At what point is it no longer a long shot?

When you casually buy a lottery ticket at the Française de Jeux, your chances of winning the lottery are 1 in 19 million. Naturally, everyone understands that this is a long shot. To many people (15 million of them in France) the hope of something is better than nothing. To others, (the rest of the population?) the chances of winning are so low that they do not manage to even derive any day-dreaming pleasure from buying a ticket, making it a pure waste of money. But both sides are easy to understand…

But what if the odds of success are even lower, say  your pet bird flies out the window because you forgot to close the cage door after cleaning it, as has happened to the unfortunate person hanging up desperate posters on drainpipes. Do you really think there is any chance at all that someone will recognize your little Mojo and manage to catch the bird to return it to you? The bird has flown away! It is completely irrational to spend your time printing and pasting posters around town (and why not further afield, it is a bird, remember?). But people do it.

Buying a lottery ticket, or distributing posters of your lost bird, both give you the illusion that you are doing something to remedy a situation, even if it is not a rational course of action. Newspaper articles about lottery winners and websites about found birds feed us false hope, a hope which is mildly reassuring. You may well know that it is pointless, but sometimes doing something feels better than sitting in a corner sulking. But of course, secretly, you know it is not.

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