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From:  var s1 = "Ettinger"; var s2 = "aol.com"; var s3 = s1 + "@" + s2; document.write("<a href='mailto:" + s3 + "'>" + s3 + "</a>");
Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2002 11:04:11 EDT
Subject: more on probability

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Thomas Donaldson insists that probability assessments are impossible or
useless in dealing with unprecedented situations, such as revival after
cryostasis. This whole discussion is of very marginal relevance, but I'll say
a little more anyway.

I was amused recently to see a 1996 book, Data Analysis, by Oxford's D.S.
Sivia. Apparently the "ideological" split, regarding the foundations of
probability theory, still exists that I noted--and resolved to my own

On the one side are "traditional" or "establishment" statisticians, using
mainly Fisher, Neyman-Pearson, etc., and headed in theory by Richard von
Mises. To these people, a "probability" is a relative frequency in a sequence
of experiments or observations that is infinite, or at least very large.

On the other side is the notion of probability as a degree of rational
belief, and which can include unique events--past, present, or future--as
well as unknown states of nature. Related to this is the Bayes/Laplace
formula for *a posteriori* probabilities, which depend in part on *a priori*
probabilities which the frequentists would say are unknown or subjective.

I have demonstrated--and it's on our web site--that they are both wrong, in
part. A correct probability (not "the" probability) of an event is its
relative frequency of occurrence in an actual, known, historical sequence,
which is another way of saying that it depends on the information available
to the observer. The sequence is necessarily finite and the resulting number
necessarily approximate.

The point is that one can ALWAYS find an appropriate sequence of known
experimental results, by sufficiently broadening the criteria, and therefore
one can calculate an OBJECTIVE probability for ANY event whatever--even
though, in the worst cases, the vagueness or uncertainty makes the exercise
nearly useless.

An example. Dr. Bob-a-Loo, the shaman, claims he can make it rain in the
desert by dancing and chanting. So he dances and chants, and it rains. What
are the odds that dancing and chanting can make it rain?

The "establishment" types are embarrassed. By their usual methods, since the
outcome was very unlikely on the basis of chance, there should now be high
confidence in the shaman's power. Of course, the statisticians will try to
squirm out of it by demanding much longer than usual odds against chance. But
the Bayesians will point out that this is EQUIVALENT to acknowledging a very
small *a priori* probability for the shaman's claim--even though the
statisticians and the von Mises coterie deny the validity of any such thing
as *a priori* probability.

Where does my interpretation come in? We don't depend on guesswork or on
dogma. We find a suitable, historical sequence of experiments into which the
present instance can fit. This could be any of many. An obvious choice might
be claims of "paranormal" power. How many such claims have been made (a great
many), and how many validated (none). Hence the *a priori probability* was
extremely close to zero, and we are not even interested in the outcome. Of
course, if the shaman could do it many times in succession, on demand, that
would change the picture.

Into what sequence might the cryonics question fit? One of them is on our web
site--the sequence of technological goals and the results. Look at all the
historical goals or projects that might be considered reasonably similar, by
sufficiently broad criteria, and the record of successes, continuing efforts,
failures to date, and acknowledgements of failure. Try it--you'll like it.

Robert Ettinger
Cryonics Institute
Immortalist Society
www.cryonics.org

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