Re: virus: Rationality in the Cave

Eric Boyd (
Sun, 14 Mar 1999 20:34:18 -0500


From: David McFadzean <> <<
True enough, I likely wouldn't believe your story. Occam's razor isn't perfect but I'm willing to be wrong some fraction of a percent of the time. The only alternative is to be wrong more often than that. Is
that somehow better? I'm assuming that being right or wrong has some real consequences in these situations. If not, it is better to suspend judgement.

What you're looking at here is the classic choice between type one and type two errors (in stasticial hypothesis testing). Allow me to explain:

Type one errors (alpha) result when you reject a hypothesis even though it is true (as above). A type two error (beta) occurs when you do not reject a hypothesis even though it is false.

The problem is that these two error are related -- if you decrease the probability of an alpha error, the probability of a beta error goes up, and vice-versa.

Now, depending on your outlook, you can decide which of the two errors would be worse, and tip the scales accordingly. A balance is of course best, but I can see situations in which tipping them slightly one way or the other could be benefitical.

Deep problems occur if the scale tips too far in one direction. Avoiding alpha errors at all costs makes one gullible, while (horror of horrors!) avoiding beta errors at all costs makes one dogmatic.