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• If you line up the entire text of "Moby Dick,"

• which was published in 1851,

• into a giant rectangle,

• you may notice some peculiar patterns,

• like these words,

• which seem to predict the assassination of Martin Luther King,

• or these references to the 1997 death of Princess Di.

• So, was Herman Melville a secret prophet?

• and we know that thanks to a mathematical principle called Ramsey theory.

• It's the reason we can find geometric shapes in the night sky,

• it's why we can know without checking

• that at least two people in London

• have exactly the same number of hairs on their head,

• and it explains why patterns can be found in just about any text,

• even Vanilla Ice lyrics.

• So what is Ramsey theory?

• Simply put, it states that given enough elements in a set or structure,

• some particular interesting pattern among them is guaranteed to emerge.

• As a simple example, let's look at what's called the party problem,

• a classic illustration of Ramsey theory.

• Suppose there are at least six people at a party.

• Amazingly enough, we can say for sure

• that some group of three of them either all know each other,

• or have never met before,

• without knowing a single thing about them.

• We can demonstrate that by graphing out all the possibilities.

• Each point represents a person,

• and a line indicates that the pair know each other.

• Every pair only has two possibilities: they either know each other or they don't.

• There are a lot of possibilities,

• but every single one has the property that we're looking for.

• Six is the lowest number of guests where that's guaranteed to be the case,

• which we can express like this.

• Ramsey theory gives us a guarantee

• that such a minimum number exists for certain patterns,

• but no easy way to find it.

• In this case, as the total number of guests grows higher,

• the combinations get out of control.

• For instance, say you're trying to find out the minimum size of a party

• where there's a group of five people who all know each other or all don't.

• Despite five being a small number,

• the answer is virtually impossible to discover

• through an exhaustive search like this.

• That's because of the sheer volume of possibilities.

• A party with 48 guests has 2^(1128) possible configurations,

• more than the number of atoms in the Universe.

• Even with the help of computers,

• the best we know is that the answer to this question

• is somewhere between 43 and 49 guests.

• What this shows us is that specific patterns

• with seemingly astronomical odds

• can emerge from a relatively small set.

• And with a very large set, the possibilities are almost endless.

• Any four stars where no three lie in a straight line

• will form some quadrilateral shape.

• Expand that to the thousands of stars we can see in the sky,

• and it's no surprise that we can find all sorts of familiar shapes,

• and even creatures if we look for them.

• So what are the chances of a text concealing a prophecy?

• Well, when you factor in the number of letters,

• the variety of possible related words,

• and all their abbreviations and alternate spellings,

• they're pretty high.

• You can try it yourself.

• Just pick a favorite text,

• arrange the letters in a grid,

• and see what you can find.

• The mathematician T.S. Motzkin once remarked that,

• "while disorder is more probable in general,

• complete disorder is impossible."

• The sheer size of the Universe guarantees that some of its random elements

• will fall into specific arrangements,

• and because we evolved to notice patterns and pick out signals among the noise,

• we are often tempted to find intentional meaning where there may not be any.

• So while we may be awed by hidden messages in everything from books,

• to pieces of toast,

• to the night sky,

• their real origin is usually our own minds.

If you line up the entire text of "Moby Dick,"

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# The origin of countless conspiracy theories - PatrickJMT

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Raven Lin posted on 2019/02/05
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