Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Metaphysics of Chance

Philosophy News image
Dice (unloaded) seem to be a paradigm example of chance: when one rolls a die, one cannot know the outcome because it is supposed to be random. For example, if you roll a twenty-sided die, then there is an equal chance for any number to come up. If you roll the die 20 times, you would not be surprised if you did not roll every number on the die. If you rolled the doe 100 times, chance would indicate that you would roll each number 5 times—but it would not be shocking if this did not occur. But if you rolled 1,000 times or a million times, then you would expect the results to match the predicted probability very closely—that is, you would expect the law of large numbers to be in effect. While dice provide a simple example of chance, the world is full of what seems to be chance.  For example, diseases are presented in terms of chance: a person has X% chance of catching the disease and, if it can be fatal, they have a Y% chance of dying from it. Deadly dice of disease, indeed. While the actual method of calculating chance in the context of death by a disease is complicated, the very rough idea involves determining the number of people in a category who become infected and the number in that group who die. To use a made-up example, if 1 person out of every 100 dies, then the chance of dying from infection would be a scary 1%. This estimate can be off for many reasons, but one obvious concern is that one is estimating probability based on the outcome. That this is a problem can be shown by imagining an artificial scenario in which you are given the results of repeated rolling of a die, and you are trying to figure out from that the type of die that is being rolled and whether it is weighted in some manner. You could, of course, make some reasonable inferences. For example, if the highest number you are given is a 30, you know that the die has at least 30 sides. Matters also become more complicated if you are not sure that a die is being rolled—you might be given numbers. . .

Continue reading . . .

News source: A Philosopher's Blog

blog comments powered by Disqus