Category Archives: Let Me See If I Can Get Away With This

The Monty Hall Paradox And Borges’ GARDEN OF FORKING PATHS

What is the point of the arguments that are about to follow? These arguments are one snippet in an attempt to get clear in my mind regarding the nature of probability. (Yes, I know, this is absurdly ambitious. You may be a bit less inclined, gentle reader, to break out in raucous laughter if you keep in mind I am just trying to arrive at the point at which, in a doubtlessly delusional state, I suffer from the strong conviction I have gotten clear in my own mind regarding the nature of probability. Once achieved, this strong conviction will doubtlessly evaporate like a mirage as I increase my knowledge of the field.) And I want to get clear in my own mind about the nature of probability because I think this is necessary in order to uncover at least one relation that makes the antecedent relevant to the consequent in relevant indicative conditionals.

I expect to be making changes to this post as time goes on.

What is the conclusion I am heading towards with all the verbiage below? This: the existence of a probability greater than 0 but less than 1 has as both its necessary and sufficient condition a ratio of ignorance/knowledge within a given perspective. Probability within these two limits is perspectival down to the very root for this reason; it could not exist within the “perspective” of an infinite mind that does not suffer any ignorance at all, partly because such a Mind would not enjoy any perspectives at all. Given a deterministic universe, this is the only way there can be probabilities between 0 and 1 noninclusive.

In the clearest cases, the role knowledge/ignorance plays in determining such a probability is easiest to see in the case of independent events; but dependent events, as in the case of the Monty Hall puzzle, can increase/decrease the probability of a given event.

The Scene. A Shell Game Is Set Up. Let me begin by describing the scene. In an apple and cherry orchard in Iowa, a table has been set up. The sky above is clear. Unknown to and hidden from the people in and about to enter the orchard, but within view should one occupy the right vantage point, a tornado is touching down intermittently across the Missouri River, in Nebraska. I describe the scene this way because it is a situation. A situation is partially defined by what is hidden from one and unknown to one, and by the information that is available to one. Situations will become important in later posts because some version of Relevant Logic rely on them rather than on possible worlds. I describe this particular one now because I will be returning to it later.

Elizarraraz (although this is not relevant to the example, the name is Ladino for ‘poor king’. Ladino is the Sephardic counterpart to Yiddish, and in . Elizarraraz’ case the name, and his paternal ancestry, comes from Mexico. Although they were not officially allowed to, a number of conversos managed to emigrate to Latin America in order to place a more comfortable distance between themselves and the Spanish Inquisition. Just thought I would provide my made-up characters with concrete backgrounds. But I digress) sets up on the table a shell game with three shells and a single peanut.  The shells are labelled in order 1, 2, and 3. Employing a randomizing device of some sort (say, he throws a die), Elizarraraz places the peanut under the shell selected by his randomizer. Naturally, he knows under which shell the peanut is hidden.

At least for now, I will leave the concept ‘randomness’ as an unanalyzed primitive, explicated, not by a real, concrete example, but by a (vaguely described) ideal one. A fair 6-sided die would be suitably random if, after a very large number of throws, the average ratio of the times each number came up, divided by 6, remained sufficiently close to 1/6. And yes, I will leave ‘sufficiently’ undefined.

Smith (although this is not relevant to the example, the name is English for ‘smith’ as in ‘blacksmith’. But you knew that already) enters the scene. He knows that there is a peanut hidden underneath one of the shells. (Elizarraraz, who is a reliable conduit of information, has told him this.) Smith is about to play what I will call, for reasons that are about to become clear, the ‘non-Monty-Hall shell game. Again, using a randomizer, Smith selects one of the shells, and turns it over. Naturally, either there is a peanut showing up, or there is not. I think it would be uncontroversial to say that the probability there is a peanut there is 1/3, and the probability that there is not is 2/3.

Suppose no peanut was lurking under that shell — say, shell #1. Smith now knows that there was no peanut under shell #1. In at least some sense of the term ‘certain’, he is now certain that shell #1 was not the one hiding the peanut. But he knows that there is a peanut lurking under one or the other of the remaining shells, #2 and #3. I have, and I think most people will have, the strong intuition that the probability the peanut is under shell # 2 (alternatively shell #3) is 1/2. Given that the original sample space [*] of three has now been reduced to two, surely the probability is now 50/50! But hold that thought for a few more paragraphs [1] while I discuss for a bit the notion of ‘a possibility’.

At this point, Smith confronts two possibilities. A possibility is a possible outcome. Possibility #1: the peanut lurks under shell #2 and shell #3 is empty. Possibility #2: the peanut lurks under shell #3 and shell #2 is empty. To talk about ‘a possibility’ here is to say the following: because Smith knows there is a peanut under one of the shells (he just doesn’t know which one), there is a peanut under one of the shells. For if one knows that p, then p is a true proposition (or, better, a state of affairs that obtains [I follow Chisholm in identifying propositions with a proper subset of states of affairs]. From Smith’s point of view, the peanut could be under shell #2 or shell #3; that is to say, he doesn’t know which one. So, at least in cases like this one, [yes, I know, this needs to be more sharply defined] ‘a possibility’ requires a combination of knowledge and ignorance. Remove the ignorance, and the possibility no longer exists.

From Smith’s point of view, it is no longer the case that the peanut could be under shell #1. Its being under shell #1 is no longer a possibility for Smith. And the probability that it is under shell #1 is now 0. Were Elizarraraz to turn over the shell that does hide the peanut (say, shell #3) (and were Smith to see the peanut that had been hiding there, and were nothing at fault in Smith’s visual apparatus), it would no longer be the case that, from Smith’s point of view, the peanut could be under shell #3. It is under shell #3. Its being under shell #3 is no longer a mere possibility, but a certainty. Again, remove the ignorance, and the possibility no longer exists. From Smith’s point of view, the probability that the peanut is under shell #3 is now 1.

When Smith turned over shell #1 and discovered it to be empty, he decreased the size of the sample space from three possibilities (the peanut is under shell #1 and shells #2 and #3 are empty; the peanut is under shell # 2 and shells #1 and #3 are empty; the peanut is under shell #3 and shells #1 and #2 are empty) to just two (the peanut is under shell #2 and shell #3 is empty; the peanut is under shell #3 and shell #2 is empty). A sample space is a set of possibilities; the cardinality or “size” of the space is the number of possibilities it has as members. The metaphor of ‘a space’ is apropos here because a given space, a room, for example, can contain items, just as set “contains” its members. If a sample space contains n possibilities and each possibility is equality likely, then the probability of each event (subset of the sample space) must be expressible as a ratio with n as the denominator. If the size of the sample space is six, for example, the probability of each event must be expressible as 1/6, 2/6, 3/6, 4/6, and 5/6.

When the possibilities involve physical entities, such as a number of shells one of which hides a peanut, it is easy to think of the size of the sample space as equal to the number of those entities. Later, however, I intend to show that the sample space can include possible as well as actual entities.

Now Morgenstern arrives on the scene.

But maybe we are not entitled to be confident about this intuition. The Monty Hall paradox shows rather clearly that our intuition in these matters cannot always be accepted at face value. Let me briefly describe the Monty Hall paradox.

The name of the paradox comes from a television game show hosted by a certain Monty Hall. The show employed doors hiding cars and goats, but I prefer to stick with shells hiding either a peanut or empty air. The game proceeds as it does with the non-Monty-Hall shell game, but with this difference. After Smith has selected a shell, he does not turn it over to see if it hides the peanut. Instead, Elizarraraz turns over one of the peanuts. The peanut he turns over has to meet two criteria: first, it cannot be hiding a peanut; and second, it cannot be the shell (initially) selected by Smith. Elizarraraz then gives Smith the choice of either sticking with his initial selection, or switching to the remaining shell (that has not yet been turned over).

One can be forgiven for having the strong intuition that neither strategy has any advantage over the other. As one pictures the two remaining shells with the mind’s eye, may seem completely obvious that Smith’s chances of winning the peanut are 50/50 if he sticks with his initial selection, and 50/50 if he switches. The sample space, after all, would seem to comprise just two possibilities, just as does the sample space of the non-Monty Hall game. Possibility #1: the one shell either hides the peanut, in which case the other shell hides just empty air; or (possibility #2) the former shell hides empty air, and the latter shell hides the peanut. This is what could turn up, what could be very shortly in the near future.

But, as it will turn out, this is not the sample space of the Monty Hall shell game. And Smith’s chances of winning the peanut are not 50/50 regardless of his strategy, but 1 in 3 if he opts to stick with his initial selection, and 2 in 3 if he opts to switch. As if that were not (at least initially) counter-intuitive enough, it remains true that Smith’s chances of winning the peanut are 50/50 if he chooses by flipping a coin which of the remaining two shells to select; and his chances of choosing his initial selection |alternatively| choosing the shell that was not his initial selection are also 50/50. How can all of these propositions be true at the same time? How can the ‘2 in 3′ be true at the same time the ’50/50’ is true? And what can we learn about the nature of probability from the co-truth of these propositions?

Taking my cue, first from Judea Pearl, then from Luis Jorge Borges, I will prove the ‘1 in 3’ vs. ‘2 in 3’ probabilities for sticking with the initial choice vs switching. Then, after proving the 50/50 cases, I will show how these are compatible with the 1 in 3 and the 2 in 3.

Computer simulations of Monty-Hall-type games (for example, the one available online here or here) show definitively that Smith’s chances of winning the peanut are 1 in 3 if he sticks with his initial choice and 2 in 3 if he switches. Few, I think, would dispute that these simulations show that the chances are 1 in 3 | 2 in 3. But they won’t suffice to give one any intuitive sense why those are the chances. No Aha Erlebnis will be coming from just observing the simulations.

A table listing all of the possibilities, all the possible cases, goes some way, I think, towards giving one this intuitive sense. As shown in the table below (a modification of the table presented by Judea Pearl in his BOOK OF WHY (BOOK OF WHY, p. 191), which in turn is taken from Marilyn vos Savant’s column from the 90’s), there are nine distinct possibilities, nine possible cases. Each of the nine cases is equally likely. One can then start to see why the computer simulations would give Smith a 1/3 chance of selecting the shell with the peanut if he sticks with his initial choice, and a 2/3 chance if he chooses the remaining shell.

Shell #1 Shell #2 Shell #3 If Same If Different Which Means That
peanut, initial selection empty, not initial selection empty, not initial selection Smith wins Smith loses either shell #2 was turned over, leaving shell #3 to be select should Smith opt to change his selection; or shell #3 was turned over, leaving shell #2 to be selected should Smith opt to change … in either case, Smith loses if he opts to change his selection
empty, initial selection peanut, not initial selection empty, not initial selection Smith loses Smith wins shell #3 is the only shell eligible to be turned over, which means that Smith will choose shell #2, and win, if he opts to change his selection
empty, initial selection empty, initial selection peanut, initial selection Smith loses Smith wins shell # 2 is the only shell eligible to be turned over, which means that Smith will choose shell #3, and win, if he opts to change his selection
peanut, not initial selection empty, initial selection empty, not initial selection Smith loses Smith wins shell # 3 is the only shell eligible to be turned over, which means that Smith will choose shell #1, and win, should he opt to change his selection
empty, not initial selection peanut, initial selection empty, not initial selection Smith wins Smith loses either shell #1 was turned over, leaving shell #3 to be selected should Smith opt to change his selection; or shell #3 was turned over, leaving shell #1 to be selected should Smith opt to change. In either case, Smith loses if he opts to change his selection
empty, not initial selection empty, initial selection peanut, not initial selection Smith loses Smith wins shell #1 is the only shell eligible to be turned over, which means that Smith will choose shell #3, and win, if he opts to change his selection
peanut, not initial selection empty, not initial selection empty, initial selection Smith loses Smith wins shell #2 is the only shell eligible to be turned over, which means that Smith will choose shell #1, and win, if he opts to change his selection
empty, not initial selection peanut, not initial selection empty, initial selection Smith loses Smith wins shell #1 is the only shell eligible to be turned over, which means that Smith will choose shell #3, and win, if he opts to change his selection
empty, initial selection empty, initial selection peanut, initial selection Smith wins Smith loses either shell #1 was turned over, leaving shell #2 to be select should Smith opt to change his selection; or shell #2 was turned over, leaving shell #1 to be selected should Smith opt to change. In either case, Smith loses if he opts to change his selection

The table, however, is not perfect as a device for generating the desired Aha Erlebnis giving one to see that Smith’s chances are only 1 in 3 if he sticks with his initial choice. One may want to see rows 1, 4, and 7 in the table as each comprising two possibilities, not one, rendering problematic the math that gives us the 1/3 and 2/3 probabilities. One would be wrong, of course; nonetheless, it remains true that the table is burdened as an Aha-Erlebnis-generating tool by this complication. Also, the table does not show why the 50/50 chances (initially and perhaps even non-initially) seem so powerfully intuitive.

Fortunately, Borges’ story, THE GARDEN OF FORKING PATHS, gives us a picture, another way of showing the 1/3 and 2/3 probabilities without the burden of this complication. We can picture the Monty Hall shell game as a series of forking paths. Doing so will nail down the 1/3 and 2/3 probabilities quite conclusively. Picturing the game this way will also provide at least one reason why the conclusion that the chances are not 50/50 seems so paradoxical. [The idea of treating the game this way came to me in a flash of insight (“You are so smart”, says my colleague Daryl Kwong, though I suspect he meant this in a ‘you have a wonderfully intuitive sense for the blindingly obvious’ way), but, of course, essentially the same idea has occurred to other people, as one can see here and at numerous other places on the internet. I would like to think, however, that I have my own twist on the idea.]

Monty-Hall Shell Game Forest of Forking Paths Starting with E’s Choosing to Hide the Peanut under Shell #1

In the chart shown above, Elizarraraz (employing a randomizing device) chooses which shell to place the peanut under (tanned orange). In order to make the chart readable, I show just Elizarraraz’ choice of shell #1. The possible choices that ensue from the “space” that would open up if Elizarraraz placed the peanut under this shell are, I claim, canonical. That is to say, they comprise a piece (shell #1) of the larger picture that enable one to draw conclusions about the larger picture (all three shells).

A moment later, Smith comes into the scene and makes his initial selection of a shell (pink). Elizarraraz then turns over one of the shells, employing, not a randomizer, but his knowledge of which shell Smith has selected and which shells are empty (baby-aspirin orange). Those shells Elizarraraz cannot turn over are crossed out by red lines.

Finally, using a randomizer, Smith decides either to switch shells (darker viridian green) or stick to his initial choice (lighter viridian green). The winning choice (Smith gets the peanut) is shown by the thick purple arrow.

Each oval represents a possible outcome (for example, Smith initially selects shell #1). Until we get to the culminating possibilities (represented by the green ovals), each possible outcome opens up (and sometimes closes down) what I will call a ‘possibility trail’, i.e., a “trail” in which one possible outcome follows another. Smith’s initial choice of shell #1, for example, opens up a path in which Elizarraraz turns over shell #2, which in turn forks into two paths, one leading to Smith’s winning the peanut and the other leading to his losing the game; and opens up another path in which Elizarraraz turns over shell #3, which path in turn forks into…; and results in a dead end, in which Elizarraraz is constrained by the rules of the game from turning over shell #1.

Each fork opens up what I shall call a “cone” of possibility paths. Elizarraraz placing the peanut under one of the shells opens up three such cones, not labelled here. Smith’s choosing a shell opens up three cones, which I label A, B, and C. The paths in cone A culminate in four different possible outcomes; the paths in cone B and cone C each culminate in two possible outcomes.

Cones A, B, and C match with rows 1, 2, and 3 respectively in the table shown previously. Each cone/row constitutes a wider sample space whose “places” or “slots” are themselves narrower “sample spaces” whose “places” are still narrower samples spaces defined by the forks and, ultimately, by the possible ending outcomes. These narrower sample spaces would (note the subjunctive mood) succeed one another in time; one such sample space, one set of possibilities would open up for example were Smith to initially select shell #1. There are two final sample spaces in cone A. These sample spaces begin, respectively, at Elizarraraz’ possibly turning over shell #2, or his possibly turning over shell #3, and include their ending “leaf” possibilities: shells #1 or #3; or shells #1 or #2 respectively. Both of these final sample spaces are included as places in the sample space comprising cone A. The sample space that is cone A is defined by the fork that gets generated by Smith’s possibly making the initial selection of shell #1. Cone A in turn, along with cones B and C, are included in the sample space that is generated by Elizarraraz’ possibly placing the peanut under shell 1.

If Elizarraraz has placed the peanut under shell #1, then of course Smith has only a 1 in three chance of winning if he sticks by his initial choice. For he will win the peanut only if that initial choice was shell #1. But the chances shell #1 was his initial selection are just 1 in 3. So his chances of winning by sticking with his initial choice are also just 1 in 3. It follows that his chances should he switch will be 2 in 3.

I think I have fulfilled my promise to use the forking paths picture to nail down even more firmly the 1/3/2/3 stick with the initial choice/switch probabilities. Now let me show how this picture helps explain why this result seems, at least initially, so counter-intuitive.

Now after Smith has traveled down one or another of the paths in one or another of the three possibility cones, he is presented with two shells (in cone C, for example, either shell #1 or shell #3). The peanut could be under either of those shells. At the time of this writing (September 8, 2019 — I note the date because particular pieces of my autobiography have in the past turned out, somewhat surprisingly, to be philosophically fruitful), it seems absolutely clear to me from looking at the chart that Smith’s chances of winning the peanut are 50/50. Later I may try to nail this intuition down more firmly by coding my own simulation of the Monty Hall shell game.

But note that what I am ascribing a 50/50 chance to is the peanut’s being under (for example) shell #1 or shell #3. I am not ascribing a 50/50 chance to the peanut’s being under the Smith’s initial choice of shells or his switched choice. The descriptions ‘initial choice shell’ or ‘switched choice shell’ have no meaning in this narrow sample space delimited by what could be, i.e., by the present and the potentialities of the (presumably) near future.

To get these descriptions, we have to go deeper than what could be and move into what could have been. We have to move into the past. Smith could have chosen shell #2, but he has chosen shell #3, which in turn made shell #2 the only possible choice of shells for Elizarraraz to turn over, which in turn left Smith with a final choice of shells #1 and #3. Were Smith to go back in time multiple times to his initial choice of shells but with his randomizer determining different choices — or, less science-fictionally, were he to repeat the Monty Hall shell game a large enough number of times, he would end up winning the peanut 1/3 of the time by sticking to his initial choice, and 2/3 of the time by switching.

The probabilities are determined by the sample space. When the descriptions ‘initial selection shell’ and ‘switched choice shell’ make sense, the sample space embraces three possibilities, the three possibility cones, one of which culminates in Smith’s winning the peanut should he stick to his initial choice, and two of which culminate in his winning the peanut should he switch choices. That’s the sample space that counts when those descriptions are meaningful. When those descriptions don’t make sense because we are restricted to what could be, that is, to the present because the sample space is restricted to the present, to what is facing Smith now, and to a narrow snippet of the near future, the sample space comprises only two possibilities: the peanut is under this shell or under that other one.

Were Smith told, when confronted with the two shells, to choose one of two strategies: switch or stick with the initial choice, neither strategy would make any sense at all unless he had access to enough of the past to let him identify which shell was his initial choice; or unless someone who was keeping track told him. And even then his adopting one strategy or the other would be incompletely rational unless he had plotted out all the cones with the possible paths that could have been, including both the paths that led to the present situation and the paths that ended up as dead ends. He would be better off not worrying about which shell was his initial choice and just flipping a coin.

What the sample space is, and therefore what the probabilities are, depends upon which game is being played — flip a coin, or stick-with-the-initial-choice-or-switch. Different sample space, different game; different game, different sample space. Although Pearl’s point in the following may be a bit different from what I have just described, his actual words still fit with my point. (Maybe there is another Borges story about something similar.) Pearl notes:

The key element in resolving this paradox is that we need to take into account not only the data … but also … the rules of the game. They tell us something about the data that could have been but has not been observed.

BOOK OF WHY, p. 192

When confronted with just the two remaining shells in the present, it is easy to forget that these are two different games.

Thinking about the the different cones containing different possible paths requires a certain amount of time, patience, and wetware power and bandwidth. Considering the possibilities when confronted (perceptually or imaginatively) with just two shells requires much less time, patience, and wetware power and bandwidth. This fact, plus the fact that it is perhaps not so obvious when staring at the shells that the descriptions ‘initial choice’ and ‘switching choice’ cannot be applied to the shells if one’s time horizon (and the resulting sample space) are too narrow are, I submit, at least one reason the actual probabilities of the Monty Hall shell game seem at first so drastically counter-intuitive.

As Pearl notes, there are probably 10,000 different reasons, one for each reader, why the actual probabilities of Monty Hall game seems so counter-intuitive. To return for a moment back to cars, goats, and doors:

Even today, many people seeing the puzzle for the first time find the result hard to believe. Why? What intuitive nerve is jangled? There are probably 10,000 different reasons, one for each reader, but I think the most compelling argument is this: vos Savant’s solution seems to force us to believe in mental telepathy. If I should switch no matter what door I originally chose, then it means that the producers somehow read my mind. How else could they position the car so that it is more likely to be behind the door I did not choose?

BOOK OF WHY, pp. 191-192.

The specter of mental telepathy is doubtlessly one reason the result seems so counter-intuitive; one’s tendency, resulting from the limitations on human mental power, to be perceptually/imaginatively restricted to what could be as opposed to what could have been is another. I won’t try to judge here whether one is more compelling than the other, especially since I have not yet wrapped my head around Pearl’s account of causality.

Now back (finally!) to the point of bringing up the Monty Hall puzzle in the first place. Regarding the non-Monty-Hall shell game, I asked what makes us so sure the probability is now 1/2 that the peanut is under one of the remaining shells after Smith has turned over one of the shells which turned out to be empty. Why should we trust our intuition in this case, when our intuition regarding the Monty-Hall case were initially so far off? Well, let’s provide a table of the possibilities.

Shell #1Shell #2Shell #3Shell Uncovered by SmithFormer Possibility Converted to Actuality
peanut empty empty 1 yes
empty peanut empty 1 no
empty empty peanut 1 no
peanut empty empty 2 no
empty peanut empty 2 yes
empty empty peanut 2 no
peanut empty empty 3 no
empty peanut empty 3 no
empty empty peanut 3 yes

There are two independent events a work here: Elizarraraz randomly placing the peanut under one of the three shells, and Smith’s randomly turning over one of the shells. Neither event affects the probability of the other. If we then eliminate the rows in which Smith happened to turn over the shell containing the peanut (as marked by ‘yes’ in the column ‘Possibility (that the shell hides the peanut) turned into actuality (yes, the shell did hide the peanut), we get 6 rows. Each of the three pairs of rows describes a probability: if Smith finds that shell #1 was hiding nothing except empty air, then row 2 (the peanut is under shell #2) and row 3 (the peanut is under shell #3) describe the situation. Since both rows describe equally likely possibilities, the chances are 50/50 that shell #2 hides the peanut, and the chances are 50/50 that shell #3 hides the peanut.

Our initial intuition is therefore vindicated. Smith’s turning over one shell and finding it empty changes the probability the peanut is lurking in any one of the remaining shells from 1 in 3 to 1 in 2. (It sure is nice to have a wonderfully intuitive sense for the obvious.) The probabilities changed because the sample space changed, just as changing the Monty-Hall game from ‘switch or stick with the initial choice’ to ‘flip a coin’ changed the probability of winning the peanut from 2/3 (if Smith switches) to 50/50. The probabilities in the Monty Hall case changed because the sample space relevant to the game Smith was playing changed. Having the ability to describe one of the remaining shells as ‘the initial choice’ expanded the sample space needed to support this description from two possibilities regarding each shell’s hiding or not hiding a peanut to three possibility cones each containing one or more possible paths to the current situation.

Now Morgenstern (German for ‘morning star) enters the scene, after Smith has put back the shell he turned over.  (Say, this is shell #1) She does not know that shell #1 turned up empty. The peanut is still under one of the remaining shells. Elizarraraz points to shell #2 and asks both Smith and Morgenstern what are the chances the peanut is under that shell. For Smith, surely, the answer is 1 in 2. For Morgenstern, the answer has to be 1 in 3. For Elizarraraz, who knows where he put the peanut, the answer has to be either 0 or 1. Were Elizarraraz to point to shell #1, the answer for both him and Smith would have to be 0. What the probabilities are differs from the perspectives of each of the three because the sample space differs for each given what each knows.

From Elizarraraz’s perspective, there is no hiddenness, no ignorance given how things stand with regard to the peanut under shell situation, because his knowledge is complete regarding that situation. Obtaining within that perspective is certainty: either a probability of 1 or of 0. I will go out on a limb and say that within that perspective there is no sample space at all.

Uncertainty, a probability greater than 0 but less than 1, can exist only given a particular ratio of local ignorance and local knowledge. If one’s local knowledge of the peanut under shell affair is 0 (one does not even know if there is a peanut under one of the shells) and even Elizarraraz has forgotten if he has placed a peanut under one of them or not, one can appeal to a (possibly hypothetical) infinite (or at least extremely large) Mind that does know, in which case the probability is either 0 or 1. Or one can appeal to a brute, currently unknown fact of the matter, in which case, again, the probability that the peanut is under any given shell is either 0 or 1.

But if there is to be a probability greater than 0 or less than 1 within anyone’s perspective — including the Infinite (surely impossible for that one) or at least Extremely Large Mind’s — there has to be some ignorance, some hiddenness as well as some knowledge. For an omniscient God, everything has either a probability of 1 or 0. Ignorance/knowledge is a necessary condition for such probability in between 0 and 1.

It is also a sufficient condition for there being, within a particular perspective, for there being such a probability. All that Morgenstern needs to know is that there is a peanut under one of the shells, and all she needs to be ignorant of is which one, for there to be, within her perspective, of a probability of 1 in 3 that the peanut is under this shell, or that one, or the one remaining one. The probability is 1 in 3 within this perspective because Morgenstern’s ignorance/knowledge determines the sample space.

Knowledge/ignorance suffices for the existence of a probability between 0 and 1. But other factors help determine what exactly that probability is. In the non-Marty-Hall shell game, we need only to take into account the increase in Smith’s knowledge in determining the size of the sample space when he turns over one of the shells and discovers it to be empty. The probability the peanut is under one of the shells increases from 1 in 3 to 1 in 2 because the two events — the placement of the peanut under one of the shells and Smith’s turning over one of the shells — are both random and independent.

But in the Marty Hall shell game, Elizarraraz’s turning over one of the shells doubles the probability that switching will win the prize from 1 in 3 to 2 in 3. It therefore constitutes evidence that the peanut is likely to be under the shell that wasn’t Smith’s initial choice, whether Smith is in a position to utilize this evidence for not. Since, prior to the final step in the Monty-Hall shell game, the only difference between it and the non-Marty-Hall shell game is that in the former Elizarraraz’s turning over one of the shells is, because of his knowledge, not random and is independent of neither his placement of the peanut under one of the shells nor of Smith’s initial selection of one of those shells, it follows that this lack of independence is another factor in addition to Smith’s knowledge/ignorance helping to determine the specific probability of Smith’s finding a peanut if he switches (sticks with the initial choice). By itself, all his knowledge/ignorance does by itself is guarantee a probability of at least 1 in 2 should he switch (stick with the original choice) ; given the additional factor of a lack of independence in the event of choosing which shell to turn over, that probability increases to 2 in 3 (decreases to 1 in 3) should he switch (stick with his initial choice).

At the time of this writing, however, I am unable to say anything more succinct and more sophisticated regarding why this should be so other than ‘look at the chart shown above; given the all the ovals crossed out because Elizarraraz’s choice of shells to turn over was neither random nor independent of the other events, this is how all the possibilities panned out — all three of the possibility cones, and all of the possible trails within those cones. Stay tuned.

Today’s homage to Plato’s SYMPOSIUM is Channing Tatum. Again. Who would want anything more?

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My Attempt To Identify The IF-THEN Relation With The INFORMATION-THAT Relation Ignominiously Bites The Dust

Here is yet another challenge to the idea that ‘If p Then q’ is true when the occurrence of p is information that q.  Unfortunately, I think this challenge nails the matter. Consider Dretske’s shell game example.  The peanut is under shell #4.  So the following statement is true (given that my visual faculties are in sufficiently good working order, and that I am looking in the proper direction with my eyes open):

If I turn shell #4 over now (t0), I will see a peanut at time t1

(t1 being one millisecond or whatever later than t0.)  Is my turning shell #4 over at time t0 information that I see a peanut at t1? Certainly the situation largely fits Dretske’s definition of ‘information that’:

Informational content:  A signal r carries the information that s is F = The conditional probability of s‘s being F, given r (and k), is 1 (but, given k alone, less than 1)

Fred Dretske, KNOWLEDGE AND THE FLOW OF INFORMATION, Stanford, CSLI Publications, 1999, p. 65

(k represents what the receiver already knows about the source.)  The conditional probability of my seeing the peanut at t1 is certainly 1 given my turning the shell over at t0 (and given the other conditions mentioned).  So the IF-THEN statement above certainly fits that part of the definition of informational content.

But is my turning the shell over at time t0 a signal that at time t1 that I see the peanut?  A signal is  “…any event, condition, or state of affairs the existence (occurrence) of which may depend on s‘s being F.”  (Dretske, p. 65.)  Does my turning the shell over now depend upon my seeing the peanut one millisecond in the future?  How can a present event depend upon a future event?  Clearly not.

A signal cannot occur before the event or thing or state of affairs the occurrence (existence, obtaining) of which it signals.  The smoke does not occur before the fire (or the smoldering).  The doorbell does not ring before the button is pushed.  The deer tracks in the snow do not appear before the deer show up.  Were the watchman in Aeschylus’ play AGAMEMNON in the ORESTEIA trilogy to light his fire before he spots Agamemnon’s ships, his fire would not be a signal informing Clytemnestra of the appearance of those ships on the scene:  Clytemnestra would be receiving false information.  Something cannot be announced before it occurs (exists, obtains).

“But the dark clouds signal the rain that is about to fall; the sports official signals the race that is about to start in one millisecond by firing the pistol into the air.”  Someone may object in this way to my (seemingly obvious) claim that a signal cannot occur before the thing it signals.  Yet, although we can doubtlessly “round up” the dark clouds and the firing of the pistol to the status of signals, they are not so in the very strictest sense of ‘signal’ that I intend to use here.  For the conditional probability that, given the dark clouds, rain will fall is perhaps only 99%, while the probability that the race actually will start given the firing of the pistol is perhaps only 99.9999999999% (the supernova that will hit us eventually may choose that exact millisecond to intervene by making its presence glaringly, searingly obvious, or a huge earthquake might strike at that very moment….).

A signal is  “…any event, condition, or state of affairs the existence (occurrence) of which may depend on s‘s being F” and therefore cannot occur before the occurrence (existence, obtaining) of s‘s coming to be F.   The examples I’ve just given are not signals because they occur after what they “signal”, and — surely not coincidentally — they do not depend upon what they “signal.”  Let me dwell a moment, perhaps a bit obsessively/compulsively, on this notion of dependence.  Let me say that an event, object, or state of affairs p depends upon an event, object, or state of affairs q when, given a condition c,  p would occur (exists, obtain) only because q occurs (exists, obtains).

Consider, for example, a doorbell whose wiring is defective in such a way that, 99% of the time when the button outside is getting depressed by someone or something, the doorbell rings.  But 1% of the time the doorbell does not ring when the button outside is getting depressed. (I state the example this way to make it mirror the fact that p does not follow from If p Then q; q.)  Also, there is no poltergeist inside the wiring that sometimes generates the ringing sound even when no one or nothing is pressing the button outside; likewise, there is never, ever any freak burst of electricity ultimately caused by a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon that generates a buttonless ringing sound.  Nor (somewhat more plausibly) is there any defect in the wiring that would ever cause a buttonless ringing sound to occur. Let c be the condition of the defective wiring as just described (including the absence of ring-generating poltergeists).  Given c (which I will call the non-poltergeist condition), the doorbell would ring only because the button outside is getting depressed (even though the button’s getting depressed does not necessarily result in the doorbell’s ringing)*.  Given c, the doorbell’s ringing depends upon someone or something’s depressing the button outside and is therefore a signal.  (A signal, moreover, carrying the information that someone or something is depressing the button outside, because the conditional probability of this is 1 given the doorbell’s ringing under condition c.  Another way to put this is to make the perhaps obvious/tautologous point that to be a signal is to carry information.)

Consider another example, one which is perhaps belongs more to the realm of probability than to causality.  One has turned over shells #1 and # 2 and verified that both are empty. They have information that the peanut is located in one of the four shells.  So c is now the condition that either the peanut is located under shell #3 or under shell #4.  Given c, shell #3 would be empty only because it is shell #4 that is covering the peanut.  It is, in fact, difficult to come up with any clear idea of anything else that could be the reason why shell #3 is empty.  Shell #3’s being empty therefore depends upon the peanut’s being located under shell #4, and the former would be a signal carrying information that the latter.  (Conversely, given that there is only 1 peanut at play in the game and given the rest of c, shell #4’s turning out to have the peanut would be a signal carrying information that shell #3 is empty.  Shell #4 would have the peanut only because shell #3 is empty. )

Now consider again the turning over shell #4 example given above as an instance of an event, object, or state of affairs that very definitely is not a signal carrying information.  It would be difficult to give any meaning to the assertion:

my turning shell #4 over at time toccurs only because I will see a peanut at time t1

Such an assertion would not, I submit, make any clear sense, since the dependency aka only because relationship is a vector traveling forward (to speak metaphorically) in time.

Also consider yet one more doorbell example:  suppose that the doorbell’s wiring is screwy in such a way that every now and then little bursts of electricity get generated which produce the ringing sound even when no one or no thing is depressing the button outside.  (Or, if you prefer, there is a poltergeist residing inside the wiring that every now and then gets agitated by a freak burst of air pressure inside the contraption that is ultimately caused by a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon….)  Nonetheless, the condition of the wiring is such that the doorbell always rings when the button is getting pushed.  100 percent of the time the doorbell rings when the button outside gets pushed, but 1% of the time the doorbell is ringing buttonlessly. (I state the example this way to make it mirror the fact that q does not follow from If q Then p; p.  And I am making it mirror this because, of course, the whole point of these interminable disquisitions is to dig into the nature of IF-THEN statements.)  Let me call this condition of the wiring c, as usual.  (In a moment I will be calling it the ‘poltergeist condition.>)  Given c, it would be difficult to give any sense to the following assertion:

My pressing the button outside occurs only because the doorbell is ringing.

Clearly, my pressing the button outside does not depend upon, and is not a signal for, the doorbell’s ringing.  Again, the pressing of the button does not depend upon the doorbell ringing because the dependency aka only because relationship is a vector traveling forward, not backward, in time.

“Feel free to come to the point when you finally have one,” my (possibly non-existent) reader may want to say.  Well, the point of all of the above is the following.  Given their respective condition c’s, each of the following IF-THEN statements is true:

1) If I turn shell #4 over now (t0), then I will see a peanut at time t1

2) If I press the button outside [given the poltergeist condition], then the doorbell will ring.

3) If shell #3 is empty, then the peanut is located under shell #4.

4) If the doorbell is ringing [given the non-poltergeist condition], then someone or something is depressing the button outside.

Although the antecedent p is a signal carrying the information that q in the last two examples, it is not such a signal in the first two examples.

These examples, I think, nail it:  IF-THEN statements cannot be identified with an information relation.  My attempt to identify the IF-THEN relation with the INFORMATION-THAT relation has ignominiously bitten the dust.  (Sob, sob.) Does this mean, then, that we are stuck after all with Classical Logic’s paradoxes of Material Implication, whereby both of the following statements are true?

If Cliff lives in Houston, Texas, then the earth has just one moon.

If Cliff lives in Orange County, California, then Paris, Texas is the capital of France.

(Please God, please God, please don’t let these statements be true.)  Well, maybe we aren’t forced to accept these horribly ugly statements as true after all.  For in each of the 4 numbered examples given above, the conditional probability of the consequent (given the antecedent plus the relevant condition c ((plus the relevant knowledge k))) remains 1.  It is just that in the first two examples the antecedent does not depend upon the consequent, and therefore is not a signal carrying the information that the consequent.  It is not a p only because q relationship.  Perhaps, then, we can identify the IF-THEN relation with a different (but similar) relation, which I will call ‘the conditional probability is 1‘ relation. If so, it would remain true that in examples 3 and 4 above, the antecedent p is a signal carrying information that q.  So whenever p does depend upon q in such a way as to be a signal for q the corresponding IF-THEN statements would, possibly, have the (at least to me) weird properties mentioned in a previous post:

Third, the informational relation is both intentional and relative, as described by Fred Dretske in his KNOWLEDGE AND THE FLOW OF INFORMATION.  Treating If p Then q as an information relation would make implication both intentional and relative.  The very same If p Then q statement would be true inside some frameworks and false inside others.  Rather than accept this, some would perhaps rather accept Classical Logic’s paradoxes of Material Implication.

(Sidenote:  Dretske’s measles example displays the intentional character of information.  By pure chance, all of Herman’s children happen to have the measles; moreover, one does not know this.  So when one discovers that a particular person is a child of Herman’s, they do not have information that this person has the measles.) Or are we truly stuck with this weirdness? Can we find a way to make implication non-relative and non-intentional even in those cases in which p happens to be a signal carrying the information that q?

Today’s homage to Plato’s SYMPOSIUM is this gorgeous young Asian Man: GorgeousAsianGuy

It is hard to understand how anyone can get any work done at all with Beauty like this walking the earth, but somehow we do. How sleek all those black, white, and gray tones are!

Post Updated on June 27, 2015 to make the temporal vector nature of the dependency/only because relation clearer. (Or, if my reader is particularly suspicious, they are free to think I made the update in order to cover up some totally obvious mistakes, not simply to make a somewhat muddy post slightly clearer.)


Measles, Wormy Red Apples, And God (And Peanuts)

In his Knowledge and the Flow of Information, Dretske argues that what information a signal carries is relative to what the receiver already knows about the possibilities at the source:

To illustrate, suppose that there are four shells and a peanut is located under one of them.  In attempting to find under which shell the peanut is located, I turn over shells 1 and 2 and discover them to be empty.  At this point, you arrive on the scene and join the investigation.  You are not told about my previous discoveries.  We turn over shell 3 and find it empty.  How much information do you receive from this observation?  How much do I receive?  Do I receive information that you do not receive?  … [Dretske goes on to argue that the answer is ‘yes’ because the amount of information and what information is received depends upon the reduction in possibilities achieved in each case.  Information is all about reduction in possibilities.] … This constitutes a relativization of the information contained in a signal because how much information a signal contains, and hence what information it carries, depends on what the potential receiver already knows about the various possibilities that exist at the source.

Fred Dretske, KNOWLEDGE AND THE FLOW OF INFORMATION, Stanford, CSLI Publications, 1999, pp. 78-79

The third shell’s proving to be empty when it is turned over is, for me, information that the peanut is hidden under shell 4.  But for you, it is not information that the peanut is hidden under shell 4.  What information a signal carries (here the signal is the third shell’s proving to be empty when turned over) is relative to what one already knows.

Let’s apply this conclusion to the measles and wormy read apple examples.

Suppose that one has received information that all of Herman’s children have the measles.  Should one then discover (say, a friend tells them this) that this layabout in front of one’s shop is a child of Herman’s, that this person is a child of Herman’s is now, all of a sudden, information that this person has the measles.  Before one knew that all of Herman’s children have the measles, that this person is a child of Herman’s was not information that the person has the measles.

The same reasoning applies mutatis mutandis to the wormy red apple example.  If one has information (say, received from a person who has previously examined all of the apples in the pile)  that all of the red apples in the pile are wormy, then that the apple in one’s hand drawn from this pile is red is information that the apple is wormy.  Before one has received the information that all of the red apples in the pile are wormy, a signal that the apple in one’s hand is red is not information that it is wormy.  In both the measles and the wormy red apples examples, what information a signal carries depends upon, is relative to, what one already knows.

So if one claims that If p Then q is true only when the occurrence of p is information that q, then the truth of these sentences (henceforth the ‘measles’ and  ‘wormy red apple’ statements)…

If this layabout loitering about on the front of my shop is a child of Herman’s, then this person has the measles.

and

If this apple (drawn from this particular pile) in my hand is red, then it is wormy

…is relative to what one already knows.  They will be true relative to the person who already knows that all of Herman’s children have the measles (without necessarily knowing that this particular person in front of their shop is a child of Herman’s) and that all of the red apples in this pile happen to be wormy.  They will be false relative to the person who does not already know these things.

In previous posts, I noted as an autobiographical fact that I had the strong intuition that both statements above are true, regardless of what one already knows.  But perhaps this intuition, in spite of its being my intuition, should not be regarded as totally sacrosanct.  For I will venture that most people would not be bothered by the relativity of this statement (henceforth the ‘third shell proves empty’ statement):

If the third shell proves to be empty, then the peanut is located under the fourth shell

Clearly (although I say ‘clearly’ with some trepidation, in the spirit of ‘let me throw this piece of spaghetti onto the wall, and see if it sticks,’ or, alternatively, ‘let me see if I can get away with this statement without too many screams of protest’), this statement would be true in the situation occupied by the person who already knows that the first and second shells are empty, and false in the situation occupied by the person who does not already know these things.

What can be learned from, inferred from, concluded from the third shell’s being empty, the apple’s being red, the layabout’s being a child of Herman’s, depends upon the situation one is in that is defined by what one already knows.  There isn’t, I think, anything controversial or counter-intuitive about this.  IF-THEN statements have everything to do with what can be learned from, inferred from, concluded from a given situation.  So the truth/falsity of the corresponding If p Then q statements is also relative to the situation one is in as defined by what one already knows.

And if one is still bothered by this, would one rather return to the paradoxes of Material Implication?

(Begin aside:  Remember that what is motivating this entire attempt to argue that If p Then q is true only when p is information that q is to escape from the paradoxes of Material Implication, which would count both of the following statements as true:

If Calypso music originated in Wisconsin, then the earth has two moons

and

If Paris is the capital of France, then the earth has one moon

To escape these paradoxes, we need to find a way to make p relevant to q in some way.  And the most plausible way to do this, I assert, is to insist that p be information that q.  End Of Aside.)

To undermine my initial intuition further, suppose that one has obtained information that all of the apples in the pile — both yellow and red — are wormy.  In that case, should one (blindfolded) handle each apple in turn and say ‘If this apple is red then it is wormy’, his statement would be (I venture) false.  For the redness of the apple is, in this situation, no longer what excludes the possibility that it is not wormy, or, put another way, is no longer the factor that renders as 1 the probability that the apple is wormy.  That factor is now the fact that the apple is from this pile, not that it is red.  Since the apple’s being red is no longer relevant to its being wormy (is no longer what makes the probability the apple is wormy 1), one cannot learn from, conclude from, infer from its being red that it is wormy. The apple’s being wormy no longer hinges on its being red. The statement is now false for exactly the same reason that ‘If Paris is the capital of France then the earth has one moon’ is false.

One might try to preserve a version of the intuition that the measles and wormy red apple statements are true regardless of anyone’s knowledge by proposing that these are true independently of what any finite intelligence knows or doesn’t know.  What if there were an infinite intelligence — a God who knows everything in general, and the measles status of Herman’s children, the worminess status of the red apples in the pile, and the location of the peanut under the fourth shell in particular.  One could then accurately say the ‘measles’, ‘wormy red apples’, and ‘the third shell proves empty’ statements are true objectively, that is to say, sub specie aeternitatis, even if they are true or false as the case may be, from the subjective standpoints of this or that finite intelligence.

The analogy would be with Galilean motion studied in High School physics.  An object may be moving at 10 miles per hour given one reference frame and 60 miles an hour given another reference frame; nonetheless, there was to be some absolute reference frame embracing all of them which would let one give an absolute, non-relative value to the object’s speed.

But the intuition cannot be rescued this way.  For clearly, nothing could ever be a signal, could be information-that, for an infinite intelligence that knew everything.  Such an intelligence with its penetrating x-ray vision would already know, for example, that the peanut was located under the fourth shell.  Given this knowledge, the third shell’s proving empty would not reduce to 1 for this intelligence the number of possibilities regarding the location of the shell.  For the number of such possibilities was already 1 for this intelligence.  Likewise, for this all-knowing intelligence, that this particular layabout is a child of Herman’s would do nothing to reduce to 1 the probability that this person has the measles.  Nor would the fact that this particular apple is red reduce for this intelligence the number of possibilities regarding the worminess status of the apple from 2 (the apple is wormy or non-wormy) to 1 (the apple is wormy).  With no reduction of possibilities, there is no signal carrying information-that in any of these cases.

God’s knowledge cannot serve as the equivalent in logic of the Galilean absolute reference frame.

Not only is information-that relative to what one already knows, it also requires finitude.  No limitation on one’s knowledge — no hiddenness — no information-that.  And if the truth of If p Then q statements requires that the occurrence of p be information that q, the truth of these statements also require finitude.

One final note:  how can one account for the illusion (if it is that) that both the measles and the wormy red apply statements are true regardless of what one already knows?  I think the answer lies in the fact that, after completely talking through one’s hat at time 1 with the statement “If this apple is red, then it is wormy,” one were later at time 2 to examine all of the red apples and discovered they were all wormy (and that just some of the yellow apples were), it would seem that, since the statement is true at time 2, it would have to have been true at time 1.  The truth value of a statement like this can’t change, can it?  Maybe we would prefer to accept the paradoxes of Material Implication after all.  But it seems to me that one should accept that, at least in the case of the ‘third shell proves empty’ statement, the truth value of that statement can change with time as one obtains more knowledge (you later get information that the first and second shells also proved to be empty).  So the truth value of the measles and wormy red apples statements changing over time should not prove to be an absolute obstacle.

     *****

The entire point of this exercise is not just to make grandiose metaphysically-existentialist-sounding statements such as ‘logical implication requires finitude’ (although I must admit this is one of my aims), but also to escape from Classical Logic’s paradoxes of Material Implication by insisting that there must be some relation between p and q that makes p relevant to q, and that this relation consists in p‘s being information that q.

In the previous post, I noted two apparent counterexamples (the measles and wormy red apple statements) that would seem to preclude identifying this hoped-for relevance-making relation with information-that.  These statements seem to be true even though in these cases p is not information that q.  Also, identifying this relation with information-that would make the truth of IF-THEN statements relative to what one already knows, an implication that may make one prefer the paradoxes of Classical Logic’s Material Implication.

In this post, I employ the ‘third shell proves empty’ statement, as well as the close connection (I claim) that IF-THEN statements have with what one can learn from, infer from, or conclude from a situation to remove whatever counter-intuitiveness might adhere to the notion that the truth of IF-THEN statements is relative to what one knows.  (Of course what one can learn, infer from, conclude from a situation depends upon what one already knows.  Of course the truth/falsity of ‘the third shell proves empty’ statement depends as well upon what one already knows.)  If one can accept the relativity of IF-THEN statements, they will be in a better position to accept the idea that those cases in which p is not information that q (the redness of the apple sometimes fails to be information that the apple is wormy; that this person is a child of Herman’s sometimes fails to be information that this person has the measles)  are also cases in which If p Then q is false.

This leaves the third difficulty mentioned in the previous post:  what to do about the statement If p Then p?  Is a channel of information supposed to exist between p and the self-same p?

Do I have a song and dance that will eliminate this difficulty?

*****

Today’s homage to Plato’s SYMPOSIUM is the soccer player James Rodriguez.

James_Rodriguez

From math teachers to soccer players…How can anyone get anything at all done with beauty like this walking the earth?