rmiller wrote:

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At 05:22 PM 6/8/2005, Jesse Mazer wrote:rmiller wrote:At 02:45 PM 6/7/2005, Jesse Mazer wrote: (snip)Of course in this example Feynman did not anticipate in advance whatlicence plate he'd see, but the kind of "hindsight bias" you areengaging in can be shown with another example. Suppose you pick 100random words out of a dictionary, and then notice that the list containsthe words "sun", "also", and "rises"...as it so happens, that particular3-word "gestalt" is also part of the title of a famous book, "the sunalso rises" by Hemingway. Is this evidence that Hemingway was able toanticipate the results of your word-selection through ESP? Would it befair to test for ESP by calculating the probability that someone wouldtitle a book with the exact 3-word gestalt "sun, also, rises"? No,because this would be tailoring the choice of gestalt to Hemingway'sbook in order to make it seem more unlikely, in fact there are 970,200possible 3-word gestalts you could pick out of a list of 100 possiblewords, so the probability that a book published earlier would contain*any* of these gestalts is a lot higher than the probability it wouldcontain the precise gestalt "sun, also, rises". Selecting a precisetarget gestalt on the basis of the fact that you already know there's abook/story containing that gestalt is an example of hindsight bias--inthe Heinlein example, you wouldn't have chosen the precise gestalt ofSzilard/lens/beryllium/uranium/bomb from a long list of words associatedwith the Manhattan Project if you didn't already know about Heinlein'sstory.RM wrote:In two words: Conclusions first.Can you really offer no scientific procedure to evaluate Heinlein'sstory?At the cookie jar level, can you at least grudgingly admit that the word"Szilard" sure looks like "Silard"? Sounds like it too. Or is that acoincidence as well? What are the odds. Should be calculable--how manystories written in 1939 include the names of Los Alamos scientists inconjunction with the words "bomb" , "uranium. . ."You're shaking your head. This, I assume is already a done deal, foryou.And that, in my view, is the heart of the problem. Rather than swallowhard and look at this in a non-biased fashion, you seem to be glued tothe proposition that (1) it's intractable or (2) it's not worth analyzingbecause the answer is obvious.I think you misunderstood what I was arguing in my previous posts. If youlook them over again, you'll see that I wasn't making a broad statementabout the impossibility of estimating the probability that this eventwould have happened by chance, I was making a specific criticism of *your*method of doing so, where you estimate the probability of the particular"gestalt" of Szilard/lens/beryllium/uranium/bomb, rather than trying toestimate the probability that a story would anticipate *any* possiblegestalt associated with the Manhattan Project. By doing this, you areincorporating hindsight knowledge of Heinlein's story into your choice ofthe "target" whose probability you want to estimate, and in general thiswill always lead to estimates of the significance of a "hit" which aremuch too high. If you instead asked someone with no knowledge of ofHeinlein's story to come up with a list of as many possible wordsassociated with the Manhattan Project that he could think of, thenestimated the probability that a story would anticipate *any* combinationof words on the list, then your method would not be vulnerable to thiscriticism (it might be flawed for other reasons, but I didn't address anyof these other reasons in my previous posts).Good starting premise. But words have meaning, and while "the sun alsorises" may be interpreted to presage the bomb, it in fact is aboutbullfighting. No nukes there.

`My example had nothing to do with nukes, it was just about the fact that`

`Hemingway's book title "anticipated" three of the words on my random list of`

`100 words.`

Heinlein's story is clearly about energy being derived from uranium--*and*has the name "Silard." These can not be compared with random numberassociations, simply because these words involve more information. To usea crude example, in the science community the name "Szilard" conjures upone prime association.

`This is a complete non sequitur--the fact that the words have meaning has`

`nothing to do with calculating the probability that someone like Heinlein`

`would guess them by chance (similarly, in my example it wouldn't really make`

`a difference if the 100 words were part of a meaningful poem rather than`

`being selected at random). The point of the analogy is just that there are`

`lots of other words associated with the Manhattan Project ('Oppenheimer',`

`'mushroom', 'fat man', etc.), words which of course all have meaning too,`

`and that calculating the probability of the *particular* words`

`"Szilard/lens/uranium/etc." appearing in a story is not legitimate because`

`that choice of target is completely based on your hindsight knowledge of`

`Heinlein's story. You should instead calculate the probability that a story`

`would contain *any* combination of meaningful words associated with the`

`Manhattan project. This is exactly analogous to the fact that in my example,`

`you should have been calculating the probability that *any* combination of`

`words from the list of 100 would appear in a book title, not the probability`

`that the particular word combination "sun", "also", and "rises" would`

`appear.`

Look over the analogy I made in my last post again: Suppose you pick 100 random words out of adictionary, and then notice that the list contains the words "sun","also",and "rises"...as it so happens, that particular 3-word "gestalt" is also part of the title of a famous book, "the sun also rises" by Hemingway. Is this evidence that Hemingway was able to anticipate the results of yourword-selection through ESP? Would it be fair to test for ESP bycalculatingthe probability that someone would title a book with the exact 3-word gestalt "sun, also, rises"? No, because this would be tailoring the choice of gestalt to Hemingway's book in order to make it seem more unlikely, infact there are 970,200 possible 3-word gestalts you could pick out of alistof 100 possible words, so the probability that a book published earlier would contain *any* of these gestalts is a lot higher than the probability it would contain the precise gestalt "sun, also, rises".To repeat, Heinlein's story is about uranium energy, the possibility of thefactory blowing up, etc. The context is fairly clear. Hemingway's storyis about Spain, bullfighting and affairs of the heart. No nukes there.

`I thought it was pretty clear that my analogy was about general issues`

`relating to calculations of probabilities, it wasn't meant to have anything`

`to do with nukes specifically.`

To simplify things even further, let's say you simply make a list of tenrandom numbers from 1 to 100, and before you make the list I make theprediction "the list will contain the numbers 23 and 89". If it turns outthat those two numbers are indeed on your list, what is the significanceof this result as evidence for precognition on my part? Your method wouldbe like ignoring the other 8 numbers on the list and just finding theprobability that I would hit the precise target of "23, 89" by chance,which (assuming order doesn't matter) would be only about a 1 in 5025shot, if my math is right. But the probability that both the numbers Iguess will be *somewhere* on the list of ten is significantly higher--Iget that the probability of this would be about 1 in 121. So if thisexperiment is done in many alternate universes, then if in fact I have noprecognitive abilities, in about 1 in 121 universes, both numbers I guesswill happen to be on your list by luck. But then if you used the method oftailoring the choice of target to my guess, in each such universe you willconclude that I only had a 1 in 5025 chance of making that guess bychance. Clearly, then, you get bad conclusions if you use hindsightknowledge to tailor the choice of target to what you know was actuallyguessed in this way. But it's also clear that this example is sufficientlywell-defined that I would have no general objection to estimating theprobability that my "hit" could have occurred by chance, it's just thatthe correct answer is 1 in 121, not 1 in 5025.Sorry. In the raw sense, numbers merely represent values---unless you wantto get into that weird set of coincidences about 1/139--i.e. EnricoFermi's hospital room, etc. (And I sincerely hope you *don't*.)

`Another non-sequitur. When you talk about the probability of someone`

`guessing something in advance by pure luck (ie under the null hypothesis of`

`no ESP), it doesn't make a difference whether the thing he is supposed to be`

`guessing is meaningful words, meaningless words, numbers, playing cards,`

`Presidents, etc. (unless the nature of the thing is such that even without`

`ESP, he can narrow down the options somehow by using information available`

`to him--but there was no information available to Heinlein at the time that`

`would allow him to reasonably anticipate that a name like "Szilard" was any`

`more likely to be associated with a nuclear bomb than any other name).`

Again, my concern is that scientists are too willing to prejudge somethingbefore diving into it.

`OK, but this is a tangent that has nothing to do with the issue I raised in`

`my posts about the wrongness of selecting the target (whose probability of`

`guessing you want to calculate) using hindsight knowledge of what was`

`actually guessed. If you don't want to discuss this specific issue then say`

`so--I am not really interested in discussing the larger issue of what the`

`"correct" way to calculate the probability of the Heinlein coincidences`

`would be, I only wanted to talk about this specific way in which *your*`

`method is obviously wrong. Like I said before, any method that could be`

`invented by someone who didn't know in advance about Heinlein's story would`

`avoid this particular mistake, although it might suffer from other flaws.`

Jesse