Posted by: Tobias | September 6, 2008

The Wisdom of Krauts: Shaving accidents

It’s been a while since the inaugural installment of “The Wisdom of Krauts”. Time to finally come up with another insanely random nugget of knowledge. So, here is the question:

What is the probability you will suddenly evaporate into thin air while shaving?

As always I’ll give you the correct answer (as far as modern science can tell, at least) as soon as everyone has ventured a guess.


  1. 0?

    At least that’s my empirical result.

  2. Using the same line of reasoning as before; the question by itself implies a figure higher than 0. However I can’t come up with any logic why one would evaporate during shaving. And if the number gets too large I would expect people to disappear around me so lets stick this time with 1%

  3. Hmm, I guess He Who is Little isn’t going to venture a guess so I’ll just reveal the answer. But not without making a few comments first:

    First, in the world of quantum mechanics almost nothing happens with probability zero. There are plenty of things that are so unlikely that they would not happen even if you replayed the history of the entire universe a gazillion times (Richard Dawkins’ favorite metaphor is that you’d still be writing zeroes even if you’d started after the big bang in writing down its probability), but impossible they are not.

    1 percent, on the other hand, is a rather huge estimate. If this were the case, you would likely not be around anymore as I assume you shave yourself more than 100 times a year and have been around… well, quite a while. If this is true and the probability were 1 percent, you having evaporated by now would not just be a very possible event, but indeed a likely one.

    The correct answer is in fact 10^-11, so a one in a billion chance. It comes from a CERN scientist who wanted to put the chance of the LHC producing a black hole that would eat our planet for breakfast into perspective (that probability is supposedly on the order of 10^-19, by the way).

    That being said, I’m more than a bit skeptical of this answer myself. One in a billion may seem like a remote possibility, but with the world population above 6 billion and a substantial part of it shaving regularly, sudden evaporation really ought to be on the news more often if the probability were right. But perhaps it’s the kind of thing that really does happen all the time somewhere, but that no one ever observes or which media people just laugh out of the room upon hearing about it.

  4. Sorry, He Who is Little missed this one. But I wouldn’t have come up with any sensible answer anyway. My guess would have been something like 0+ε.

    I would even consider the ‘correct’ answer much too high, for exactly the reasons you mention. I haven’t figured out yet how something like this should happen at all, but I guess people shaving wetly should not be concerned, right?
    Of a world population of 6 billion individuals, this would certainly exclude all women and a large fraction of men (who either don’t shave, or shave wetly). Yet, if there’s a one in a billion chance of this happening, it should, given the large amount of people shaving, happen somewhere on earth at least a few times per year. The media would certainly love this story, and one would have heard of it.

    Of course, there might be a lack of evidence that the person actually evaporated, that is, given that his wife was not standing next to him brushing her teeth in the very same moment. Nonetheless, in these cases, there should be evidence of men suddenly disappearing from their bathrooms in the morning without leaving a trace. I have never heard of this….

    My conclusion would thus be that the probability might be above 0, but that it should rather be below 10^-11.

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