5 - Probabilities and physical variables  pp. 65-80

Probabilities and physical variables

By Robert B. Griffiths

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Classical sample space and event algebra

Probability theory is based upon the concept of a sample space of mutually exclusive possibilities, one and only one of which actually occurs, or is true, in any given situation. The elements of the sample space are sometimes called points or elements or events. In classical and quantum mechanics the sample space usually consists of various possible states or properties of some physical system. For example, if a coin is tossed, there are two possible outcomes: H (heads) or T (tails), and the sample space S is {H, T}. If a die is rolled, the sample space S consists of six possible outcomes: s = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. If two individuals A and B share an office, the occupancy sample space consists of four possibilities: an empty office, A present, B present, or both A and B present.

Associated with a sample space S is an event algebra B consisting of subsets of elements of the sample space. In the case of a die, “s is even” is an event in the event algebra. So are “s is odd”, “s is less than 4”, and “s is equal to 2.” It is sometimes useful to distinguish events which are elements of the sample space, such as s = 2 in the previous example, and those which correspond to more than one element of the sample space, such as “s is even”. We shall refer to the former as elementary events and to the latter as compound events.