Madison Morrison's Web / Sentence of the Gods / On the Possible and the Probable

On the Possible and the Probable


Both the philosophically Possible and the statistically Probable represent ideal worlds. All gods in a sense are ideal, but especially Aphrodite, who describes the realms, variously, of Eros, romance, love, beauty and civility, worlds that preoccupy the imagination of Cervantes and his Don Quixote.


The titles of my trilogies in the APHRODITE sequence reward reflection. All Possibly Happening defines an unnervingly complete world. Likewise, Renewed Or Divine, which defines an ideal of either/or and both. Likewise, In This Excelling, which defines a sublime, if approachable, perfection.


I had defined the actual scene of In (which includes Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark) as a pastoral, the summery apogee of winter. This idealizes medieval Japan and ancient Rome to the point of equating them. Excelling considers China as achieving excellence, or as being excelled.


In such a context Possibly is a title that makes sense, especially for a book whose hypertext is “The Impossible Dream,” i.e., the possible dreams of Don Quixote. Daniel Cullá had sent me from Spain two Spanish poems for inclusion, “A Poem by Don Quixote” and “A Poem by Sancho Panza.”


But to return to the question of probability. I have taken up again a book by Peter Godfrey-Smith called Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, for clearly the possible and the probable are central aspects of modern science, as they earlier were of philosophy and theology.


Theory and Reality is a helpful supplement to Fundamentals of Probability, a book that I have been reading concerned with the theory of explanation, the concept of causation, probability, and modern theories of evidence. Here I limit myself to a quotation from “The Subjectivist Interpretation”:


“Subjectivism sees probabilities as degrees of belief in propositions or as hypotheses about the world. To determine someone’s degree of belief in a proposition, we do not ask him to look inside his mind. Instead, we find his belief revealed in his gambling behavior, both actual and possible.


“Your belief is revealed in which bets you accept and which you reject. Real people may be averse to gambling, even when they think that the odds are good, or they may be prone to it, even when the odds are bad. To read off a person’s belief from his gambling behavior, we look for the


odds on a bet such as the person would be equally willing to take either side of it. Call these odds the person’s subjectively fair odds for that bet. If we know his subjectively fair odds for a bet, we can read off his degree of belief in the proposition that the bet is about.” (Theory and Reality 206)


Godfrey-Smith goes on to describe a bettor willing to take on bets against all probability. Is he not here describing the behavior of Cervantes’ Don Quixote? Further, he defines such irrational behavior as a refusal to accept certain rules of evidence. Again, is he not describing a madness such as Don Quixote’s?