Friday, January 29, 2010

Confusing zero with infinity

You would not think that anyone would confuse zero with infinity, but people do all the time. For example, an astronomer writes:
If there is a finite probability of something happening (ie. a planet forming around a star, or a galaxy forming), then in an infinite universe there will be an infinite number of that thing.
In this sentence, the word "finite" has to be read as "non-zero" to make any sense. Finite means not infinite. He is confusing zero with infinite.

Likewise, the term "finite chance" is always misused. The terms "slim chance" and "fat chance" are also confusing. You would think that these terms would be opposites.


Anonymous said...

An astronomer confused "zero with infinite"!? Are you completely daft? Finite is ALWAYS read as not infinite. He said IF there was an infinite universe, then... Obviously there was at least a small chance (finite) that a planet would form around a star since you are living on such a planet currently, I assume.
"fat chance" is usually uttered with something called 'sarcasm'. Look it up.

Roger said...

I gave an example of an astronomer who used the word "finite" to mean something other than "not infinite".