Showing posts with label logic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label logic. Show all posts

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Winkler's Wager

Let me state upfront I know that for the most part (if at all) I am not breaking new ground here. 

Are we all basically agnostic? Or all basically believers? How much of the rejection of belief (disbelief) is just a rejection of the behavior and style and beliefs of individuals or institutions the nonbeliever (believer) finds amiss or reprehensible or simply unconvincing? 

Years ago in thinking about this topic and in preparation for this blog post specifically I polled two friends. These are each very thoughtful, highly intelligent people. One is correctly described as a strong believer in God. One is correctly described as a strong disbeliever. Separately I asked them simply "What is the probability God exists?" leaving it fairly open ended for their own interpretation. Both of these people know how probability works and why 100% and 0% are bad answers. 

The believer stated that he wanted to say 100%, knew that was technically impossible, knew that faith might be a reason to actually make it legitimate, but settled on 90% (all of this recollection conditional on if memory serves; it was 5 years ago). He gave a good explanation for his thinking to support the answer.

The disbeliever answered via email, so I have his response. After sleeping on it, he answered 20% with a thorough account of his reasoning. 

I don't want to make this about their specific answers. This was just an experiment regarding my prediction about what they would say and why they would say it. Why I completely understood what they said and why they said it (it basically matched my prediction as well), I do not feel fully compelled by either. 

Similarly, I ran this twitter poll recently:
Obviously, this was not a meaningful sample size. But that isn't the point as much as the split among the choices I presented gives some indication that I think resembles how people tend to think about this.

Faith = ???... belief in the face of doubt? That definition would imply that 100% and 0% are not legitimate answers. Doubt seems essential for faith to have meaning. And the existence of doubt pushes one toward the unsatisfactory middle point of 50/50.

I think this is more easily seen in the case of a believer. But it is true at the antithesis as well. Atheism (certainty there is no God) is a faith by the atheists' own definition--one cannot prove a negative (e.g., there is no God); therefore, atheism cannot be scientifically proven. 

Ask a believer and a disbeliever this question: What it would take for them to reverse their view? This leads me to believe all in this debate are "believers" ultimately. And yes I know the problems with this over simplicity.

To the point of many in the atheist community, a point Penn Jillette makes in this piece, no one is really agnostic. A person always will find a way to dismiss evidence or argument offered against the view they hold in their heart of hearts. 

I think this gets to the crux of the question. The right answer is perhaps +/-50% with faith in God or faith in not God (something beyond the material realm) pushing one off of this center point of pure agnosticism toward one of the two faiths. The existence of God is a non-falsifiable conjecture; therefore, using science or reasoning to "prove" either the existence or the nonexistence of God is futile and fallacious thinking. 

Can we at least point to arguments to guide our judgments on God's existence? It would seem this is quite hard beyond simply an exercise in persuasion for those already tempted to be on the same side of the argument--we can never change the minds of those on the other side. Yet, minds do change and in both directions. The links in the P.S. sections allude to this.

So much of this ageless debate is people talking past one another. Adjacent to this is the determinism versus free will debate. Usually there is confusion on the part of those arguing for free will between determinism and fatalism, and usually there is confusion on the part of those arguing for determinism between free will and randomness. 

Sam Harris makes a strong case for determinism but only on the back of a reductivism I don't think can be denied--yes, there are always causes . . . it is cause and effect all the way down. Yet this basically amounts to a tautology that avoids the important parts of the question. Can we hold ourselves and others responsible for actions taken? What does it mean to choose? To act? To fail to act? 

I am a dualist on the issue. When I play pool, my choice of where to aim the cue ball and how to hit it are my free will, the resulting actions of the balls on the table are pure determinism. The determinist would entreat, "Is it not just a higher order of underlying causes that lead you to 'chose freely' how to strike the cue'?" My answer is "Yes, of course, and that isn't interesting for the matter at hand." Daniel Dennett says it better

Similarly, believers in God and disbelievers in God tend to talk past one another. They mischaracterize the other side's position and misunderstand what the other side means. This is not helped by how poorly the believers tend to understand their own position or how dismissively the disbelievers tend to assume past the implications of their own position. Believers wish to put God in a box and disbelievers live out the story of the Apostle Thomas. Taken to logical ends most believers' understanding of God can be disproven and most disbelievers' reasoning forces them to reject all knowledge and facts about the world. Experiments to this end: 
  1. Ask a believer to convince you that their belief is genuine as opposed to something that makes them feel good.
  2. Ask a disbeliever to explain why their expectation that their car will get them to work tomorrow morning is not predicated on faith or many small faiths they themselves cannot prove. 
Each will often struggle: In the first case because it is hard for a believer to identify a reason for faith beyond a desire for faith; In the second case because most people do not know how an automobile works and the existence of the future is continually theoretical--I'll prove tomorrow exists . . . tomorrow.

We should not depend on the ill-equipped be the strawmen foils for our favored positions. 

Consider my work as a practitioner within the investment management profession. My most sophisticated client would find the way I explain my job to my young children and the way my young children understand what I do to be quite unimpressive and perhaps even unattractive. That doesn't invalidate the philosophies I hold or the method I employ or the track record I've achieved professionally. Likewise part of what I do and any successes or failures associated with it might be simply due to luck. My efforts and explanations are at least to some degree counterproductive, irrelevant, and orthogonal to their associated outcomes. My shortcomings, imperfections, and activities themselves within financial money management neither prove nor deny the existence of financial money management.

Perhaps the most challenging part for believers is to separate God from being simply a personification of truth, love, and perfection. 

Perhaps the most challenging part for disbelievers is to build a foundation of truth (moral, mathematical, and physical) without the identification of God as this foundation. 

Both sides accuse the other of shortcuts for the sake of certitude. Both sides make the mistake of looking to religious texts as scientific works. If you do this, you are gravely missing the point. Newtonian/Einsteinian physics can't speak to ethics or morality. Likewise, the Bible, et al. are not going to serve your quest for scientific truth. 

Along the journey of building this post over the past few years these fellow travelers were helpful: 

Here is another very good, related conversation.

From this comes this insightful item: “Religion has nothing to fear from science, and science need not be afraid of religion. Religion claims to interpret the word of God, and science to reveal the laws of God. The interpreters may blunder, but truths are immutable, eternal and never in conflict.” If I could be so bold, I would like to add a corollary. Faith and religion are very poor at discovering and developing legislation to govern society and scientific facts to explain the universe and world around us. Faith and religion are very well-suited for the discovery of righteous first principles and guideposts for how to love and live among one another. Likewise science cannot teach us right from wrong but can teach us true from false.

P.S. Is God math?


P.P.S. How should a Christian Bayesian react to the Mayans, et al? Should they heavily discount the evidence and slightly shift their prior or slightly discount the evidence and heavily shift their prior? Is this question a risk of confirmation bias?

P.P.P.S. I avoided the heresy of an adjacent issue: that perhaps believers of all types (Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, ... Mathematicians?, Universists? ("let the Universe decide..."), et al.) are all yearning and seeking to follow the same ultimate God. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Not Exactly The Monty Hall Problem

This New Year's Eve is the opening round for this season's College Football Playoff. Oklahoma will play Clemson followed by Alabama playing Michigan State. The two winners will then face off for the National Championship 10 days later.

Since my Sooners are in the playoff this year, I've been thinking a lot about it. One random thought that crossed my mind was a bit of a logic puzzle. Read it through and answer quickly, and then think about it a while to see if you would like to revise that answer.

Suppose the following:

You are a fan of one of the teams in this year's playoff. One night while dreaming a genie with light-brown hair appears before you offering a choice among a few options*. The one you choose will be the future.

The options are:
A. Your team's total points scored in the playoff will be 75 points.
B. Your team's total points scored in the first game will be at least 50 points.
C. Your team's total points scored in the playoff will be 75 points, and at least 50 points will be scored in the first game. 
D. Your team's total points scored in the playoff will be 50 points, and you can choose how many to allot to each game.
Which do you take, and can the options be objectively ordered from best to worst?

My answers are below the jump.

*It is helpful to know a little bit about college football to fully appreciate this puzzle. The average points scored by winning teams is about 37 while the average points scored by losing teams is about 19. The lowest final score a team can have is 0 and the next lowest is 2 (a score of 1 is not possible). There are no ties in college football--overtime is played until a victor is determined. Last year out of 776 games played in the highest division of college football (the one of relevance here) a team scored 50 points or more 150 times and only 7 times did that team lose. Also last year a team scored 25 points or fewer 698 times and 564 times that team lost. Note that my data does not include the bowl and playoff games from last year.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Highly Linkable

I'm back from the land of make believe. Time to catch up. I'll have a summary post of my travels very soon.

I want to go to there and there.

Drilling and filling cavities might soon be a thing of the past.

Melinda Moyer offers a sensible examination of the science around "carbs bad, fat good" and "fat bad, carbs fine".

Here is a nice bit of push back against the extremes of over-scheduling, over-planning, and over-perfecting our children s' summers.

Ten general consumer-oriented firms have tremendous reach because of their vast brand empires as summarized in this graphic.

I love this post by Steve Landsburg because it captures an important point I try to make often. It is a point lost on many people, and in making it I get (unfairly in my opinion) the reaction from others that I am confrontational, judgmental, and snobby. You can like red while I like blue. Those are opinions. There is no right or wrong without further context. But if you tell me you like red and then always choose blue, my telling you that your behavior seems inconsistent is a good observation--not a bigoted one. Further, telling me that red is the better color to paint the ocean in a picture may not stand up to scrutiny, and we may have left the realm of equal-value opinion with this added context. Further still, opinions that have no right or wrong cannot have any arguments to support or defend them. The existence of any logical argument for or against an opinion means there must be to some extent or another right and wrong (illogical) opinions in a particular case. In short, the interjection of "it's a matter of opinion" is in many cases a cop out. And "agree to disagree" is often the argument of the weak/lazy minded with a touch of condescension.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Let's keep it suboptimal

Last week while visiting the wonderful city of Seattle, I spotted a delivery truck with an unfortunate message painted broadly across its side. The truck was a produce delivery truck and the message was apparently an intentional advertising slogan. It read, "Let's Keep It Local!" I didn't have time to take a picture. Presumably based on the other advertising art this is a local fruit and vegetable company.

I have to admit my first reaction was a little hostile. My thoughts were: Will they sell to me? What if I plan to take it back to Oklahoma? At the Pike Place Market I purchased an extra honey crisp apple and mango with the intention of taking them home. What a shame it would be if those purchases had been prohibited based on my intentions to eat them abroad. But I'm sure the localizers do not care about my consumption venue, or that I can peel an apple in one long, curry strip. It is only the production origin that concerns them; I can imagine them saying. But that just leads to more questions:

  • You're okay with exports, but you don't like imports? 
  • So, you're saying you'd like to have your apple cake and eat it too? 
  • Does it concern you that such a scheme will lead to your own wealth being reduced? 
Did I lose them with that last one? It is the mantra of the local movement that by "keeping it local" we keep both sides of the exchange--notice the "we" here, and remember there is no "we". We is an arbitrary fiction. It implies at some point people stop being one of "us" and start being one of "them". Such xenophobia is not just morally unhealthy. It is economically destructive--itself a moral wrong.

If you eat your own apple cake, you then won't have one left over. If you (import and) eat mine, you still have yours. All I ask is that you give me something you value less than the cake but that I value more than my cake. Like perhaps a Locks tour from Elliott Bay to Lake Washington. This is the essence of gains from trade. These gains expand as the market expands--as more of "them" become "us". 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fiscal thrill seeking

I'm sure I'll have more to say about the Fiscal Cliff, as the kids are calling it, in the weeks to come. First I'd like to point out a prediction that is itself a logic puzzle. For the moment I am considering only the tax policy possibilities.

  1. I believe that the most likely outcome is that no legislative changes occur (the tax increases, resets, etc. are allowed to transpire). 
  2. I believe that it is most likely that there is legislative action that alters or avoids the tax increases, resets, etc. in some fashion. 
These two statements may seem to the casual observer to be contradictory. They are not. Re-read them and then check below the fold for my reasoning.