Event Detail

Tue Nov 28, 2006
5101 Tollman, 4–6 PM
Working Group in the Philosophy of Mind
Tom Griffiths (UC-Berkeley)
The Paradox of Coincidences

Most people have experienced strange coincidences, and some people have claimed that they provide evidence for the existence of mystical forces that go beyond our current physical theories of how the world works. Psychologists and statisticians have tended to view people’s reaction to coincidences as one of the pieces of evidence for human irrationality - our inability to reason appropriately about probability. However, coincidences have also played a significant role in science, producing an interesting “paradox”: How can coincidences be a source of both irrational conclusions and meaningful discoveries? I will use some of the tools of Bayesian statistics to provide a definition of coincidences that gives insight into the resolution of this paradox, and present the results of a series of studies testing the predictions of this account. This is joint work with Josh Tenenbaum.