# If you burp, fart, and sneeze at the same time, will you die?: Law of averages

In their question to Cecil (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a4_059.html), Drs. Levinson and Swain state that “The law of averages suggests…”. Everyone who knows anything about statistics (as the Drs. should) would know there is no such thing as the “law of averages”. The law of averages is usually defined by such statements as “I’ve flipped this coin 20 times now and it’s come up heads every time. The law of averages states it must be a tail soon.” WRONG. The chances of it being heads on each flip is 50%, no matter what results have come before. There is no such thing as the ‘law of averages’.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the “law of averages” doesn’t exist. If I flip a coin 20 times and 20 heads come up, the law of averages doesn’t say it’s going to be a tails soon; I would think the law of averages says, “If I keep on flipping the coin, the number of times heads comes up is going to settle down to around 50%.” Not to say that that’s a rigorous definition, but there’s something to it. In other words, there’s a positive probability that an individual will, in fact, burp, fart, and sneeze at the same time, so it’s bound to happen to someone, sometime, somewhere.

I have no idea why someone would be concerned about it, though.

“The law of averages” is just a figure of speech, get over it.

Cabbage said:

The “keep on flipping the coin” idea is actually what supports the law of large numbers which basically says that over a great number of trials, outcomes will settle along the theoretical lines of probability (as Caggage says).

This may be a semantical difference to most, but there are always those who think the “law of averages” suggests that odds change based on recent past outcomes, which, of course is incorrect.

If I flipped a coin 20 times and got heads each time, then I contend the odds on the next flip are NOT 50/50. The overwhelming odds are that the next flip will give heads, too. There is something unfair about the air coin (two headed, or weighted, or not really being flipped, or something.)

Well, one in one-million odds are pretty long, it is true. I have, however, lost as many as 16 straight bets of baccarat (which has pretty close to even odds), so it isn’t impossible. However, it would tend to make one wonder if the assumptions regarding the randomness of the result generation were accurate.

So, does anyone with some time on their hands and reasonable control of their bodily functions want to give this a try? Burp, fart, and sneeze at the same time? I think you could do this if you tried hard enough.

If anyone wants to volunteer, I’ll come by your house with a videocamera to document the whole experience. Hey, I’ll even stay and help clean up the mess afterwards.

As George Carlin once noted, the REAL challenge is sneezing while you’re urinating. It’s hard to put into words why it’s hard… it’s like you just get a sense that something terrible will happen if you allow yourself to sneeze.

You would probably pee on your shoes

When my kids were about eight and ten, they were visiting my mother (in her mid70s at that time), and she coughed, farted, and sneezed at the same time. (OK, it’s not a burp, but it’s close.)

She didn’t die from it, but the kids almost died from laughter. They still laugh with her about it, 15 years later. So, we think this UL has got it wrong, you won’t die, but your audience might.

As banale as this subject is, these readers have no grasp of the basic concepts of high school calculus. Although the “Law of Averages” does not necessarily exist, the notion of probability does. The odds of a coin toss are always 50/50 on each toss, yes, and it is possible for heads to come up 5,10,20, or even 100 times in a row but probability dictates that it is extremely unlikely to happen.
What this has to do with someone burping, sneezing, and farting at the same time boggles me, but what clinical reason could there be for this to be fatal?

I believe the conundrum should be put this way:

If twenty flips of a coin have produced twenty ‘heads,’ what are the odds that on the twenty-first toss not only will ‘heads’ appear again but the flipper will fatally succumb to a simultaneous burp, fart and sneeze?

All discussion of probabilities here are pointless unless you know the relatedness of the phenomena. Sneezing forcefully expells air from the lungs, and squeezes off the esophogus, reducing the likelihood of air escaping that way. Thus, sneesing and burping at the same time are not independent, and probably very unlikely. However, sneezing increases abdominal pressure, since the abdominals are used to expell air. Hence, you are more likely to fart and sneeze at the same time than if they were independent.

However, since none of these are in any way injurious to your health, why would you think that combined they would kill you?

Whoa. Sparky. Dennis. Dudes.

Lighten up, umkay? Here’s a working link to the column, which has a pretty high humor to fact ratio:

So enjoy, and don’t be so serious.

Or, if you want, you can try my new dish, a double-bean burrito sprinkled with black pepper and paprika. Then we’ll know.

Livin’ on Tums, Vitamin E and Rogaine

There is a mathematical thereom called “The Central Limit Thereom” or CLT. The CLT is rather complicated. It basically says that if you convolute a probability distribution function (PDF) with itself n times, the result will tend to a normal curve as n goes to infinity. However, this is a gross simplification. To state it exactly requires complicated mathematical concepts and quite a bit of space.
The “Law of Averages” is basically a more vague version of the CLT; a “layman’s version”. It says that if you have a large enough sample, then the sample proportions will probably be somewhere around the actual proportion. Notice the the vague terms “large enough”, “probably”, and “somwhere around”. Exactness is sacrified for easier understanding. The main misunderstanding is that the Law of Averages is that it’s a statement about all samples, not about any specific samples. If you look at all samples, most will reflect the larger population. But if you look at part of a specific sample and see that that part is deviating from the larger population, that gives you no knowledge about the rest of the sample.
As an anology, the height of most Americans is between 5 and 6 feet. So suppose you find someone whose height, excluding his head, is 5 feet, 11 inches. Would you conclude that since most American are shorter than 6 feet, his head must be only 1 inch high? I hope not!

## BTW, since no one has put a working link to the article up, I thought I’d try: http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a4_059.html

-Ryan
" ‘Ideas on Earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter.’ " -Kurt Vonnegut, * Breakfast of Champions *

The average of flipping a coin once and getting a certain result is 50%.

If you call heads for the next flip, that is also a 50% average.

But if you call heads in advance for two flips in a row, then you have only 25% average of being correct.

When you aggregate the number of flips, then the average is proportionately smaller. If you individually call each flip, then you are not really grouping flips.

Cheers,

David

“So, does anyone with some time on their hands and reasonable control of their bodily functions want to give this a try? Burp, fart, and sneeze at the same time? I think
you could do this if you tried hard enough.”

Try as I might, I can only produce two of these three simultaneously. If you’d like you can vidoedocument these attempts. However, I would submit that it is the effort put forward in trying to do this that may cause death.

I propose we recruit a participant from the discussion thread on Photic Sneeze Reflex (PSR) thread, as it seems they would have the best chance of success. Just have them cram down a couple of bean burritos, wash them down with barley pops, let it ferment for a couple of hours and make them walk out into the bright sunlight. This would make a much better videodocumentary.

Actually, (and I’m sure you’re not aware of this, Rocket) During the all-important November sweeps, Fox is planning to air World’s Scariest Police Chases and Photic Sneeze Reflexes and When Good Relatives Go Bad and Burp, Fart and Sneeze Simultaneously.

Must-See TV.

Maybe a better question is will the topic of someone dying of multiple bodily functions at the same time ever die