A drunken sailor takes a step at random to the right or left. If the bar is five steps to the right and home is two steps to the left, what is the probability he goes home before hitting the bar? The sailor’s path is sometimes called a simple random walk. Random walks are a major area of study in probability theory and of interest to theoreticians in many areas of science and engineering.
A walk usually conjures up images outside of mathematics. Jill Scott’s “A Long Walk” describes the type of relationship she wants to have with her special someone. A sensitive guy likes long walks on the beach. Many can talk the talk, but only a few can walk the walk.
Walking can be a relatively relaxing activity, and sharing a relaxing activity can cause people to open up. In Chaim Potok’s The Promise, problem child Michael Gordon shares his anxieties and concerns with soon-to-be rabbi Reuven Malter during a boat ride. Walks have caused people to share opinions with me they might otherwise keep to themselves. In a walk from the classroom to his office, one of my electrical engineering professors explained his philosophy on war and the conditions necessary for him to oppose the War in Iraq. On a couple of short walks, my cousin shared with me some of her hopes and concerns. Memories of these conversations are ones I will not soon forget.