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From: Dave Long (
Date: Tue Oct 24 2000 - 10:04:05 PDT

I'd mentioned a case for rational risk seeking,
but it appears that history gives us some pretty
famous (anecdotal) evidence for value from even
*irrational* risk seeking.

From Heilbron, _Geometry Civilized_:
> [Posidonius'] value of 180 000 stades ... has had more
> profound consequences than any other geometrical error
> ever committed. Columbus made decisive use of it in
> arguing the practicability of his proposed voyage ...
> [He] argued his case before learned geometers and
> geographers who knew the world is round. They were
> charged to decide whether the proposed voyage over
> the immense ocean in small wooden ships had a chance
> of success. They did not worry that the ships might
> fall off the edge of a flat earth but that they might
> sink from rotting timbers or that the crews might
> die from thirst or hunger. ... [He] calculated he
> could do it in 30 days. The experts laughed at him.
> Relying on Ptolemy, discounting Polo, and preferring
> Erathosthenes (whose result had been confirmed by
> more recent measurements), they would have calculated
> the gap at close to its true value of 12 000 miles.
> No sailing ship of Columbus' time could have crossed
> so immense an expanse of ocean. ... But Isabella
> ... decided to take the modest risk of underwriting
> part of the project. ... [Columbus] set forth from
> the Canaries and, 33 days out, he struck land almost
> exactly where he had expected ...


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