Re: "Lee Daniel Crocker": Re: Clint & Robert on "Faith in Science"

James Wetterau (
Wed, 27 Oct 1999 09:36:10 -0400 (EDT)

Whoops! My apologies (especially to Lee and Clint) for both the misattribution and the doubled message. That's what I get for jumping in mid-thread making assumptions about the identities of the discussants. As to the doubled message, I mistakenly mailed from a non-list address, anticipated the bounce, and then mailed from my listed address. It seems both got through, to my surprise.

Lee Daniel Crocker says:
.. (in reply to my saying: )

>> You say you've mastered the laws of probability. That's nice.
>> How do we know they're real laws, not just some idea which has
>> worked out for you?
>In what way does "real" matter, except for the money in my pocket?

Well, you may have been lucky until now. If so, the money in your pocket will have no bearing on the future. The question is: have you correctly assessed reality? This is the way that "real" matters.

>That's the point I'm trying to make: I don't have to have "faith"
>in physics or math to bet on them and make money. I just have to
>make the bet, and I think it is rational to make the bet, even if
>I have neither "faith" nor "proof". There is a middle ground.

My point was that though I agree that your bet is rational, there is an odd circularity in back of our understanding of probability. Your experience seems to show that probability is a useful mental model (mine does too) but there is a reality behind it. I find it surprisingly difficult to reason to a non-circular understanding of the concept of probability, though clearly it works fine.

[Some stuff about EV vs. certainty]...
>Yes, when I played poker for a living, I played a lower-variance game,
>and did indeed sacrifice a bit of EV to prevent catastrophic loss
>(though not by the Kelly criterion, because there are better ways).
>I have a regular 9-to-5 job now, so I play high-variance high-EV poker

Poker seems like an interesting game though I've never really examined it. It seems like it might be the most fun to play of the positive EV possibilities. But for sheer overwhelming chutzpah, I most enjoyed the news a few years ago about an Australian consortium that would buy all the tickets to positive EV American lotteries. The game there was to find really big payouts due with low participation, assess the probable number or winners, and enter the lottery quietly so as not to further drive up participation. The Australians owed no taxes on the winnings, though by now the American authorities have probably closed that hole. I relish the idea of someone taking as joyless and pathetic a "game" as the typical U.S. state lottery and turning it into a money-making machine for cagey speculators. I learned with sadness recently that the debate in Australia is now raging about whether to start taxing gambling.

All the best,