[extropy-chat] what is probability?

Benjamin Goertzel ben at goertzel.org
Mon Jan 8 18:35:52 UTC 2007

On 1/8/07, John K Clark <jonkc at att.net> wrote:
> Me:
> >>It's not just a good idea for there to be a 50% probability of this  atom
> >>decaying in the next hour, it's THE LAW.
> "Benjamin Goertzel" <ben at goertzel.org>
> > That is silly ... it is not a "law" legislated by some legislative
> > body
> True, it's just the way the universe works, rather like the LAW of gravity.

It is the way our part of the universe has apparently worked for a
period of time. It's a very useful explanatory hypothesis within this

> > scientific statements (like "this atom will decay in the next hour with
> > 50% probability") are not even **defined** outside of the language of some
> > particular scientific research programme.  This leads to the notion of
> > "incommensurability" between rival research programmes,
> > and the need to compare rival programmes via criteria like
> > productivity and generativity rather than comparison to
> > "objective truth".  Which is how science has worked in reality
> > -- not via "objective truth" being used to decide between
> > research programmes...
> Presumably the above means something, but if you put a gun to my head I
> couldn't tell you what.

Well, if you did some background reading in the philosophy of science
it would make more sense to you.  Philosophy of science has its jargon
like any other discipline, and as usual, replacing the jargon with
everyday words buys apparent comprehensibility at the cost of

The point is that assessing the truth or falsehood of a theoretical
scientific statement is not a simple thing.  Criteria for validation
vary from one scientific approach to another, e.g. cultural norms for
throwing out outliers and defining contexts of applicability.
Scientific statements are not laws nor truths but are hypotheses
expressed in the context of a particular culture and vocabulary.

But, approximately explaining complex matters in a few sentences in an
email is difficult enough if the recipient is intuitively agreeable.
Doing so when the recipient has a radically different intuitive
perspective is probably useless.   If you want to understand my
perspective on these issues, read me essay on philosophy of science
which I reference earlier in this thread.

-- BenG

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