Pinball machine, the research

On the research program behind the pinball machine, or the more dignified name it went by, “Random Mechanical Cascade.” Here, described is Francis Galton’s “Law of the Frequency of Error,” a recurring pattern behind an early demonstration:

For reasons that are a little tricky to explain, a great deal of the stuff in the universe can be characterized using this curve. For example: if I measure the length of Manhattan many times using a ruler, I will come up with a mess of slightly different values; plotted, they will distribute themselves in one of these normal curves (with the odds being that my best answer will lie at the mean). Similarly, if I make everyone in Manhattan take an IQ test, their results, too, will fall out in a normal distribution. Ditto a host of other traits of this population, and, moreover, of all the other populations on the island, from the roaches to the seagulls.