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Dorling (1979) showed that, in spite of initial
appearances to the contrary, if one inserts historically plausible assignments
for scientists' subjective probability distributions over rival theories
and auxiliary hypotheses,
prior to their knowing the relations between
the mathematical and observational results, their resulting changes in
belief (and the absence of such changes) after discovering those
relations, fall precisely in line with the dictates of rational probabilistic
inference, both in the episode following Laplace's announced result and
in that following Adams's announced
result. In such an exercise it is necessary
to insert one's best guesses as to the historically plausible initial data,
without initial prejudice as to whether those will on calculation show
that the scientists' subsequent reactions to the theory-observation conflict
were or were not qualitatively the ones of ideally rational agents. But
it is essential that the qualitative features of the results thus derived
be reasonably "robust," that is to say reasonably stable under variations
in the initial data within the range of one's uncertainties in assessing
those initial data; those uncertainties are of course quite large when
one gives a semi-quantitative interpretation to subjective probabilities,
in a historical situation where one can at best guess how the scientists
would have betted (had they been forced to do so), on the basis of their
documentable qualitative assertions and one's feeling for the historical
situation. It was clear to me from computations with slightly different
figures, that the qualitative features of my results were appropriately
robust, and the readers were invited to check this with their own best
subjective estimates of the appropriate input data. However a closer analysis
of the computation has now satisfied me that even I had underestimated
the real robustness of my analysis, and that some features of the example
which originally seemed to me likely to be essential to the production
of such striking confirmation-refutation asymmetries are actually by no
means essential at all. In particular I now see (a) that the quantitative
precision of the predictions and observations is totally irrelevant to
the numerical results and in fact factorizes out in the course of the analysis,
(b) the asymmetry in the initial probabilities of the theory T and the
auxiliary hypothesis H plays a much more minor role than I originally supposed:
in fact one could reverse it and take H initially more probable than T,
and though the effects would then be numerically less astounding, it would
still be the case that the subjective probability of H would fall drastically
after the refutation and that of T be little affected. It is really only
the fact that the historical situation was one where virtually all serious
rivals to T were equally embarrassed by the observational evidence, which
determines that it is H and not T which has to be abandoned as a result
of the conflict with the observations.
p'(T) p(E|T) p(T) (1) -------- = --------- x ------- = p'(~T) p(E|~T) p(~T) p(E|T&H)p(H) + p(E|T&~H)p(~H) p(T) = --------------------------------- x -------- p(E|~T&H)p(H) + p(E|~T&~H)p(~H) p(~T)The expansion on the right-hand side is justified by the assumption that the initial probabilities of T and H are independent of each other, i.e., that p(T&H) = p(T)p(H). This assumption, which of course will not in general be true for the posterior probabilities, seems correct in the example studied, and could be made correct in all the realistic examples which I have looked at, by a judiciously restricted understanding of what is to be meant by H. This particular assumption does not play any very crucial role in the analysis but without it the statement of the resuts would become much complicated.
We now note that the first term in the numerator of the expression on the right vanishes if T&H entails ~E. Now I claim that all the other conditional probabilities in this expression are proportional to a common factor which measures the numerical precision of the result E. I took this factor to be 1/20 in my earlier analysis on the grounds that the result had to be accurate to 10% and its sign had to be correct. If I had taken it as 1/10 or as 1/5 or as 1/2 (the latter would correspond to merely predicting that there was an effect of the relevant order of magnitude and of the right sign), then this would simply have altered the total numerator and total denominator by the same factor, and hence made no difference to the final numerical result. How do I now justify this proportionality claim? Well p(E|T&~H) and p(E|~T&~ H) are now the probabilities of getting the observational result to the required order of accuracy on the assumption, inter alia, that there is an additional physical factor, whose expected presence or absence is independent of the choice between T and its rivals, which would substantially influence if not wholly account for the originally noted discrepancy between T and the observations. I therefore take both these probabilities as equal to the chance probability of 1/20 of meeting the specified precision criterion. For ~H here simply means that there is a further inadequately known causal factor which could be partly or wholly accounting for the original discrepancy with the observations.
Now it is true that the base-line prediction might be different for some rival theories T' included in the disjunction of all rival theories which ~T represents, but in the presence of the noise-factor ~H, even a knowledge of such differences in base-line prediction would not enable us to predict more than that E fell within the right range, short of a quantitative theory of the unknown interfering cause represented by the falsity of H. So both these conditional probabilities reduce to the same chance probability of say 1/20.
Now if we examine the remaining conditional probability p(E|~T&H), this is expandible as 1/p(~T) x p(E|T'&H)p(T'), where the various T' include all logically possible rivals to T. Now I know that most of the serious alternatives to Newtonian theory in the mid-nineteenth century were just as embarrassed by the long-term speeding-up of the moon's motion as Newton's theory was. In fact quite generally in any theory with time-symmetric equations of motion (such as F = ma = some combination of functions of the distance; and this includes inter alia the rivals to Newton derived from a number of contact-action models of gravitational forces) there shouldn't be any such long-term speeding-up effects. Now it is true that one could imagine theories which would generate such long-term speeding-up effects, such as some aether theories, and theories with a finite velocity of propagation for gravitation, but in fact the difficulty with that class of theories is to avoid then producing an effect which is orders of magnitude too large, and hence totally irreconcilable with lunar and planetary observations. (Thus Laplace had shown e.g. that a certain attractive class of theories involving a time-asymmetric finite velocity of propagation for gravitation would indeed give such an effect but it would be vastly too large an effect unless this velocity were enormously larger than the velocity of light.) So all a theorist can do in this situation is to assign his own total subjective probability to the class of such theories as he would expect to be likely to produce a qualitative effect of this kind of the right order of magnitude. (My estimate of 1/50 here, i.e., about two percent of the rivals to Newton, is erring, I think, on the generaous side -- it is convenient to think of it as 2% of the rivals, though it is not based on a theory count, but on an estimate of the proportion of a typical mid-nineteenth century scientist's subjective probability distribution over rival theories and rival classes of theories to Newton's -- allowing of course for a certain proportion of this probability distribution being assigned to unknown rivals and classes of rivals). He must then multiply this figure by the chance of a theory that will just qualitatively do the job, actually doing it quantitatively correctly, i.e., by my earlier factor of, say, 1/20. This now establishes the result I claimed at the beginning of this paragraph, and we note that a smilar argument goes through for every case where a disconfirming experimental result E which is equally difficult to explain on the basis of the theoretically well-understood serious rivals to T, can be explained by an unknown physical influence (whose presence or absence is independent of the dispute between T and its rivals) seriously influencing the results. It follows that in such cases we can divide through by the numerical precision factor, read p(E|T&~H) and p(E|~ T&~H) as 1, and read p(E|~T&H) as the relative subjective probabilistic weight of those rivals T' to T which would deliver the goods quantitatively, or slightly less accurately as the proportion of rivals to T which would qualitatively produce such an effect as is observed.
If I introduce the odds notation
o(A:B) =def p(A)/p(B)
with the convention that I will drop the :B in the case
that B = ~A [so I simply write o(T) for p(T)/p(~T), and o(H) for p(H)/p(~H)]
then my formula (1) can now be conveniently rewritten in the form
1 (2) o'(T) = ------------------ x o(T) 1 + o(T':~T)o(H)A similar formula to (1) for H instead of T reduces now to
(3) o'(H) = p(T') x o(H)Comparing with my earlier analysis in which p(T) was chosen as .9 and p(H) as .6, I obtain
1 100 o'(T) = --------------- = ----- x 9 1 3 103 1 + --- x --- 50 2Now if o'(T) = m/n, it follows easily that p'(T) = m/(m+n), so we infer that p'(T) = 900/1003, or roughly 89.7%, as claimed in Dorling (1979). We notice that the results are thus exactly the same as before, but the pervasive factors 1/20 of the earlier analysis have now been wholly eliminated. This means that, contrary to my impression when I wrote Dorling (1979), these striking asymmetris have nothing to do with the precise quantitative nature of typical predictions in the hard sciences. They would equally arise in the case of purely qualitative predictions. In this case of refutation, the precision is essentially irrelevant. However in the case of confirmation it is of course relevant; had Laplace's calculations and not those of Adams, been right, then the 1/20 precision factor would indeed contribute, in some sense, a 20-fold confirmation factor. Quantitative precision is important for confirmation where it gives the hard sciences a standing advantage, though even that claim will require some qualification in a later section of this paper.
If we attend to formula (1) we see that the larger o(H) is, the larger is the denominator, and hence the greater the fall in o(T) to yield the later o'(T). So a low initial probability for H is an advantage from the point of view of saving the theory T. However H would hardly have been employed (implicitly) in the first instance had it been much less probable than 1/2, i.e., had o(H) been much less than 1. Only in peculiar and exceptional situations, e.g. when they can't calculate anything otherwise, do scientists consciously employ auxiliary hypotheses which they believe probably false. So the interesting cases are when o(H) is somewhere between 1 and . Now we notice that with o(T':~T) = 1/50 in our example, o(H) could here be as large as 50, i.e., p(H) as large as about .98, and o'(T) could still only fall to a half of o(T), and even that may not look bad, owing to the psychological illusion created by the high initial value of p(T). Thus we take p(T) = .9 as before and take p(H) = .99, rather than equal to our original .6. The factor multiplying o(T) now becomes 50/149, a highly significant change, but when we do the computation and finally convert back into the p notation, we find p'(T) = .75, which doesn't look too bad a fall from p(T) = .9.
If we now turn to look at the effect of p(T) in formula (3) for the changes of belief in H, at first it doesn't seem to appear at all, but it is nevertheless implicit, since p(T') = o(T':~T)x p(~T), hence the larger p(T) is the smaller p(~T) and the greater the fall in o(H) and hence in p(H). Conversely, the smaller p(T) is, the larger p(~T) and the smaller the fall in o(H) and in p(H). In fact in our examples p(T') is simply p(~T)/50. If we use this to compute p'(H) in the case when p(T) = .9 and p(H) = .99, we have already found p'(T) = .75, and we now find p'(H) = .165. In other words, starting with H much more probable than T, it is still H which bears the brunt of the refutation. Another interesting case to calculate is where we simply reverse our initial assignments to p(T) and p(H) and take now p(T) = .6, p(H) = .9. We find on computation p'(T) = .56, p'(H) = .067, a striking result which must surely conflict with the initial intuitions of most philosophers for such a case. It would be nice to illustrate this with a real scientific example. Indeed I think that for some mid-nineteenth century scientists my original example shopuld be reconstructed in just this way. Simply take a mid-nineteenth century scientist who was less sure than most that the Newtonian theory would prove correct to the relevant order of approximation for the prediction of the motions of the moon and the planets and who took more sriously than most the objectiion that effects like tidal friction could not plausibly be assumed to be quantitatively of the right order of magnitude. Indeed the question of whether a scientist ascribed a prior probability of .6 or .9 to T is not really an empirical question, but a question of how we explicate the scope of the theory T; p(H) is another matter altogether and in principle makes a true or false counterfactual claim about how a scientist would have betted, on my estimate it would have varied between scientists from a little below a half to about .99, all of which range is in agreement with the qualitative conclusions of my analysis.1
The important philosophical conclusion of this section
is this: It is quite wrong to suppose that when a conjunction of hypotheses
is refuted the most probable of them will in general suffer least, and
the least probable of them in general suffer most. An exact probabilistic
analysis shows that in general this is not so, and that far more relevant
are the relevant sets of alternative hypotheses and how well they fare
in the light of the observational evidence in question. It is the 1/50,
the two-percent assigned as measure to the set of rivals of T which would
qualitatively explain such a result without rejecting H, which is crucially
responsible for the striking asymmetry of the effects of refutation on
T and on H.
(2') o'(T) = p(~H) x o(T) (3') o'(H) = p(~T) x o(H)and thus the solution of Duhem's problem here falls in line with what philosophers' naive expectations would indicate, namely the more probable members of the conjunction falling relatively least, and the less probable members of the conjunction falling relatively most.
However these formulas like formulas (2) and (3)
are predicated on the assumption that p(E|T&~H) = p(E|~T&~H),
i.e., the assumption that once the auxiliary conditions H, which permitted
the deduction of the incorrect ~E in the first place, are dropped, there
is no particular reason to suppose that T would then fare better or worse
than its rivals in explaining or failing to explain the actual result E.
Now the arguments which showed that this assumption was reasonable in the
case-history of Dorling (1979) are rather generally applicable, that is
to say they apply to all cases where once the particular auxiliary assumption
H is dropped, the actual experimental result ceases to be particularly
informative from a theoretical point of view, the conditions, which made
a clear-cut experimental discrimination between the theory and its rivals
possible, no longer being satisfied. However there are circumstances under
which this assumption will break down. One is where the actual result E
contains certain additional information, above and beyond mere falsity
of the original theoretical prediction, which actually is discriminatory
between T and its rivals. The philosophically exciting case here is where
the actual result E, in spite of falsifying the original prediction from
T, is easier to explain on the basis of T than on the basis of its rivals.Returning to formula (1) we then have, after some algebra,
p(E|T&~H) (4) o'(T) = ---------------------------- x o(T) p(E|~T&~H) + p(E|~T&H)o(H)where p(E|~T&~H) is substantially smaller, perhaps much smaller, than p(E|T&~H). Now in the non-crucial experiment p(E|~T&H) is typically very small not only absolutely, but even relative to p(E|T&~H), i.e. it remains small if we in effect redefine E so as to factorize out the quantitative precision of the result E. o(H) is unlikely in practice to be more than about 9 and may be only of the order of unity, i.e., p(H) unlkely to be initially more than .9, and quite often as low as .5. This has the consequence that the total denominator may turn out to be smaller than the total numerator -- which could never happen of course under the original condition that p(E|T&~H) = p(E|~T&~H). But what this now means is that we have made a prediction from T which had it turned out correct would have highly confirmed T; it has turned out false, but nevertheless has increased the probability of T relative to its rivals. (I am grateful to Prof. Hal Caswell of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for pointing out to me in correspondence that this situation could in principle arise, and indeed had arisen in a case where he applied the analysis of Dorling  to some results in his own field of evolutionary biology.) At first this situation seems wholly paradoxical; one can hardly design an experiment which, whatever its result, will confirm one's own theory (at any rate not on the basis of a rigorous probabilistic anaysis!) . Fortunately this is not actually the situation here. The situation is rather than had we merely discovered that the original prediction was refuted we would have got some (possible rather minimal) disconfirmation of T, but the actual result has given more information, and favours T, though not as much as confirmation of the original prediction would have done. It must thus be the case that other possible results than the actual result E, would in fact have disconfirmed T (though again, perhaps, only rather minmally).
A typical illustration of this situation is provided when a theory makes a prediction which is quantitatively incorrect, but qualitatively correct, and where the quantitative discrepancy can be quite easily attributed to the presence of overlooked disturbing influences. Here o(H) is roughly 1 or not much larger, p(E|~T&H) is very small, and p(E|T&~H) is very substantially larger than p(E|~T&~H), so overall confirmation is still achieved. In spite of the quantitative failure of the original prediction from T, the rivals to T are embarrassed more than T is by the actual observational result. (Examples from the physical sciences are obvious. An example from the historical sciences would be where Marx predicts successfully an unlikely revolution and merely gets the date wrong.)
A second similar case is where the original prediction is based on a rather long computation involving perhaps delicate mathematical or conceptual subtleties and where the quantitative failure of the prediction can easily be attrributed to some error in this computation, even when re-examination of the computation fails to identify what this error is. Here H is the assumption of a wholly error-free calculation and o(H) may be only about 9 even after the most meticulous re-examination; p(E|~T&H) -- now in fact independent of H -- may be very small, and p(E|T&~H) again much larger than p(E|~T&~ H) -- here equal to p(E|~T&H). So again we get confirmation of the theory in spite of failure of the original prediction.
A somewhat more bizarre situation of this general
kind arose in the case of the Einstein-de-Haas experiment which was designed
to test a prediction based on the explanation of magnetism in terms of
sub-microscopic circulating electric currents. The experiment gave the
result expected except that it was wrong by a factor of 2. In this case
the computation was so simple that there could hardly be anything wrong
with it, and it was hardly possible to imagine any disturbing physical
influence which could explain the experimental discrepancy. The quantitative
discrepancy was therefore attributed to some unknown and wholly mysterious
cause. Since H is the absence of this myserious cause, o(H) is here very
large, certainly at least 1000. However, p(E|~T&H), the probability
of getting the actual result in the absence of any mysterious extra cause
and assuming that magnetism is not due to sub-microscopic circulating electric
currents, is very small indeed, considerably less than one in a thousand.
Since the presence or absence of this mysterious cause does not help ~T
in explaning the observed result, p(E|~T&~H) is again correspondingly
very small indeed. But p(E|T&~H) is now of the order of unity,
so the overall result is highly confirmatory for this theory of magnetism
and was accepted as such by physicists. (A mysterious effect of relativistic
quantum mechanics later explained the missing factor 2.)
p(E|T&~H) (4) o'(T) = ------------------- x o(T) p(E|~T&~H) + o(H)For here, if o(H) is greater than or equal to 1 the denominator is greater than 1, while the numerator is necessarily less than or equal to 1 (being a probability) so it is impossible for the (unpredicted) result E to do other than disconfirm T, though perhaps only to a small extent.
However there is in fact an interesting class of cases where o(H) is less than 1, that is to say where the original prediction has been based partly on auxiliary assumptions which the theorists think are more likely to be false than true. For example a theorist might be able to make a clear-cut theoretical prediction only on the basis of the assumption that the accepted astronomical values for the masses of the planets and the parameters governing their motion are as accurate as the astronomers claim them to be, and he may himself think that this assumption is unlikely. In which case it may happen that a crucial experiment between T and its only major rival, precisely confirms the prediction of the rival theory T' but is nevertheless evidence for T and against T'. A case in point is the observed advance in the perihelion of Mercury conceived as a crucial experiment, not between Newtonian theory and General Relativity, but between the Brans-Dicke theory and General Relativity. Let Brans-Dicke be the theory T which predicts a result different by say -5 seconds of arc, from the 42-43 seconds of arc per century predicted by General Relativity and reported by the astronomers. Now Dicke argued that this difference between GR and the observation was, when intelligently and critically analyzed, really evidence for his theory and against GR. Dicke's argument was that the advance in the perihelion of Mercury was a small residual effect based on a complex astronomical calculation sensitive to the precise values of many other astronomical parameters, and that it was not believable that it would not have to be revised at some future date, as all similar supposedly accurately known numbers in astronomy hadc in the past undergone such revision, by amounts which would correspond in this case to several seconds of arc. Secondly he argued that there were specific possible disturbing effects ignored by the astronomers which suggested that the later revision was likely to be in the direction of the results predicted by his theory, the Brans-Dicke theory. He concluded, on my analysis correctly, that the exact agreement between GR and the currently officially accepted "observational" result, was in fact evidence, albeit weak evidence, for his theory and against General Relativity. (That the Brans-Dicke theory has had subsequently to be abandoned for other reasons -- the result of the lunar laser ranging experiments -- casts no reflection on the validity of Dicke's probabilistic reasoning here. In fact it remains the case that any scientist who is reasonably skeptical concerning the current claims of astronomers concerning the accuracy with which they know this particular figure, must regard the present very close agreement of General Relativity with that figure as a mild source of embarassment for GR, and as potentially favorable initial evidence for any rival theory which gave a prediction here a few seconds different from GR and the current "observational" result.)
In all cases where in a straightforward crucial
experiment. the prediction of one or other of the two theories is confirmed
experimentally (this proviso is not trivial, sometimes the experiments
confirm neither theory, or two or more apparently identical experiments
give diametrically opposite results), then the probability of one theory
must go up and that of the other go down, so every case where the formulae
indicate that the apparently disconfirmed theory in fact increases its
probability as a result of the experiment, will be a case where the other
theory is made less probable as a result of getting its own right. It is
therefore useful to look at such cases with the help of the corresponding
Bayesian formula for confirmation: assuming p(E|T&H)=1, p(E|~T&H)=0
o(H) + p(E|T&~H) (5) o'(T) = ------------------ x o(T) p(E|~T&~H)We see immediately that unless o(H) is less than 1, i.e., p(H) is less than 1/2, then the numerator is greater than the denominator, and hence the probability of the theory which predicts E correctly is increased, indeed this can only fail in cases where o(H) is substantially less than 1 and here p(E|T&~H) is substantially less than p(E|~T&~H). (The statement of the exasct conditions necessary and sufficient for the paradoxical situation here is of course more complicated than this.) Our Brans-Dicke vs. GR case is an example of such paradoxical behavior, with E the observational result, T now equal to General Relativity, and H the hypothesis that astronomers generally get their estimations and calculations correct to roughly the order of accuracy which they claim.)
Another example might be the following (I don't know whether this is a real example, but it may be.) We know that ESP is a very delicate phenomenon very sensitive to psychological atmospheric conditions and so on, so not only must we do our experiments in a rigorously controlled situation which allows no possibility of cheating on the part of experimenters or subjects, but we must also optimalize the psychological conditions for the subject, having no skeptical persons in the environment, and so on. Suppose we do all this with a given subject in one of the best-controlled ESP setups in the world -- let us say at J. B. Rhine's laboratory at Duke University -- and suppose that the outcome of an experiment with a thousand playing cards is then the theoretically predicted one for the absolutely ideal conditions, namely the suibject guesses every single card precisely right! Now I, and I think every impartial judge, would regard such a result as totally discrediting the claims of the defenders of ESP. For let T be the claims of the defenders of ESP, and let H be the auxiliary hypopthesis which asserts both that cheating is effectively excluded and that the psychological conditions are ideal. Now clearly p(H), the prior probability that cheating is effectively excluded and that the psychological conditions are ideal, is less than the prior probability that the psychological conditions are ideal, and this must be exceedingly small, as every defender of ESP will admit. Secondly, according to the claims of the defenders of ESP, cheating is excluded in the best experiments of this sort, particularly in the experiments conducted at Rhine's laboratopry at Duke University, hence in evaluating p(E|T&~H), we need only evaluate the probability of E on the basis that the claims of the defenders of ESP are correct and that the psychological conditions are not ideal: hence p(E|T&~H) is virtually zero. Now ~T asserts that the claims of the defenders of ESP are false, and hence in consistency ~T must entail that there are very real opportunities for cheating on the part of subjects and/or experimenters in such experiments as those conducted at Duke University, so ~T already makes ~H highly probable and p(E|~T&~H) is essentially the probability of E if the claims of the defenders of ESP are false, and cheating has been a very real possibility. Hence p(E|~T&~H) is not particularly small at all, hence such an experimental result would very considerably reduce the probability of the claims of the defenders of ESP, and I think that the more sophisticated of ESP's defenders would agree with this analysis. For this reason I doubt that if such a result were ever obtained the experimenters would dare to publish it.
These cases where a result which is too good to
be true discredits the theory which yields it are relatively unusual. What
more often happens is that that particular result is discredited but the
probability of the theory is left where it was. That is to say, the assumption
that p(E|T&H)=1, which underlies formula (5), is invalidated
by this particular E, for which actually p(E|T&H) is practically 0.
Formula (1) then yields (assuming, as in the derivation of (5), the "genuine
crucial experiment" that p(E|~T&H)=0), approximately,
p(E|T&~H) (6) o'(T) = ------------ x o(T) p(E|~T&~H)Here H is the assumption that the experiment really has been carried out in good faith and has yielded the results claimed, and, once this is denied in ~ H, then she expects the conditional probability of E to be independent of the actual truth or falsaity of T, so numerator and denominator are equal and the probability of T is not affected by the "result" E. An interesting case of this may be the book on which the James Dean film Rebel Without a Cause was based. This book claims to be simply transcriptions (obtained by means of a hidden microphone and stenographer) of non-directive psychotherapeutic interviews with a convicted "motiveless"murderer. The whole sequence of developments in these interviews proves a perfect case-history in accordance with Freudian theory. The trouble is that it is too perfect, too pat, too fantastically in agreement with what one would expect from the master's theory. Nothing in Freud's own volume of case histories measures up to these sorts of standards. In this book everything is there: the persistent denials, the absence of early memories, the more vociferous and emotionally charged denials, the sudden crisis, the recovery of early memories with emotional release, the conscious admission of having at an early age wanted to have intercourse with his mother and to murder his father, the lot, and nothing that would be irrelevant or inappropriate in a textbook example of how an ideal psychoanalysis might progress. The probability of H, which in any case starts at none too high a level in the case of a best-seller, steadily declines as any reader, familiar with the vicissitudes of Freudian theory, reads through the book (he asks himself e.g., if this book is wholly genuine, why is it not a must for students of Freud, why did my psycho-analysis teachers never mention it?), and he ends up with a negligible probability for H, and formula (6) becomes appropriate. I do not in fact know whether this book is entirely a novel, which it certainly purports to be, or whether it is only partly fictionalized, or whether the patient had studied Freud privately, or what, but it ends up being unbelievable, simply because it is too perfect a confirmation. But as such it, unlike the two earlier examples, in no way discredits the theory T, it leaves its probability approximately as it was.
A different kind of case where results "too good to be true" can discredit a theory, arises where the prediction of these results is based itself on a calculation, which while it may be the only one which can actually be carried out within the theory, ought not according to the theory to be accurate, or as accurate as the experiments seem to indicate. A classic case here seems to have been Dirac's calculation of the fine-structure spectrum of hydrogen from the Dirac equation, where he got agreement with experiment fater carrying out only a first-order calculation. He published this without going on to carry out the exact calculation, which was not especially difficult to do. one has the strong suspicion that Dirac himself suspected, on good general mathematical grounds, that the exact theory must give a different and therefore incorrect result, and that he therefore published while the going was good. As it happened Pauli carried out the exact calculation shortly afterwards and showed that, by a kind of unusual mathematical accident, it gave the same result asDirac's first-order calculation. So the theory was vindicated.
In fact in the more recent history of quantum mechanics
there have been a number of cases where "model" calculations have given
far more detailed and precise agreement with experiment than anyone had
any reason to expect, and such cases have constituted a major embarrassment
for the theorists. I do not know whether there are still outstanding cases
of this kind which have not yet been theoretically cleared up. In these
cases we have from (1)
p(E|T&H)p(H) + p(E|T&~H)p(~H) (7) o'(T) = ------------------------------- x o(T) p(E|~T&~H)where H is the assumption that the model calculation reproduces highly accurately what the exact theory would predict, p(E|T&H) is 1, p(H) is practically zero, p(~H) approximately 1, p(E|T&~H) is zero, so the numerator reduces to the very small quantity p(H). The denominator is hard to estimate. For ~T is the disjunction of all logically possible rivals to quantum mechanics which have not been ruled out by the experimental evidence to date. Now we don't know any such rivals for sure, but roughly-speaking they will be theories which preserve all the verified predictions of quantum mechanics including part of the mathematical structure which generates these predictions, though perhaps giving it a different interpretation, and yet reject the central theoretical tenets of quantum theory, replacing them by something quite different, and hopefully less instrumentalistic, philosophically more intelligible, and free from any of the well-known paradoxes which bedevil the interpretation of the orthodox theory. Such a rival theory might (a) make no different predictions from the quantum theory, (b) differ only in making quite definite predictions in certain cases where the quantum theory either made no predictions or made ambiguous ones, (c) differ only as to (b) and in providing a theoretical justification for certain predictive recipes, such as perturbation theory, employed within the quantum theory with success, but lacking any real rigorous theoretical justification within that theory, and possibly inconsistent with its axiomatic foundations, or (d) give some straightforwardly testable different predictions from the quantum theory. Cases (a) and (b) are no embarrassment here, since they won't contribute positively to the term p(E|~T) in the denominator Case (c) is also unembarrassing in the situations I have in mind here (but for a case where it is embarrassing, see below). Case (d) is the worrying one here. Here we have a class of T' which each individually specify some domain in which the predictions of the quantum theory are straightforwardly at fault according to that particular T'. The experimental result E will fall within such a domain for some T'. However, now we note the following. p(T) and o(T) are not well-defined since they are formally absolute probabilities of a theory, and we have to be quite specific about intended scope before they become well-defined, i.e. obtain a clear interpretation in terms of hypothetical bets. Now in fixing this ntended scope, the theorist will here quite reasonably be inclined to treat cases (a), (b), and (c) above as cases of the quantum theory, T, being correct (i.e. not include these under ~T at all here, though in other contexts he might find a different convention appropriate). Furthermore he might be interested purely in the correctness of T within the domain within which E is a characteristic observational result, and define the scope of T and of ~T accordingly. But then he has made o(T':~T), if not quite 1, no smaller than the reciprocal of the size of some not very large finite class of independent types of processes which can be studied in the domain he is interested in. In fact, if he construes his question as "Is the quantum theory right for E", then o(T':~T)=p(E|~T)=1 precisely. And we get straightforward disconfirmation of T proportional to the smallness of p(H) which will get worse as successive theoretical efforts fail to explain why the model calculation which should have only given approximately right results gives exactly right ones. Indeed we get this inthe more general case in which o(T':~T) is assumed smaller than 1, but not very small (where the issue is now construed as one of whether quantum theory is true for some broader but not too broad domain which includes E) but only after p(H) has already fallen below a certain base-leevel. The latter restriction at first seems paradoxical, since if the quantum theory is false for E, it is a fortiori false for this broader domain. Why above the base-leve should there be a confirmation region at all? The answer is that above that base-level, the fall in the total probability of rivals to T' which differ from quantum mechanics in the domain as a whole but agree with quantum mechanics in being equally embarrassed with it over the result E, more than compensates the rise in the probability of the T' which predicts E. Although these formal considerations explain why theorists believing in the quantum theory are worried by such "too good" experimental "confirmations" of the quantum theory, they don't of course say how worried they are; this would require more information aboutthe particular theorist's hunches both about p(H) and about where in the domain he was studying he thought quantum theory might be most likely to be wrong.
A somewhat similar problem arises, perhaps,
in relation to what have hitherto been almost universally regarded as the
greatest successes of the quantum theory, namely the very precise correct
predictions of the Lamb shift and of the anomalous magnetic moment of the
electron, based on perturbation theory calculations. At first it seems
that one obtains automatic confirmation here through a straight application
of (1) in the form:
p(E|T) (8) o'(T) = --------- x o(T) --where p(E|~T) << 1 = p(E|T) p(E|~T)However, both contentions on the right seem to me doubtful. As I understand the situation p(E|T) is not 1, and one can only claim that p(E|T&H) = 1, where H is the mathematical hypothesis that, although the perturbation series cannot strictly converge, they nevertheless approximate more and more closely to the exact values which the rigorous theory would yield (could we but calculate these) provided we don't carry the calculations too far, and where it is also presupposed that we have not yet carried them too far. Now H is by no means provable, so p(H) is certainly less than 1, hence the correct formula to apply here must be not (8) but:
p(E|T&H)p(H) p(H) (8') o'(T) = -------------- x o(T) = --------- x o(T) p(E|~T) p(E|~T)What now is p(E|~T)? Well supposing that E is the thirteenth computed decimal place in the value of the Lamb shift, then we can only include under ~T rivals to quantum theory which nevertheless agree with it in the first twelve (supposedly previously experimentally confirmed) decimal places of the Lamb shift. Therefore far from being small, it seems that p(E|~T) ought to be practically equal to 1 here. Michael Redhead has argued that it is reasonable to take it as 1/10 (there being ten possible values for the thirteenth decimal place), but this seems to me just wrong. For surely any remotely plausible rival to the quantum theory here must, unlike the quantum theory, explain why the quantum theoretical expansions work as well as they do, offering some more-or-less deep mathematical reason for this: it is not credible that this explanation will be a mere fortuitous combination of mathematical accidents which fail to yield more than a ten percent chance of agreement after precisely the first twelve decimal places in the calculation of the Lamb shift. Indeed it is hard to resist the conclusion that such a rival theory must either legitimate the perturbation theory calculations to all orders, or must involve a departure from them which aoocurs gradually, i.e. begins with a one digit discrepancy at the n'th decimal place of the Lamb shift, where n is greater than or equal to 13, but far more likely to be greater than 13 than precisely equal to it. On this assumption p(E|~T) simply has to be very close to 1. This is in agreement with the intuitions of those physicists and philosophers who think that further computation and experimental checking of additional decimal places in the value of the Lamb shift must yield rapidly diminishing returns on any reasonable account of confirmation.
But we now see that if this consideration concerning
the value of p(E|~ T) is correct, then whether we get confirmation
at all rather than disconfirmation here is highly sensitive to the value
of p(H), that is to say to how close to 1 p(H) in fact is. It is also clear
from our explication of H, above, thet the value of p(H) must invariably
even fall, the further we carry these perturbation theory calculations.
Furthermore p(E|~T) must rise asymptotically to 1, the further E
is along the decimal places of the Lamb shift assuming tha all previous
decimal places have been checked and shown agreement between the experiments
and the perturbation theory calculations. Hence there must be some
point at which the formula (8') will entail disconfirmatio rather than
confirmation of the quantum theory by agreement of the results of perturbation
theory calculations with the experimental value of the Lamb shift. The
exciting question is have we already reached this point? I leave this to
the mathematicians, since it depends on their hunches as to the probability
of H. If they say p(H) is not more than .9, then we have already reached
this point; if they say p(H) is .99 we are tottering on the brink of it;
if they say p(H) is .999 or more, then we probably have some way to go.
The opinions over H in the literature seem to range from outright skepticism
on purely mathematical grounds to enormous confidence on supposedly empirical
grounds, sometimes both views being expressed by the same author. But such
confidence on empirical grounds would be, in the present context, just
a logical muddle.
In the solar eclipse experiments of 1919, the telescopic observations were made in two locations, but only in one location was the weather good enough to obtain easily interpretable results. Here, at Sobral, there were two telescopes: one, the one we hear about, confirmed Einstein; the other, in fact the slightly larger one, confirmed Newton. Conclusion: Einstein was vindicated, and the results with the larger telescope were rejected.
Let T be general relativity and N be Newton's theory
(or for the sophisticated reader who appreciates that Newton's theory was
already refuted by the experiments confirming Special Relativity and was
therefore here a non-starter, let N be Nordströ m's theory which was
still a serious rival and predicted no light-bending effect of the sun).
Let H be the hypothesis that both telescopes worked as they were expected
to. Then we have:
p(E|T&H)p(H) + p(E|T&~H)p(~H) (9) o'(T:N) = ------------------------------- x o(T:N) p(E|N&H)p(H) + p(E|N&~H)p(~H)Now if E is the actual results of both telescopes, then H is untenable, and only the terms ~H in this formula survive, so we obtain
p(E|T&~H) (9') o'(T:N) = ----------- x o(T:N) p(E|N&~H)Now the experimenters argued that one way in which H might easily be false was if the mirror of one or the other of the telescopes had distorted in the heat, and this was much more likely to have happened with the larger mirror belonging to the telescope which confirmed N than with the smaller mirror belonging to the telescope which confirmed T. Now the effect of mirror distortion of the kind envisaged would be to shift the recorded images of the stars from the positions predicted by T to or beyond those predicted by N. Hence p(E|T&~H) was regarded as having an appreciable value, while, since it was very hard to think of any similar effect which could have shifted the positions of the stars in the other telescope from those predicted by N to those predicted by T, p(E|N&~H) was regarded as negligibly small, hence the result as overall a decisive confirmation of T and refutation of N. This in spsite of the fact that there was at that time no direct evidence that the mirror of the larger telescope had distorted (some years later it was claimed on the basis of a re-examination of the photographic plates that there was internal evidence which confirmed this mirror distortion explanation), and in spite of the fact that a distortion of the smaller mirror in the opposite direction was never suggested or investigated.
The case of the celebrated tests of the Bell-inequality which was predicted to be satisfied if any local hidden variable theory, and to be violated if the quantum theory, were correct, is somewhat similar, but also brings out interesting and somewhat startling additional features. I will restrict myself to the experiments of Holt and Clauser. Here we had two experiments which differed in a number of minor but theoretically relevant details. Holt's experiments were conducted first and confirmed the predictions of the local hidden variable theories and refuted those of the quantum theory. Clauser's results a little later confirmed the predictions of quantum theory. Clauser examined Holt's apparatus and could find nothing wrong with it, and obtained the same results as Holt with Holt's apparatus. Holt refrained from publishing his results, but Clauser published his, and they were rightly taken as excellent evidence for the quantum theory and against hidden-variable theories. In order to make the situation as paradoxical as possible I shall make the following assumptions (which I suspect to be not far from the truth). (a) That Clauser and Holt both hoped to refute the quantum theory and that both initially thought that the predictions of then local hidden variable theories were more likely to be correct here than those of the quantum theory. (b) That Clauser and Holt both had initially more confidence in Holt's apparatus than in Clauser's. (c) That even tentative preliminary results with Clauser's apparatus marginally favouring the quantum theory coming after much more definitive results from Holt's, in the other direction, were nevertheless enough to convince both experimenters that the quantum theory was correct and that there was some unexplained fault in Holt's experimental design.
Let us consider the result of Holt's experiment.
p(E|T&H)p(H) + p(E|T&~H)p(~H) (10)o'(T) = --------------------------------- x o(T) p(E|~T&H)p(H) + p(E|~T&~H)p(~H)Here T is the quantum theory, E is the result of Holt's experiment, ~T the set of local hidden variable theories (the only rivals to T we are interested in in this particular context), and H the hypothesis that the experimental set-up and apparatus is indeed sensitive enough to detect the discrepancy between the predictions of T and ~T here. Let us take p(H) as .8, i.e. as reflecting the experimenters' high initial confidence in the adequacy of the apparatus. Let us take p(T) as .45 (hence o(T) = 9/11) as reflecting the supposition that the experimenters have a marginal initial preference for the hidden variable theories rather than for the quantum theory. The results of Holt's experiment conflict with the predictions of the quantum theory and confirm those of the hidden variable theoruies, so p(E|T&H)=0, p(E|~T&H)=1. However in this particular experiment p(E|T&~H) and p(E|~T&~H) are both equal to 1, too, since E is the result that certain correlations, predicted by the quantum theory and ruled out by the local hidden variable theories, do not show up, and any lack of sensitivity in the apparatus, such as uncontrolled "noise" factors, would mask such correlations. So we have:
.2 (10') o'(T) = ---------- x o(T) .8 + .2and inserting .45 for p(T), we obtain after computation, p'(T) = 0.14, p'(~ T) = 0.86. Why then does Holt not publish his result? It has confirmed his expectations and significantly increased the probability of the local hidden variable theories, and significantly decreased that of the quantum theory. To explain this we look at what has happened to p(H). We have
p(E|T&H)p(T) + p(E|~T&H)p(~T) (11) o'(H) = --------------------------------- x o(H) p(E|T&~H)p(T) + p(E|~T&~H)p(~T) .55 = ---------- x 4 = 2.2 .45 + .55so p'(H) = .687. But this means that there is now more than a 30% expectation that the experimental set-up was not sensitive enough, and Holt is not prepared to risk publishing until he is surer than that that his set-up was sensitive enough. Notice that although the actual result has confirmed his own expectations, nevertheless it has substantially decreased his confidence in the reliability of his set-up, namely from 80% to below 69%.
Now Clauser does his experiment, with a set-up differing
in theoretically irrelevant details from Holt's, but let us suppose that
Clauser only sets p(H) with H relating to his set-up, as .5, i.e. let us
suppose that both experimenters have more confidence in Holt's apparatus
than in Clauser's less-tried set-up. Suppose Clauser obtains initial results
which significantly confirm the correlations predicted by the quantum theory,
but not overwhelmingly so. Say there is still a 1% chance that the apparent
correlations are produced by mere chance fluctuations. Then formula (10)
1x.5 + .01x.5 o'(T) = ---------------- x o(T) = 50.5 x o(T) .01x.5 + .01x.5and even if we insert in this the low value of p(T) (= .14) after Holt's experimental result, this still gives, after computation p'(T) = 89%, after Clauser's preliminary results even though these results are not here supposed wildly extra-chance, and even though there was less initial confidence in Clauser's apparatus.
What influence has the result had on our relative
confidence in Clauser's and Holt's experimental set-ups? Applying formula
(11) to Clauser's apparatus and result, we obtain
1x.14 + .01x.86 o'(H) = ------------------ x 1 = 15 .01x.14 + .01x.86so p'(H) = 94%, a very large increase from 50%, and probably high enough to justify publication. Meanwhile, the expectation that Holt's experimental set-up was good enough has fallen as a result of Clauser's preliminary result to about 7%. It must in any case be less than the final value (11%) of p'(~T). The simplest way to compute it is to use formula (11) but taking E now as the result of both experiments combined, p(H) as the initial probability of .8 that Holt's experimentasl set-up was good enough, and p(T) as the initial probability of .45 that the quantum theory was right and the local hidden variable theories wrong. Then p(E|T&H) = 0, p(E|~T&H) = p(E|~T&~H) = 1/100, and p(E|T&~H) is the sum of two terms 1x.5 and (1/100)x.5, which correspond to the cases of Clauser's apparatus doing and not doing what it should do. (If one calculates taking E as the result only of Clauser's experiment, and takes as initial probabilities the posterior probabilities after the results of Holt's experiment, a correctcalculation will give the same final result, but formula (11) is no longer appropriate, because the independence assumption concerning p(T) and p(H) -- namely, that p(T&H) = p(T)p(H) -- which the deduction of (11) presupposed, is no longer true for the p'(T&H), p'(T) and p'(H), obtained after taking into account the result of Holt's experiment. It is therefore simpler to go back to the original initial probabilities for which the relevant independence assumption is satisfied.)
We therefore have here another interesting case
of asymmetry, where two essentially similar experiments are done and where
the conditions are nevertheless such that the asymmetry acts in precisely
the opposite direction to what one might expect from the experimenters'
initial theoretical prejudices, their relative initial confidences in their
apparati, and the relative tentativeness of their results from those apparati.
It appears that in the past even many experts have
sometimes been misled in trickier reasoning situations of this kind. A
more widespread understanding of the adequacy and power of the kinds of
Bayesian analyses illustrated in this paper could prevent such mistakes
in the future and could form a useful part of standard scientific education.
It would be an exaggeration to say that it would offer a wholly new level
of precision to informal scientific reasoning, for of course the quantitative
subjective probability assignments in such calculations are merely representative
surrogates for informal
qualitative judgments. Nevertheless the
qualitative conclusions which can be extracted from these relatively
arbitraty quantitative illustrations and calculations seem acceptably robust
under the relevant latitudes in those quantitative assignments. Hence if
we seek to avoid
qualitative errors in our informal reasoning in
such scientific contexts, such illustrative quantitative analyses are an
exceptionally useful tool for ensuring this, as well as for making explicit
the logical basis for those qualitative conclusions which follow correctly
from our premises, but which are sometimes nevertheless surprising and
2 Freud's invocation of repression here, represented in my notation by ~ H, involves on the face of it a p(~H) which fails to satisfy the independence condition that p(T&~H) = p(T)p(~H). However it is possible in principle to specify independently of Freud's theory the objective conditions under which it would here predict repression, namely the objective circumstances under which Freud's theory would predict that sexually enlightened members of Freud's circle, anxious to hold nothing back which would be relevant to the cure of their child would be unable consciouisly to admit the fact that they had ever attempted sexual intercourse a tergo in the upright position, and that sleeping arrangements could ever have been such that Hans could have witnessed their intercourse, let alone in a position which they claimed never to have contemplated as likely to be conducive to satisfaction. Ultimately the predictions of Freud's theory here, including ones yielded with small probabilities, involving combinations of repressions whose joint probability mist inevitably be much lower than their individual probabilities, must yield probabilistic predictions of people's observable and other behaviour based on theory independent information concerning their past experiences. Otherwise no empirical evidence can be in any way relevant to the theory. Hence it must in principle be possible here to reconstrue H and ~H, in such a way that they state theory independent necessary conditions, so that the independence assuption employed in my present analysis becomes applicable. We are not seeking numerical precision here, but we are interested in whether the negative evidence from the parents' assertions reduces the probability of Freud's dream analysis being correct by 1/5, 1/20, or 1/100. It is ultimately a question of assessing Freud's own expectations, prior to quizzing the parents, of what they would be prepared, without undue brainwashing, to admit on reflection, in the interests of curing their child. Of course it is also possible to carry through my analysis without the independence assumption, at the cost of further complexity in formulas (2) and (3). (go back)
3 In spite of published results to the contrary, there is still a persistent misunderstanding in the literature (perpetuated in the recent book of Horwich) to the effect that Bayesian Conditionalization is a sort of optional extra requirement added by some proponents of subjective probability, but that it is not rationally de rigeur, and unlike the other axioms has no justification on the basis of Dutch book arguments. In fact the situation is that Bayesian conditionalization is strictly de rigeur and that one can by means of Dutch books systematically make money off anyone who departs in any systematic way from Bayesian Conditionalization. Since the general proof (due to Putnam and David Lewis and published by Teller) seems to have convinced none of the sceptics (partly because Teller himself expressed reservations concerning it), it seems pointless repeating it here. What I shall do instead is to describe a typical example of how one can make a Dutch book against a scientist who refuses to modify his systematic beliefs in the light of evidence in accordance with Bayesian conditionalization, and then subsequently indicate how that example can be generalized.
Suppose that Tycho Brahe, believing initially that his own theory is twice as probable as that of Copernicus, and assigning a negligible probability to all other contenders, hears that preliminary observations with the new Dutch telescope have indicated the presence of what appear to be mountains on the moon. Now the more detailed appearance of these mountains is important for the theoretical dispute between Tycho and the Copernicans, since Tycho expects these mountains to appear tilted in relation to the moon's motion through space, whereas the Copernicans expect them to appear oriented perpendicular to the surface of the moon, just as the earth's mountains are oriented apparently perpendicular to its surface, in spite of the rapid rotation and the even more rapid translatory motion assigned to the earth by the Copernicans. Let T be the theory of Tycho, C the theory of Copernicus, and E the possible future more refined telescopic observation that the mountains on the moon indeed appear oriented perpendicularly in relation to its surface. Now p(E|C) = p(E|~T) = approximately 1, since Copernicanism is incompatible with the proposition that physical motion through space could produce such marked physical effects as a tilting of the moon's montains in relation to the moon's motion through space. p(E|T) is not zero, since Tycho certainly has other arguments for a stationary earth than the orientation of the earth's mountains, and T is perfectly compatible with the absence of such gross physical effects of motion through space. Let us suppose that Tycho cautiously sets p(E|T) as high as 1/4: such an appearance of the moon's montains is thus unexpected in Tycho's theory, but not all that remarkable. Now let us suppose that a better telescope has been designed which is agreed will settle the question of the truth or falsity of E. For Tycho p(E&T) = p(E|T)p(T) = 1/4 x 2/3 = 1/6. This means that he is in principle prepared to offer us odds of 5:1 against both E and his theory T being simultaneously true. Let us suppose we take him up on this and bet him $100 that both E and T are true. Now for Tycho p(E) = p(E|T)p(T) + p(E|C)p(C) = (1/4)(2/3) + 1x(1/3) = 1/2. This means that he is in principle prepared to offer us even odds on the truth of E. Let us suppose we take him up on this too and bet him $200 against the truth of E.
Suppose the new telescopic observation is then carried out. If E turns out to be false, we lose $100 to Tycho on our first bet, and win $200 from him on our second bet, so we win $100 from him overall. If E turns out to be true, Tycho wins $200 from us on the basis of the second bet but the first bet is still outstanding. If he were a rational Bayesian he would also have to take p'(T) = p(E|T)p(T)/p(E) = (1/6)/(1/2) = 1/3, i.e., he will have to admit that it has now become twice as likely that Copernicanism is true than that his own theory is true. But suppose he is a bigoted non-Bayesian, refuses to modify his prior beliefs in accordance with Bayesian conditionalization, (believing himself justified in this stance on the authority of Hacking, Hesse, Gillies, Levi, Kyburg, and Horwich), and simply keeps p(T) unchanged at 2/3. And suppose that we knew in advance that this would be his reaction, should E turn out to be observed, either on the basis of general observations of his character, or on the basis of his explicit philosophical repudiation of Bayesian conditionalization as rationally obligatory in this situation, and that this was indeed our motivation for placing our original bets in the way we did. Now p'(T) = p(T) = 2/3 means that he is prepared to offer us odds of 2:1 against his theory being false. Let us then take him up on this and bet him $200 at these odds that T is in fact false.
Now what is the final reckoning? If E turns out to be false we win, as we have already seen, $100 overall from Tycho. If E turns out to be true and T true, we win $500 from the first bet, but lose $200 from the second bet, and lose $200 from the third bet, so we again win $100 overall from Tycho. If E turns out to be true and T false, we lose $100 from the first bet, lose $200 from the second bet, but win $400 from the third bet, so we again win $100 overall from Tycho. So with this system of bets we win $100 and Tycho loses $100 no matter what happens. We have made a Dutch book against Tycho.
Now there are a number of idealizations in this example which I shall presently show are inessential. But the essential point is this. Whenever one knows in advance, that a scientist will, in a certain eventuality, change or fail to change his beliefs in a manner which violates Bayesian conditionalization, and one knows precisely in what way he will then violate it, one can take advantage of this knowledge and place bets with him in such a way as to be absolutely sure of winning money off him, whether or not this eventuality arises. In our particular illustration we assumed that we knew in advance that Tycho would, if E did turn out to be observed, then modify his belief in his theory less than is rationally required by Bayesian conditionalization. That is why our initial bet was placed in favour of T&E and out third bet -- only subsequently placed if E turned out in fact true -- was placed against T. Had instead we known in advance that Tycho would depart from Bayesian conditionalization in the opposite direction, i.e., by over-reacting, rather than under-reacting to the eventuality of unfavourable evidence, then we would have begun differently and placed our initial bet in favour of ~T&E and our final bet in against T at Tycho's later odds in the eventuality of E being verified. We would equally have achieved a Dutch book, with an appropriate choice of stakes.
The argument is simplest if one knows in advance both the magnitude and the direction of departure from Bayesian conditionalization to be anticipated from a given non-Bayesian scientist in a certain eventuality. If one knows only the direction of departure to be anticipated, then in general one can only set up a weaker form of Dutch book, namely one where we can either win or break even, and the non-Bayesian scientist can either lose or break even. Not perhaps quite as satisfying, but just as embarrassing a situation for the non-Bayesian. Indeed more generally it is sufficient for us to know that the given non-Bayesian scientist will on average depart from Bayesian conditionalization in a predictable direction, for us to be able to make bets with him so as to be sure on average of making money off him. (There is no recipe I know of for systematically bankrupting a scientist who departs erratically from Bayesian conditionalization in a wholly random and unpredictable manner, but nevertheless conforms to Bayesian conditionalization on average. But this is hardly a strategy that any non-Bayesian philosopher would recommend. I suspect that a more ingenious betting strategy, including e.g. bets on the directions of individual departures, could systematically bankrupt even this scientist, but I have not examined this possibility in detail.)
One idealization in the example given, is that I have assumed the legitimacy of bets for and against the theory T, which is tantamount to assuming that Tycho could foresee future possible crucial experiments which could in principle settle such bets. In fact all that is necessary here is the existence of forseeable future experiments some of whose possible results would have differing conditional probabilities relative to the theories T and C, e.g. observations suggesting a solar rotation, attempts to measure a possible oblateness of the earth, or variation of gravity with latitude, observations on the trade winds, attempts to observe stellar parallax, etc. The whole argument can be recast if necessary in terms of bets not on the truth of E&T and on the truth of T, but on the truth of E&E' and on the truth of E', where E'is such a theoretically relevant future possible observational result. How Tycho will react, or fail to react, to the possible result E, will affect the relation between the initial and subsequent probabilities he assigns to E&E' and to E', and with a little more patience and a little more algebra, analogous Dutch books can be constructed where all bets relate to such clearly decidable propositions, and with the effect that Tycho must lose money however the actual later results turn out, even where the future results are far from crucial but merel suggestive in relation to the dispute between Tycho and the Copernicans. (It goes without saying that these systems of bets depend in no way for their success on the assumption that the later evidence will favour Copernicus rather than Tycho.)
A second idealization in the example, is the assumption that Tycho is prepared to enter into bets at precisely the odds which correspond to his own subjective probability assignments. This assumption is unnecessary in the example. It is sufficient that he be prepared to enter into bets at odds close to these, but in every case slightly more favorable to him, in the sense that for every bet which he enters into, he associates with it, at the time, a positive expected monetary gai for himself. The Dutch book argument still works against him under these conditions. One can fix the odds and stakes, e.g., in such a way that Tycho only enters into a bet if, at the time, he obtains, by entering into it, on his own estimation, an expected monetary gain for himself of at least a dollar: we can still ensure by choosing our stakes appropriately a certain loss of $100 for Tycho, overall, no matter what happens.
It is of course a fundamental assumption that Tycho is in principle prepared to cash his verbal claims about his own subjective probabilities in terms of a willingness to enter into actual monetary bets. Strictly speaking we should allow here for the non-linearity of his likely money-utility curve, for disutilities associated with risk-avoidance and so on, but this merely complicates the calculation and alters nothing essential. All that is essential is that he is prepared to put his money where his mouth is, that his verbal claims about his beliefs and expectations are not contradicted by his unwillingness to behave in accordance with them, when it comes to the crunch.
Quite apart from this purely financial justification of it rationality (only by conforming to Bayesian conditionalization can we avoid being systematically bankrupted by an intelligent Bayesian with no more priviledged access to the future than we have), Bayesian conditionalization can in principle be reduced to the following rationality requirement, which is already implicit in the philosophy of Sir Karl Popper: If two hypotheses both entail E, and we subsequently discover that E is true and that is all we discover, then this discovery alone should in no way alter our relative preference between these two hypotheses. Proof: formula (1) can be proved by taking E&T as one of these hypotheses E&~T as the other, and observing that since p'(E) = 1, p'(T) = p'(E&T) and p'(-T) = p'(E&~T), so all that (1) maintains (ignoring the simplified expansion on the right which is here irrelevant) is that p'(E&T)/p'(E&~T) = p(E&T)/p(E&~T). Q.E.D. In other words, changing one's mind for no good reason is irrational, while intending systematically to change one's mind for no good reason is to invite financial ruin, and to opt out of the rational scientific enterprise. Bayesian conditionalization is not an optional rule of inference but a minimal consistency requirement, a sine qua non for rational inference in experimental science, in applied statistics, in general epistemology, in the deliberation of jurors, and in most common sense reasoning in everyday life. (go back)
Horwich, P. (1982) Probability and Evidence, Cambridge University Press
Teller, P. (1973) "Conditionalization and observation", Synthese26, 218-258.
Putnam, H. (1963) "Probability and Confirmation",
The Voice of America, Forum Philosophy of Science, 10, U. S. Information
Agency. Reprinted in
Mathematics, Matter and Method, Cambridge University
Press, 1975, pp. 293-304.
[Ed.'s Note: Bibliographical information is incomplete.
It will be available shortly]
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