[extropy-chat] what is probability?

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Mon Jan 8 19:02:23 UTC 2007

John K Clark wrote:

>>> 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.
>> 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.

John, the point here is that we can derive general principles from our
observations of the way the universe works, even though it has been
traditional for some people to (misleadingly) label these as "laws", as
if they were absolutely decreed, rather than derived via a subjective
process of observation and sense-making refinement.

The very high statistical regularity of "random" radioactive decay, and
the very high regularity of what we call gravity leads to people
thinking of them in absolute terms, but these concepts are still less
than objective.

Take gravity as perhaps the most common case of physical "law".  These
days do we interpret this "law" as did Aristotle, who knew that
different substances had different tendencies to fall toward earth, or
as did Newton and other scientists who for a long time knew that gravity
acted as an attraction between bodies following a strict inverse square
law, or as Einstein revealed that gravity is best modeled as a curvature
in space, or do we incorporate the newer speculations about effects on
gravity due to intense magnetic fields and/or "dark matter" or ...?

Due to our status as subjective agents, our understanding of the world
and the interactions of its parts can only approach, but never attain,

- Jef

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