Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Probability of Grace

Yesterday, there was one of those delightful cascades of randomness that change the arc of an expected evening.

After dropping the little guy off at drums, I wandered over to Starbucks for my weekly three hour writing session.  Only, when I got there, a single individual sat in the corner I usually occupy.  It's the corner with the table and the plug.   She had a giant stack of cards, which she was comparing to a photocopied list of cashed checks, individually filling out, addressing, and prepping for mailing.  Thank you letters for donations of some sort, it seemed.  Good work.

But it was the work of hours.  That wouldn't have been an issue, but when I flipped open my laptop, I was looking at a 24% charge.  I could have asked her to move, but her setup was complex and space intensive.  She was there first.

And so my flow for the evening changed.

I cranked out emails until the laptop blorted out a cry for mercy, and then mucked about on my smartphone for a bit.  In that mucking about, I came across a tweet, which led me to a review of a book by University of Oxford philosopher/physicist David Wallace.

Along with David Deutsch, Wallace is one of the most articulate proponents of the Everett Many Worlds hypothesis.  He views it as resolving many of the conceptual challenges of quantum mechanics.  The review for his 480 page, seventy five dollar book was glowing, albeit somewhat on the dense side.

How dense?  Well, one of the most exciting sentences for me personally was this one:
The second pass invokes a Bayesian approach to inference: Wallace shows that Bayesian updating applies unproblematically in an Everettian context, in the sense that agents who conditionalize on the data will take that data to confirm EQM in branches with aggregate weight close to 1.
Just rolls right off the tongue.

What it's saying, and what the review articulates further as it explores that "second pass," is that probability theory is the best framework for understanding the decisionmaking processes of sentient beings in a multiverse.

Yeah, I know.  That doesn't really make it much easier.  But it's both cool and important.

If this idea is to gain any meaningful purchase with human beings, it's going to need to be said in ways that more people can understand.  Physics and philosophy may be awesome, but the language used is too distant from the common tongue.  To...um...deepen the probability of this spreading, translation will be required.

Still, this is exciting to see from someone who is Someone, because integrating Bayesian probability into Christian ethical and moral processes has been on my mind for much of the last year.

If creation is...as I believe it to be...a theistic multiverse...then we need to understand our choices not in terms of absolutes or certainties, but in terms of establishing probability.  The probability of what?

"The Probability of Grace."

Not a bad working title for the next book, think I.

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