Re: virus: Rationality in the Cave

David McFadzean (
Sun, 14 Mar 1999 21:20:39 -0700

-----Original Message-----
From: KMO <>
Date: Sunday, March 14, 1999 7:52 PM

>> 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.
>Why do you say that? You assert that the explanation which is less
>Occam-friendly will only be the more servicable option "some fraction of
>a percent of the time," (which I take you to me "almost never" even
>though 7/8s of 99% is a fraction of a percent). What makes you think
>this is the case?

Out of a million accounts of supernatural experiences, what percentage on average would you say are authentic as opposed to hallucinations, dreams, delusions, mistakes or other sorts of misinterpretations?

>> 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.
>> >>
>If you claim to be able to employ a seemingly useful strategy that is
>based on a set of axions on which you have consciously suspended
>judgement, somebody might accuse you of claiming to be on level 3.

Oops, too late! ;-)

<snip Eric's explanation of type I and type II errors>

>Cool. I can imagine this thread winding its way into a territory in
>which the alpha mistake/beta mistake distinction is a handy navigational
>device. Thanks for droppin' some science on us, Eric.

I get the impression that most people view skeptics as erring on the side of not believing truths. However that is not the case, skeptics try to find the optimal balance. Given any claim X they ask themselves which is more likely given the evidence: X or not-X?

>> Now, depending on your outlook, you can decide which of the two errors
>> would be worse, and tip the scales accordingly.
>Wow! You can do that? Right on. Do you have some managable algorithm for
>calculating the expected utility of an alpha mistake and a beta mistake
>to determine when and which way one should tip the scales?

It isn't especially simple, but it is called Game Theory. As you mention later in your message, it is related to expected utility, and intuition does indeed help one evaluate it when the situation calls for a quick decision (no doubt this is one of the reasons intuition evolved as it did). However education in formal game theory allows one to do even better if you're interested in making good decisions, just as training in any endeavor.