Re: Another tedious hypothetical

From: rmiller <>
Date: Mon, 06 Jun 2005 19:18:14 -0500

At 03:58 PM 6/6/2005, you wrote:
>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

Where on earth did *that* gestalt rule come from??? ;-)

> 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.
>Sounds like you're invoking rules of causation here--post hoc rather than
>ad hoc, hindsight bias, etc. Certainly I am not suggesting Heinlein's
>story caused Szilard to be hired (interesting thought, though!) And
>unless I want to invoke Cramer's transactional approach, I would not
>really want to think that the Manhattan Project caused Heinlein to write
>his story. That would require reverse causation, and we know that doesn't
>happen. This is very simple: we have instances in which Heinlein includes
>key words (definable as being essential to the story---without them,
>different story) that form a gestalt of. . .well, key words. These words
>are equivalent to those describing the Manhattan Project and not many
>other things. To show that there are not many other things these key word
>gestalts describe, one can wait a year and use Google Print to call up all
>the books and stories associated with these key words. Then we will have
>a probability to work with. Since the gestalts are separated by four
>years (or thereabouts) then we shouldn't have to invoke causation.

How is this potentially valuable? Suppose we use Google Print again and
find all the instances of key word gestalts in sci fi matching key word
gestalts in scientific non-fiction---at a later date. What if we found
that there seems to be a four-year gap between the two--no more, no
less. That piece of information may be valuable later on down the road in
trying to piece the puzzle together.

But just to say that we shouldn't investigate it because it's all a
coincidence, or that the hypothesis was improperly framed, or that it
violates some of Hill's Rules of Causation--- is just reinforcing the
notion that math and logic are not up to the task of investigating some
things in the real world.

Received on Mon Jun 06 2005 - 20:22:12 PDT

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