While reading, Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody,” I came across an example using the Birthday Paradox. It explains how relationships within a group are much more complicated than the individuals within the group. Shirky uses the scenario of 36 people in a room allows for a greater than 80% chance that two people will share a birthday. How does that work?

My thoughts lingered on this topic for the next few days. I would wake to my mind trying to grasp the setup. Instead of singing in the shower, I found myself attempting to work out this scenario. How could 36 people have a greater than 80% chance of sharing birthdays? 36 people cover about 10% of all possibilities. The so called paradox explains that each person has a relationship with each other and thus allows for greater chances than you can see on the surface. Huh? I sought out Wikipedia for an understanding, and it explained through lots of mathematical formulas that Shirky was indeed telling the truth. But it still just didn’t make sense to me.

Every opportunity I get to poll 36 people within a room, I will. Birthday Paradox doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I just can’t wrap my mind around this. Maybe I’m right and the world of academics and mathematics are wrong. That last one probably isn’t correct, but hell, why should I start doubting myself now.