Suppose you have two cups in front of you, one with precisely 8 fluid ounces of coffee, and the other with precisely 8 fluid ounces of cream. You take precisely one teaspoon of the cream and add it to your coffee. You stir it in so that it's thoroughly mixed. Then you take precisely one teaspoon of that coffee/cream mixture and put it back into the cup of cream. Does the cup of coffee have more cream in it, or does the cup of cream contain more coffee? Click below for the answer.

This question is a bit tricky. It's tempting to think that the cup of coffee contains more cream, because the teaspoon of cream added to the coffee was 100% pure, while the teaspoon of coffee added to the cream was diluted. However, it's important to remember that the total volume of each vessel changed by one teaspoon after the first transfer of fluid. The coffee/cream mixture was greater by two teaspoons than the pure cream. Before I reveal the answer, let's re-frame the question in discrete units.

Suppose that instead of liquids, our two cups contained 20 black marbles and 20 white marbles. You take 5 white marbles and thoroughly mix then in with the black marbles. Then you randomly select 5 marbles from the black/white marble mixture and place them back in the cup of white marbles. Are there more white marbles in the black cup or more black marbles in the white cup?

If you're like me, you may be tempted to treat this as a probability problem, but it isn't one. When I think about randomly drawing marbles, I want to immediately start writing a quick simulation in Python, but as you'll see, that isn't necessary. We can easily enumerate all possible outcomes in this scenario to find the answer to the question. When we draw 5 marbles from the cup with a mixture of 20 black and 5 white marbles, then place them in the cup with the other 15 white marbles, there are only 6 possible outcomes:

black

white

black/white mix

white/black mix

5

0

15/5

15/5

4

1

16/4

16/4

3

2

17/3

17/3

2

3

18/2

18/2

1

4

19/1

19/1

0

5

20/0

20/0

So the black/white ratio of the 5 marbles in the second transfer doesn't really matter. The end result is that there are always the same number of white marbles in the black cup as there are black marbles in the white cup.

The same is true of the original coffee/cream problem. The ratio of the two liquids in the teaspoon that is transferred to the cup of cream is such that you will end up with precisely the same volume of coffee in your cream as there is cream in your coffee. So the answer to the trick question posed at the beginning is "neither, they are the same."

## No comments:

Post a Comment