Probability and Worth

The Rarity and worth of something aren't always the same.

A friend told me about a conversation he heard.

Seeing a foreigner, someone asked where he was from.

“New Zealand”

“Wow” went the response.

Just being from a particular country is something to “wow” about, my friend told me.

It’s pretty sad to think that someone can be impressed by the accident of birth in a particular land – something you have no control over.

To play devil’s advocate though – you could argue it’s statistically impressive.

Going by population alone, you’re 250 times more likely to be an Indian than a New Zealander.

So you’d expect to see Indians 250x more than New Zealanders.

And if you adjust for the fact this took place in India, it’s even more impressive.

You’d probably be 100,000x more likely to choose an Indian than a New Zealander if you picked a person at random in India. Sighting one is a rare event.

Is Rarity Value?

Does rarity, which is the fact that an event has a low probability of occurring, have anything to do with its worth?

Intuitively, it seems to.

Rarity seems to imply difficulty – the easier something is to do, the more people who’d have done it. And usually, scarcity brings value and familiarity degrades it.

Climbing a Himalayan peak is harder than climbing a small hill. Winning an international competition is usually a lot more noteworthy than winning a similar one at your school.

Perhaps the example of birth in a specific country like New Zealand isn’t a good one because there’s an important difference.

Birth in a country is not achieved but ascribed, you don’t do anything to influence it, it’s not in your hands.

But what about things that aren’t determined by fate?

If very few people have luxury cars or visit the Bahamas – does that mean these things are supposed to be impressive?

That’s usually how it seems to work.

Scarcity makes something precious because of simple economics. When supply is low, price tends to be high. That’s the effect on its monetary value – which is the price in the market.

Social value or status probably follows the same trend. When something becomes more common, it tends to become less impressive to people. It’s no longer exclusive, it’s tainted by the masses.

I remember when foreign vacations and fancy cars used to be something people gushed about; many still do, but it’s not the same anymore. Give it a couple of decades, and space travel will go through the same cycle.

Intrinsic Worth

But what about the converse? If something isn’t rare, does it mean it’s not valuable?

I don’t believe that.

There’s something to be said for intrinsic worth. The value of a thing – independent of anything else.

This value isn’t simply monetary – it’s more than the ‘price’ it fetches in the market.

It’s also not social – it doesn’t depend on what people think about it.

If a billion people wrote great books every year, it doesn’t mean that writing something good is worth any less just because a lot of people can do it or have done it.

Monetarily though, it would mean books sell for less because there’s such a glut in the market. And socially, it’d be much less impressive to be an author when every other guy calls himself one too.

This applies to any skill, business or job – even if, hypothetically, billions of people could learn to play soccer amazingly, or run huge businesses or come up with original research – why should any of these achievements lose their worth?

Eventually most things lose their rarity because more and more people succeed in doing them – partly because people get better at it, and partly because technology and the environment make it easier.

Climbing an 8000m high mountain or running a four minute mile a century ago was almost unheard of, considered the peak of human ability – today they’re not.

Rarity is therefore a diminishing quantity.

Rarity as a Signal

All these examples actually seem to weaken the argument rather than strengthen it.

Writing well, playing well, coming up with something new – all of these are rare things.

I said that If hypothetically they lose their rarity, they should retain their intrinsic worth – but the fact remains that in reality, they are rare.

There probably is a strong negative correlation between the probability of an event and its value. It’s not a perfect relationship, but you’d find them strongly correlated if you plotted a regression.

The lower the probability, the higher the value – in general.

Something rarer is more likely to be more impressive, because if it wasn’t rare, many people would have done it.

And if many people have done it, it’s perhaps easy to do.

And if it’s easy to do, then you begin to wonder what the fuss is about.

The usual ‘correlation does not imply causation‘ holds here too, but for some reason it still took me a while to see through.

I think that’s because here the causation is very strongly taken for granted. So in simple words, being rare doesn’t make something valuable, but it’s a very good signal that it’s likely to be valuable.


Since rarity and value aren’t perfectly related, there are exceptions – things that are common but impressive, and things that are rare but not impressive.

Skills and traits could belong in the first category. Financial literacy, physical fitness, reasoning power, proficiency in any field, punctuality – in some environments, these are almost the norm, but that doesn’t make them unimpressive.

The second category, something rare but not impressive, is more complicated.

Because rarity can be natural as well as artificial.

Something that’s naturally rare is so because it really is difficult – like creating a new product or publishing original thoughts.

Natural rareness is probably a much better indicator of worth, even if it diminishes with time.

Whereas something that’s artificially rare is because people have made it that way on purpose.

A gatekeeper creates artificiality in two ways.

One, by restricting the number of people who get through – like a publisher who accepts only one in a hundred books, or a company that hires only fifty people a year.

Two, by defining the parameters to win the game.

A test that’s not artificial – like running a marathon or solving a physics problem – shouldn’t depend on your beliefs, only your abilities. It doesn’t matter if you’re liberal or conservative, an atheist or theist – it’s as hard or as easy regardless.

Whereas, if it’s artificial, it’s easy to game because it’s subjective – by which I mean it depends on opinions or beliefs rather than facts or abilities.

The more subjective, the worse, because it becomes easier to give the gatekeeper what he wants, like a teacher who awards more marks to those who answer conforming to his beliefs, or a recruiter who prefers candidates from his college.

The best example of this is the selection process for admissions to colleges and jobs.

You ask people to do something – answer a bunch of questions someone thought of or talk well in an interview- and restrict the number of those who get through.

You create rarity simply because you reject over 99% of people.

Therefore people assume that if you are among the few who get through, it’s because you’re special. It’s such a strong belief that if you try to deny it, it’s put down as modesty, either genuine or affected.

But it doesn’t change the fact that all you really did was answer a bunch of questions…

This is a pretty unpopular opinion because almost no one likes it.

Since these tests have a very high rejection rate, it splits people into two categories – those who clear, and those who don’t. The second category is hundreds of times as numerous as the first.

Now if you’re in the first category, this says that you haven’t really done anything special, even if people around you believe you have. And perhaps you’re not as special as people make you believe you are. So you probably wouldn’t like hearing it.

And if you’re in the second category – which is much more likely because it’s much bigger than the first – this can sound even more insulting.

Here you are trying and perhaps failing at something, and someone comes along and says that even if you succeed you shouldn’t think you’ve achieved anything great. That’s probably how it’ll be misinterpreted.

For those who don’t take it personally – what this really means is that clearing (or failing) such a test doesn’t count for anything – it’s what, if anything, you do after clearing (or failing) it that matters.

Of course, the irony of this coming from myself is inescapable. I’d lose pretty much my entire readership if people thought this way.

Although I don’t see it as self-contradictory. It’s not in my hands who reads or why. I only write, and I don’t write about what I believe doesn’t have real worth.



You might gain your initial readership due to your identity in general but you retain and expand it due to your skill set and innovation.

Moreover, the initial audience (mostly that came due to certain tags- a potential strong marketing tool), does help to spread the word amongst public in general.Thus, it can be an added advantage ( caveat: only initially).

Can’t deny writing as a field is still subjective.


Stoicism teaches us to accept, endure and even love fate but does it explain why bad (good) things actually happen ?
For e.g: let’s say an innocent person A gets murdered or raped. Why such thing happened to A and not to B ? and why few people get born with disabilities and others don’t ?

Sweta Tripathi

Sherlock it has nothing to do with stoicism.

Rape is a sociological issue , in India it happens alot because of lack of sexual education, unemployment , harsh patriarchal environment etc . whereas disability is something which happens by chance no one can control it .

PS : Honestly , these days I get scared to post any comment here , God knows who gets annoyed when 😂


I got your point. But my question is different.
There is a saying, You get what you give and in some religions ppl believe that past life karma is the reason for fate. I was asking is there something like this to explain fate in stoic philosophy too

Sweta Tripathi

There is no existence of past life karma Sherlock , if such things exist then every poor country’s soul would have been a bad person in their past … God is not stupid( if you believe in god) he gave us free will but not free will alone rules our life society too influence us our obstacles , opputunities all are influenced by it .
Stoicism helps you to develop an eagle eye for things that you think are best for you and aids you in understanding what is truly valuable for a human life …thats it ..

And about dislikes ‘don’t worry’ this too is what a stoic philosophy teaches … but yes never stop improving yourself because there is no end of our follies …


I don’t know much about stoicism so just asking whether it explains fate or just tell us to accept and love it to avoid suffering.

Why I’m getting dislikes? Did I say something wrong? (asking this only to know if my question was interpreted wrongly)


Hey Sherlock,I don’t know what the philosophy of stoicism teaches but fortunately,spirituality has some answers to the deep question u r asking.But good u asked on a platform where u can bounce off ideas freely.I hope PP doesn’t mind if we digress from the main topic of his essay.

Forget about rape or murder,any pain or suffering any human being undergoes is a result of our Karmas.

Karmas are of 3 types- sanchit,prarabdha and kriyaman karma.

Sanchit karmas are the karmas u’ve accumulated in your previous births.U can absolutely do nothing to clear those bad karmas.U will have to bear the consequences of the bad karmas u committed in previous births.U killed 1000 animals,ate meat,that karma will definitely come back to haunt u, maybe in the next birth u will undergo the same pain and suffering that the poor animal had to undergo while dying.Maybe in the next birth,u yourself will become an animal who will be cut mercilessly by a butcher.And this karma may not even get cleared in the next birth.U may have to take 20 births and die the say way to clear your karma.

Then there is the other type of karma called prarabdha karma.This is what is called “fate” or “destiny.”Technically,prarabdha karmas are the sanchit karmas that have fructified.U are born in a spiritual family with educated parents,that’s fate.U have no control over it.Again,u can do absolutely nothing about it.The fact that u r born as a human being is a gift of God to you and is a prarabha i.e a clear manifestation of your “good” sanchit karmas.Had you been born as a chick,that is also a prarabdha i.e.a clear manifestation of your “bad” sanchit karmas.Why is it bad to born as a chick though?It’s bad because one day,u would be cut for a Mc Chicken grilled burger to satiate an inhumane human being’s hunger!

Then comes the kriyaman karma.These are the karmas that your creating in your present life.U have full control over these karmas.The first 2 karmas I just explained are just out of your control.U do good karmas,good will happen to u(not necessarily in this life but definitely in future life/lives).Similarly,U do bad karmas,bad happens to u.

Point is that in our present life,we are reaping our Sanchit karmas.We cannot escape these at all.Our past lives’ karmas do affect our present life.Also,destiny/prarabdha karma definitely affects what we are doing at present.Being born in a well-educated family definitely gives me an edge over others born in an illiterate family.Again,nothing can be done about it.U just reap the consequences-good or bad.

Now coming to your question,how to accept the bad consequences.Being born with a disability clearly shows I must have done some bad karmas in previous lives.But how to accept the fate?That’s where meditation comes in.U cannot erase your bad karmas.But meditation gives u the strength to surrender to God’s will and go through the consequences of your bad karmas gracefully.Hope the answer helps!

(I am myself no spiritual expert nor an expert on meditation.These are some of the learnings I myself acquired during my days of crisis.U see now why even crisis has a silver lining!U can delve more into these topics if interested.There are a wealth of philosophies beyond stoicism.The point is to be open to all and learn as much as possible)


Thank you!!


So at the end of the day..U can’t really escape.just accept and choose your course.
Whether it’s meditation or stoicism or anything else.
Just different ways to accept: “whatever it is,it is”.

Your style how u cope up with.

thnx for insight 🙂


What is your general problem solving approach





Can you write one of your future articles elaborating more on “happiness as a choice”?