(redirected from chanceless)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Legal.


probability, in mathematics, assignment of a number as a measure of the “chance” that a given event will occur. There are certain important restrictions on such a probability measure. In any experiment there are certain possible outcomes; the set of all possible outcomes is called the sample space of the experiment. To each element of the sample space (i.e., to each possible outcome) is assigned a probability measure between 0 and 1 inclusive (0 is sometimes described as corresponding to impossibility, 1 to certainty). Furthermore, the sum of the probability measures in the sample space must be 1.

Probability of Simple and Compound Events

A simple illustration of probability is given by the experiment of tossing a coin. The sample space consists of one of two outcomes—heads or tails. For a perfectly symmetrical coin, the likely assignment would be 1-2 for heads, 1-2 for tails. The probability measure of an event is sometimes defined as the ratio of the number of outcomes. Thus if weather records for July 1 over a period of 40 years show that the sun shone 32 out of 40 times on July 1, then one might assign a probability measure of 32/40 to the event that the sun shines on July 1.

Probability computed in this way is the basis of insurance calculations. If, out of a certain group of 1,000 persons who were 25 years old in 1900, 150 of them lived to be 65, then the ratio 150/1,000 is assigned as the probability that a 25-year-old person will live to be 65 (the probability of such a person's not living to be 65 is 850/1,000, since the sum of these two measures must be 1). Such a probability statement is of course true only for a group of people very similar to the original group. However, by basing such life-expectation figures on very large groups of people and by constantly revising the figures as new data are obtained, values can be found that will be valid for most large groups of people and under most conditions of life.

In addition to the probability of simple events, probabilities of compound events can be computed. If, for example, A and B represent two independent events, the probability that both A and B will occur is given by the product of their separate probabilities. The probability that either of the two events A and B will occur is given by the sum of their separate probabilities minus the probability that they will both occur. Thus if the probability that a certain man will live to be 70 is 0.5, and the probability that his wife will live to be 70 is 0.6, the probability that they will both live to be 70 is 0.5×0.6=0.3, and the probability that either the man or his wife will reach 70 is 0.5+0.6−0.3=0.8.

Permutations and Combinations

In many probability problems, sophisticated counting techniques must be used; usually this involves determining the number of permutations or combinations. The number of permutations of a set is the number of different ways in which the elements of the set can be arranged (or ordered). A set of 5 books in a row can be arranged in 120 ways, or 5×4×3×2×1=5!=120 (the symbol 5!, denoting the product of the integers from 1 to 5, is called factorial 5). If, from the five books, only three at a time are used, then the number of permutations is 60, or In general the number of permutations of n things taken r at a time is given by On the other hand, the number of combinations of 3 books that can be selected from 5 books refers simply to the number of different selections without regard to order. The number in this case is 10: In general, the number of combinations of n things taken r at a time is

Statistical Inference

The application of probability is fundamental to the building of statistical forms out of data derived from samples (see statistics). Such samples are chosen by predetermined and arbitrary selection of related variables and arbitrary selection of intervals for sampling; these establish the degree of freedom. Many courses are given in statistical method. Elementary probability considers only finite sample spaces; advanced probability by use of calculus studies infinite sample spaces. The theory of probability was first developed (c.1654) by Blaise Pascal, and its history since then involves the contributions of many of the world's great mathematicians.


See P. Billingsley, Probability and Measure (1979); I. Hacking, The Emergence of Probability (1984, rev. ed. 2006); J. T. Baskin, Probability (1986); P. Bremaud, Introduction to Probability (1988); S. M. Ross, Introduction to Probability Theory (1989).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


  1. the PROBABILITYof an event, such as the occurrence of heads or tails on the toss of a coin.
  2. social or physical outcomes which are unforseen and perhaps inherently unpredictable.
Chance arises from the existence of physical or social processes which involve random events, a multiplicity of interacting variables in ‘open systems’ (including the changeability of actors' choices), and because actors’ intentions often have UNANTICIPATED CONSEQUENCES. While an inherent CONTINGENCY in social events is seen by some theorists as ruling out general theories, this neglects the availability of generalized ‘probabilistic’ accounts and the fact that it is the goal of general theories to abstract from particular events (and provide EXPLANATION or analytical frameworks), not necessarily to predict or control events.

Coping with chance in social life is a source of MAGIC and RELIGION and the basis of important leisure forms, including games of chance and GAMBLING. See also RISK SOCIETY.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000


See also Fate.
Charity (See GENEROSITY.)
Bridoison, Taiel de
judge who casts dice to decide cases. [Fr. Lit.: Pantagruel]
Fata Morgana
lake-dwelling sorceress and personification of chance. [Ital. Lit.: Orlando Innamorato]
goddess of chance. [Rom. Myth.: Kravitz, 58]
Jimmy the Greek
renowned American oddsmaker. [Am. Culture: Wallechinsky, 468]
Russian roulette
suicidal gamble involving a six-shooter, loaded with one bullet. [Folklore: Payton, 590]
god of chance. [Rom. Myth.: Espy, 42–43]
Three Princes of Serendip
always make discoveries by accident. [Br. Lit.: Three Princes of Serendip]
Urim and Thummin
oracular gems used for casting lots, set in Aaron’s breastplate. [O.T.: Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Smith struck 15 fours and two sixes off 305 balls and it was only his desire to plunder more runs ahead of a planned declaration at tea that cost him his wicket in a chanceless knock.
Smith, who cracked an unbeaten and chanceless 227 runs and De Villiers's unconquered 157, helped the Proteas dominate the Pakistan bowling for 78.2 overs.
Johannesburg, June 14 ( ANI ): Sri Lanka has managed to gain a seven-wicket win over an overly cautious England on Thursday with a chanceless unbeaten 134 from Kumar Sangakkara, leaving the ICC Champions Trophy Group A wide open ahead of the final two matches.
"It was very satisfying," he said of his chanceless 222-ball century.
Hussey was in sublime form during a chanceless 132 from 140 deliveries that brought back memories of the years he spent mauling county attacks before he broke into Australia's Test team.
James Hughes stroked a chanceless 116 in a declared tally of 223-6, then Aussie born, but UK-based paceman Steve Heydon put in a magnificent 6-54 stint to send Ashton reeling to 202 all out.
Kallis was already a centurion this winter, in the drawn first Test, and gave England another taste of the medicine with an immovable and chanceless 173-ball reprise.
The 32-year-old produced a chanceless innings in an unbeaten 136, hitting 20 fours from 249 balls, to ensure Notts escaped with 10 points, while Hampshire collected 12.
After a high tempo, but chanceless, opening period, both sides emerged with fresh intent and despite a lively start from Millwall it was Southampton who took the lead, teenage striker Matt Paterson finishing coolly from six yards on 50 minutes.
Yorkshire 394-3 (J A Rudolph 194 no, A McGrath 120) v Worcestershire A chanceless unbeaten 194 by Jacques Rudolph and 120 by his skipper, Anthony McGrath, helped Yorkshire pile up the runs on the second day of the weather-hit LV Championship match at Headingley Carnegie.
And arguably his chanceless 103 not out to win the first Test chasing 387 in Chennai against the Three Lions in December following the Mumbai terrorist attack was the most composed.
The 38-year-old became just the 25thman in the history of the game to score 100 first-class hundreds with a chanceless ton, which came in 231 minutes off 196 balls and included nine fours and a six.