Littlewood's law

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Littlewood's law states that a person can expect to experience events with odds of one in a million (referred to as a "miracle") at the rate of about one per month. It was framed by British mathematician John Edensor Littlewood.


The law was framed by Cambridge University Professor John Edensor Littlewood, and published in a 1986 collection of his work, A Mathematician's Miscellany. It seeks among other things to debunk one element of supposed supernatural phenomenology and is related to the more general law of truly large numbers, which states that with a sample size large enough, any outrageous (in terms of probability model of single sample) thing is likely to happen.


Littlewood defines a miracle as an exceptional event of special significance occurring at a frequency of one in a million. He assumes that during the hours in which a human is awake and alert, a human will see or hear one "event" per second, which may be either exceptional or unexceptional. Additionally, Littlewood supposes that a human is alert for about eight hours per day.

As a result, a human will in 35 days have experienced under these suppositions about one million events. Accepting this definition of a miracle, one can expect to observe one miraculous event for every 35 days' time, on average – and therefore, according to this reasoning, seemingly miraculous events are actually commonplace.

See also[edit]


  • Littlewood's Miscellany, edited by B. Bollobás, Cambridge University Press; 1986. ISBN 0-521-33702-X
  • Debunked! ESP, Telekinesis, Other Pseudoscience, Georges Charpak and Henri Broch, translated from the French by Bart K. Holland, Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-7867-5

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