Re: Another tedious hypothetical

From: Jesse Mazer <>
Date: Mon, 06 Jun 2005 16:58:54 -0400

rmiller wrote:

>At 03:01 PM 6/6/2005, Pete Carlton wrote:
>>The point is, there are enough stories published in any year that it would
>>be a trivial matter to find a few superficial resemblances between any
>>event and a story that came before it.
>Let's look a little closer at the story in terms of gestalts.
>On one side we have published author Robert Heinlein writing a story in
>1939 about a guy named Silard who works with a uranium bomb, a beryllium
>target and a fellow named "lenz." We'll leave Korzybski out of this one (I
>suspect Heinlein borrowed the name from A. Korzybski, a sematicist of some
>renown back in the 1930s.) To me the interesting nodes involve the words
>"Silard" "lenz" "beryllium," "uranium" and "bomb." So let's agree that here
>is a story that includes a gestalt of the words "Silard, lenz, beryllium,
>uranium and bomb."

But you can't use that particular "gestalt" when talking about the
probability that a coincidence like this would occur, because you never
would have predicted that precise gestalt in advance even if you were
specifically looking for stories that anticipated aspects of the Manhatten
project. It would make more sense to look at the probability of a story that
includes *any* combination of words that somehow anticipate aspects of the
Manhatten project. Let's say there were about 10^10 possible such gestalts
we could come up with, and if you scanned trillions of parallel universes
you'd see the proportion of universes where a story echoed at least one such
gestalt was fairly high--1 in 15, say. This means that in 1 in 15 universes,
there will be a person like you who notices this anticipation and, if he
uses your method of only estimating the probability of that *particular*
gestalt, will say "there's only a 1 in 10^9 probability that something like
this could have happened by chance!" Obviously something is wrong with any
logic that leads you to see a 1 in 10^9 probability coincidence happening in
1 in 15 possible universes, and in this hypothetical example it's clear the
problem is that these parallel coincidence-spotters are using too narrow a
notion of "something like this", one which is too much biased by hindsight
knowledge of what actually happened in their universe, rather than something
they plausibly might have specifically thought to look for before they
actually knew about the existence of such a story.

Received on Mon Jun 06 2005 - 16:59:58 PDT

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