rmiller wrote:

At 03:01 PM 6/6/2005, Pete Carlton wrote:


The point is, there are enough stories published in any year that it would be a trivial matter to find a few superficial resemblances between any event and a story that came before it.

Let's look a little closer at the story in terms of gestalts.

On one side we have published author Robert Heinlein writing a story in 1939 about a guy named Silard who works with a uranium bomb, a beryllium target and a fellow named "lenz." We'll leave Korzybski out of this one (I suspect Heinlein borrowed the name from A. Korzybski, a sematicist of some renown back in the 1930s.) To me the interesting nodes involve the words "Silard" "lenz" "beryllium," "uranium" and "bomb." So let's agree that here is a story that includes a gestalt of the words "Silard, lenz, beryllium, uranium and bomb."

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


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