Philosophical Notes: Towards a Fairer Share of Dishwashing
Sorensen, Roy, The Independent (London, England)
ONE OF my college house-mates, Greg, use to refuse to divide anything by lot. He objected that this procedure discriminates against what he called "the unlucky people". Steadfast randomisers reply to this that "unlucky" fails to select a natural class of people. The fact that someone is Indian today is a good enough reason to believe he will also be Indian tomorrow. But being unlucky today provides no grounds for predicting being unlucky tomorrow.
I had the good fortune of marrying an acquaintance of the said college housemate. My wife and I moved into a cheap flat and we agreed to transcend gender-based division of labour. This made dishwashing a somewhat delicate issue. Initially we tried team dishwashing. But two people cannot wash much quicker than one. Then we tried rotating the chore between us. But that raised the suspicion of "insensitive dish-dirtying" on one's days off. So, dismissing Greg's reservations, we changed to a policy of determining who would be the night's dishwasher by flipping a coin after dinner.
At first, our chancy arrangement created an exciting casino- night atmosphere. But then I lost five times in a row. I kept thinking about the coin in the opening scene of Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It lands heads down for 179 consecutive tosses. For a while I did have the consoling thought that the law of averages would ensure that everything would even out in the long run. But then I realised that this thought was simply an instance of the gambler's fallacy. If a coin lands heads on five consecutive tosses, those devotees of the gambler's fallacy will bet on tails. They think that the law of averages works by compensation. But the law of averages actually works by brute force. A lop-sided run of five heads disturbs the ratio of heads to tails over the short run. But the five-toss streak has steadily less impact on the 1:1 ratio over the long run. …
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Publication information: Article title: Philosophical Notes: Towards a Fairer Share of Dishwashing. Contributors: Sorensen, Roy - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: July 6, 1999. Page number: 7. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.