X-Message-Number: 8272
Date: Sun, 1 Jun 1997 18:01:51 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: mechanism, probability

Metzger's # 8265 is mostly self-revealing, and will confuse few who have some
background in the topics and exchanges. But I will offer one reminder of my
own outlook, and then take a little more time to clarify the question of
"probability" for those who might benefit from it.

1. Metzger has accused me (and many others) of a "religious" view and (with
respect to possibly intelligent robots) a need to feel superior. Actually, I
am the strictest of mechanists--stricter than is popular today, since most
contemporary scientists believe quantum theory implies an irreducible element
of "chance" or randomness in the world, and some of them even think "chance"
somehow restores "free will." 

I, on the other hand, think that probably the world is strictly deterministic
in essentially the LaPlacian sense. People are mechanisms because mechanism
is all there is; as far as I know, no alternative or supplement has even been
PROPOSED except for "chance," and to my mind that is a meaningless concept,
or non-concept. Quantum "randomness" is equivalent to the hand of God
intervening a zillion times a second, instead of just once in the beginning.
Again, it is much, much too soon to imagine we can find the answers, or even
ask all of the right questions; but as far as I can see there is no current
alternative to strict determinism.

As for people being mechanisms, I have more than once pointed out that this
is good, not bad, and not demeaning. The important thing is that machines can
be REPAIRED and IMPROVED. "It's peachy keen to be a machine."

But not all machines are created equal. For reasons I won't repeat now, it is
entirely possible to have intelligence, or apparent intelligence, without
feeling, i.e. without life as we know it. Time will tell; meanwhile, we study
the problem--even though people like Metzger tell us there isn't any problem,
or that it can't be studied.

And a  reminder: The importance of studies of feeling and consciousness stems
primarily not from any question of feeling in robots, but from our need to
develop a rigorous, logical personal value system. Almost everyone thinks
values are arbitrary;  this is a deadly trap.

2. Metzger shares the narrow and badly flawed view of probability put forward
most notably by v. Mises--the NARROW "frequency" intrepretation, that the
probability of an event is the fraction of times it occurs in an infinite (or
at least very long) series of narrowly similar experiments or observations.
Thus, among other fallacies, it is said to be "meaningless to speak of the
probability of a unique event."

As a simple illustration, Merzger implied (#8251) that it is meaningless to
say something like, "Clinton has an 80% chance of being elected," because
there is no series of trials to which to refer. But everyone--Metzger
possibly included--understands that the event "Clinton will be elected" is
almost the same as the event "a majority of voters favor Clinton," and the
probability of the latter can be estimated by sampling. Not only is this line
of reasoning clearly sound, but it is used every day in many ways by
numberless professionals in statistics and other scientific fields. Thus a
"unique" event--the outcome of a particular election--can indeed be assigned
a reasonable (if inexact) probability. 

As for the undetectable bunny, I stand on my previous statement (#8257), and
believe most people will understand it.

Robert Ettinger

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