In this MathStackExchange post the question in the title was asked without much outcome, I feel.
**Edit:** As Douglas Zare kindly observes, there is one more answer in MathStackExchange now.

I am not used to basic Probability, and I am trying to prepare a class that I need to teach this year. I feel I am unable to motivate the introduction of random variables. After spending some time speaking about Kolmogoroff's axioms I can explain that they allow to make the following sentence true and meaningful:

The probability that, tossing a coin $N$ times, I get $n\leq N$ tails equals $$\tag{$\ast$}{N \choose n}\cdot\Big(\frac{1}{2}\Big)^N.$$

But now people (i.e. books I can find) introduce the "random variable $X\colon \Omega\to\mathbb{R}$ which takes values $X(\text{tails})=1$ and $X(\text{heads})=0$" and say that it follows the binomial rule. To do this, they need a probability space $\Omega$: but once one has it, one can prove statement $(\ast)$ above. So, what is the usefulness of this $X$ (and of random variables, in general)?

**Added:** So far my question was admittedly too vague and I try to emend.

Given a discrete random variable $X\colon\Omega\to\mathbb{R}$ taking values $\{x_1,\dots,x_n\}$ I can define $A_k=X^{-1}(\{x_k\})$ for all $1\leq k\leq n$. The study of the random variable becomes then the study of the values $p(A_k)$, $p$ being the probability on $\Omega$. Therefore, it seems to me that we have not gone one step further in the understanding of $\Omega$ (or of the problem modelled by $\Omega$) thanks to the introduction of $X$.

Often I read that there is the possibility of having a family $X_1,\dots,X_n$ of random variables on the same space $\Omega$ and some results (like the CLT) say something about them. But then

- I know no example—and would be happy to discover—of a problem truly modelled by this, whereas in most examples that I read there is either a single random variable; or the understanding of $n$ of them requires the understanding of the power $\Omega^n$ of some previously-introduced measure space $\Omega$.
- It seems to me (but admit to have no rigourous proof) that given the above $n$ random variables on $\Omega$ there should exist a $\Omega'$, probably much bigger, with a single $X\colon\Omega'\to\mathbb{R}$ "encoding" the same information as $\{X_1,\dots,X_n\}$. In this case, we are back to using "only" indicator functions. I understand that this process breaks down if we want to make $n\to \infty$, but I also suspect that there might be a deeper reason for studying random variables.

All in all, my doubts come from the fact that random variables still look to me as being a poorer object than a measure (or, probably, of a $\sigma$-algebra $\mathcal{F}$ and a measure whose generated $\sigma$-algebra is finer than $\mathcal{F}$, or something like this); though, they are introduced, studied, and look central in the theory. I wonder where I am wrong.

**Caveat:** For some reason, many people in comments below objected that "throwing random variables away is ridiculous" or that I "should try to come out with something more clever, then, if I think they are not good". That was not my point. I *am sure* they must be useful, lest all textbooks would not introduce them. But I was unable to understand *why*: many useful and kind answers below helped much.

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