# Philosophy and Probability

I’m really anxious about making my first post on this board, because my knowledge is a long way under that of everyone else. However, I feel the only way for me to develop my understanding is through discussion, therefore…let the show begin

Firstly, please acknowledge this is the first day since September where I don’t have to be up and doing things. However, sod’s law, as per usual makes it so I cannot sleep. It is 8:03am and what is written below will not be coherent. Please try and decipher my ramblings at your leisure.

Probability and Philosophy

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently, mainly because I have a Statistics lecturer who has his head much too far up his own rectum and i’m determined to take his ego down a notch of two but this information isn’t relevent; and is becoming incoherent like I predicted

So.

Maths Lecturer A, states time and time again that Maths has foundational concepts, that Maths is just a set of simple rules which never fail, are always correct, blah de blah…

(Allow me to just clarify one point before beginning. If you have no information regarding the outcome of a particular event, you have to adopt the attitude that there is a 50-50 chance of either one of the occurences (33-33-33 for three choices, 25-25-25-25 for four, and so on) actually happening. Who are you to decide, who am I to decide, what is more likely to occur. We are not. When you do not know any information regarding the likelyhood of outcomes you are unable to pass judgement or try and make statements regarding such. You have to list all outcomes as equal)

(Clarification, quel numero deux. Let’s take the good old swan (bird) example. Just because every swan that was ever known has been white, you cannot make a universal statement saying ‘All swans are white’ (Just because, w, x and y have equaled ‘B’ and z is related to w, doesn’t mean z is a ‘B’) You cannot say that all swans are white until you have seen every swan past, present and preferably future. This point was proven when against what was believed at the time, black swans were found living healthily in areas of Australia. Where i’m going is, you can’t allow past occurences to affect your judgement on another independent event. This event holds no relation to past events, and thus results will contain no correlation with those that have happened before.)

Take this scenario…

Astronomers have just discovered a planet they never knew existed. This planet, which illuminates the skies over Southern Bognor Regis, and emits a beautiful orange glow has never before been spotted. We have no idea how astronomers have missed it, but for the purpose of this scenario they have.

What are the chances of there being birds living on this planet?

“Very low. It’s almost impossible. No life exists beyond planet earth.” I hear you proudly and confidently state.

As I have no interest in birds, I am unaware of the actual figures on the number of different types of birds. But I am sure it must be well into the thousands, but for the purpose of making my calculation’s as easy as possible we shall call it a hundred. There are 100 different types of birds.

The probability of there being ‘Bird A’ on the planet is 50%.
The probability of there being ‘Bird B’ on the planet is 50%.
The probability of there being ‘Bird C’ on the planet is 50%.
The probability of there being ‘Bird D’ on the planet is 50%.

And so on.

So using our scenario where there are only 100 different types of birds in existence, there is only a 1% chance that there is not birds inhabiting this planet. You can multiply out the 100 different probabilities just to confirm my answer because as I write this i’m not sure whether or not it is actually 1%; i’m now thinking it could actually be much less. Is there 100 different possible outcomes, or is it 100^2 or something different? Can someone who is more awake than me confirm this?

So, saying that my calculation is correct, and the answer is 1% (which I don’t think it is, and by saying this i’m covering my ass for when someone proves me wrong, because I can just say I suspected that my calculation was incorrect from the start ) there is a 99% chance that this planet which has just been discovered contains birds. We haven’t found proof of life existing beyond our planet thus far, yet there is only a 1% chance that it doesn’t exist.

Common sense would suggest that these calculations were itidotic, and nonsensical. However, Maths, which is never incorrect and is just a simple set of rules has provided these figures.

Does probability, and therefore Maths in general contain a fundamental flaw?

(Or is it too early for me to be typing, and my head is spewing out utter crap?)

You are absolutely right, your Maths teacher is talking crap. At no point should you just “assume” that the probability is 50% if two, etc. etc. etc.

However, in your argument you did make rather a big inconsistency error. You can’t extrapolate that there’s a 99% chance because the chance of there being “no life” can only be paired up with “there being life” (and hence by your Maths teachers rules a 50/50), how many different species is irrelevant.

Now, having said that there are three possible explanations for your Math’s teachers bizarre statement, either you misunderstand him, he misunderstands it himself (is he uni or below? Cause if he’s just a secondary school maths teacher chances are he wasn’t actually any good at maths. Then again my old Maths teacher had a doctorate. Though I was never sure if if was in Maths.) or he couldn’t be bothered to argue with you and just fobbed you off with the timeless “it just is, ok?”.

The usual justification for using a 50/50 split in an unknown probability is that we don’t know and then further data will help swing the percentage towards the right area, but the 50/50 kind of stabilizes the data. However there is absolutely no reason at all that you have to start at 50/50, if you ever read some philosophy of science you will come across Popper’s theory which uses probabiulity to determine the truth of scientific theories. In that theory the starting probability is whatever the experimenter guesses it to be. He needs no justification at all at the figure he chooses.

To me the 50/50, 33/33/33, etc. is just a useful point to start off from. If your teacher actually said they have to be that probability there is no such mathematical rule, it certainly makes no sense if you believe in any sort of objective reality. If he’s a lecturer ask him which philosophy of maths this “rule” came from, because though I’m not majorly read in the subject it makes utterly no sense to me at all.

The 50/50 ratio is not the probability that there is life on the planet, but the probabilty of you guessing correctly whether or not there is life on the planet.

You may find it interesting that Stephen Hawking (whom I assume is slightly more qualified than your professor) stated that it is mathematically unprobable that life exists anywhere else in the universe. Whether or not I agree with him is a different story. However, if I wanted to make a teacher eat his own words, I would do a quick Google search and find this information.

Seeing as they don’t even have a clue about how life forms, i think that’s rather a big guess!

Doesn’t Stephen Hawking make bets with other scientists with the stake being a year’s subscription to Playboy or Hustler or something like that?