rather than of reflection. If a public lottery were drawn for, the choice of an immediate victim, and if our name were inscribed on one of the ten thousand tickets, should we be perfectly easy?]

3 comments:

AJP Crown said...

They say you've a better chance of being struck by lightning than of winning the lottery, so I'm hoping for that. Besides, in Norway you can only win a ridiculously small amount of money on the lottery, a hundred and fifty thousand dollars or so, but there's nothing wrong with the lightning.

AJP CROWN said...

Grumbly, you write long interesting comments for other blogs, your audience thinks it's time for a new post here.

How's the translation coming, by the way?

Stuart said...

Alright already, I've added a new blog! But it sometimes gets lonely on my solitary soapbox. At languagehat, I can squawk with the pre-assembled crowd. But thanks for the encouragement.

Translating Sloterdijk is even harder than I thought. I used to do technical and advertising-copy translations, but this is of course quite different. I've got a couple of pages, but I keep changing my approach, because I want convincing intermediate results (to wow the Meister). I am now doing rough paraphrase, which I will later revise and revise. I don't even think anymore of what I'm doing as "translating" - I just want to get the content across, although I have even decided that some of it will have to be cut. Sloterdijk's style has a certain nimble weightiness that I particularly don't want to try to imitate in English. The style is like the elegantly pirouetting lady hippopotami in Disney's Fantasia.