Saturday, July 12, 2008

Darwin's Epistemological insight: Unreliability of probabilities.

What are the probabilities of our existence?

OK. There could have been many "existence" so the question should be asked "what is the probability of an existence that is 'interesting'" or something like that.

Technically, we cannot calculate, because we have no knowledge about the variety of processes that could have happen.
But we may try intuitively, with some understanding of the space of possibilities, to gauge. Where are the odds going to land?

In short, I see that it feels that the probability is very low. Not 1 / 1 ^ infinite zeros. But rather 1 / 1 ^ very many zeros.

Darwin killed 99.9999% of the improbability of existence.

But I believe, that while we may (and have to) intuit about these probabilities, we should learn from this experience is how far our estimates can be from the ultimate numbers.

Before Darwin, if asked what are the odds for this world, reply would be infinitely low. Because the probabilities for all these species and their complexity and efficiency is so impossible.

One good algorithm of Darwin (gradual process of evolutionary selection) dumped the probabilities infinitely. They still seem low, but in relation to the odds we had before Darwin, the odds are infinitely more probable.

Statistically, Darwin taught us how a not thought of process can change dramatically our subjective probability assessments.

We Know that our estimates are terribly unreliable. That is, after Darwin

Epistemologically, that is Darwin's most important lesson!


N said...

I agree with the point. But it preceded Darwin.


Ro'i said...

I would say that the biological knowledge simply moved the uncertainty to the physical existence of the universe. Since the priors are, at best, vague and debatable, it doesn't say much.

This is in line with the common wisdom that biologists tend to be secular while physicists tend to be religious. There is some evidence available, for example in Ecklund, E. H., and Scheitle, C. P. (2007). Religion among Academic SCientists: Distinctions, Disciplines, and Demographics. Social Problems, 45, pp. 289-307 (see third paragraph on page 299).

Yechezkel Zilber said...


Possibly, our probability guesses about biology and physics, would make for lower probability for biology.

But biology has a theory giving apparant "we know" which makes it less of a miracle.

It is the ratio between explained/unexplained that makes the difference, rather than absolute probability estimates.

A partial theory creates a feeling of "it is understood" see "narrative fallacy" by Taleb.