Sunday, July 11, 2010

One of Those Cynical Rants about the Faith of Humanity

Today was a great day for one of the European nations, one of the masters of the Old World, Spain. The Spanish won their first ever World Cup Football title today against the Netherlands, who have also yet to claim a title despite tremendous momentum in the trials and games these past two months. Although two of the teams that I was deeply rooting for were eliminated, the Netherlands and Germany, this is not a bitter rant about the sportsmanship, quality of play, or the number of yellow cards that the referee chose to give out during the final. Seriously though, they're not like candy at Halloween; you don't have to give them to everyone.

Instead, this posting is exactly what the title directly spells out. Hopefully, some of you may have already guessed why this topic exists. Superstitions continue to astonish me. I have beliefs, traditions and old sayings, but I've never been one to buy into superstitions, psychic abilities and "natural phenomena" of a certain sort. Therefore could some one please explain to me why Paul the Octopus got so much attention? The rationality that I possess does not compute the popularity of this invertebrate.

While I am no marine biologist, heck I'm not even the most informed in the field of biology in general, I find it very hard to believe that an octopus is "psychic". For those of you not completely engrossed in the internet, Paul is an octopus at the Sea Life Aquarium in Oberhausen, a city in western Germany. Paul has been supposedly predicting the victor of World Cup matches when two cases, each with a mussel for food and with separate country flags for the teams set to play each other, are dropped into his case. By choosing the food, he is apparently choosing which team will emerge victorious from the match. While octopi are apparently fairly intelligent invertebrate, I still refuse to believe that Paul is "psychic".

Come on people, this is an octopus. This is bullshit.

One source estimates that Paul had a one in 128 chance in predicting Spain winning the World Cup title. This is based off of the number of matches being 1/2^n. Now having taken probability, and being a mathematics major, based upon sheer numbers this estimate seems okay to fly due to a binomial tree, however, this is a football tournament. I do not believe that a octopus could have intentionally foresaw this result. While they do apparently have long and short term memories, I highly doubt that Paul watched every single match in the World Cup. Paul does not understand strategies, momentum or the determined resolve of a serious player.

Paul got lucky. That's all there is to say.

The most disturbing and disappointing thing about Paul is that so many people worldwide gathered behind him and seem to claim his "predictions" as gospel truth. Paul got lucky. There are probably people out there whose brackets predicted the same victory by Spain, but we don't see their names in news articles do we? Maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe I think the average individual in the world is decaying their brain with the massive amounts of subpar information and mediums available today, and yes I'm looking at you Stephenie Meyer. I just find it infuriating that people can be so dumbfounded, bamboozled, and generally reduced to an idiotic mass.

Conclusion of my rant: Paul may cause me to shield my child from the internet for a good deal of time.


  1. I almost made a Facebook status about this. I'm glad I'm not the only one. Paul is an octopus that likes clams. SHOCKING DISPLAY OF...normal octopus behavior. How many other animals out there were coerced into picking between two equally good pieces of food but failed to make "predictions"? We don't know, because the failures don't become viral youtube videos. But when you consider how vast that number probably is, the octopus is actually not all that shocking.

  2. Yeah, people don't understand probability. For me it was something just funny to comment on. Regardless, I also chose correctly that Spain would win in the semifinal and final as well as thinking that Germany would win all of its prior elimination games. Basically, I think I should publicity as Paul because I'm obviously magical :p