Creation of Probability

On chance – Ancient civilizations, despite their engagement in games of chance and divinatory practices, did not formalize the underlying principles of probability. The creation of formal probability theory is linked with gambling and divination, stretching back to antiquity. However, the mathematical formulation of chance / probability remained elusive until the 17th century surrounding the city of light. Sporadic pre-17th -century attempts to quantify chance, highlights the absence of a systematic approach and the prevailing attitudes toward destiny and divination. Central to this is the exchange between Blaise Pascal and Pierre de Fermat, initiated by the enigmatic “problem of points.” This problem, arising from a premature ending of dice games, required a division of stakes based on potential game outcomes. Correspondance between Fermat and Pascal showed the solution and also laid the groundwork for a new mathematical discipline. The Pascal-Fermat dialogue (in a beautiful and short collection of letters) created a surge in research for probability theory. It resulted in the contributions of Christiaan Huygens and J. Bernoulli, showing the establishment of the normal distribution by Abraham de Moivre. While initial research into probability were predominantly theoretical, it went from dice gambling in France to more general methods for other natural sciences. For example, the application in actuarial science for life expectancy prediction and the eventual integration into statistical analysis.

Early works and outcome are shown in Huygens, C. (1657). De Ratiociniis in Aleae Ludo. Considerations on Dice Play, Bernoulli, J. (1713). Ars Conjectandi. The Art of Conjecturing, de Moivre, A. (1738). The Doctrine of Chances, and Pascal, B., & Fermat, P. Correspondence on the Problem of Points.