Plausible explanations and decision theory (briefly)

A lurker and Highly Respected Correspondent asks,

Like most ladies who are interested in the wonderful workings of the world what I like is biology with a heavy leavening of math. How am I to deal with the fact that there are literally a million coherent explanations for any observable thing that happens in the world?

What you’re referring to is plausible explanations, which pop up in complex situations where you have relatively little information. If you were omniscient there would be only one coherent explanation. You have to hold judgment in abeyance between plausible contradictory theories, except when you have to make a life decision with real stakes.

In this case it becomes necessary to research more exhaustively, and decide how much time ought to be spent on this due diligence (time being a real cost). In the end this is an emotional judgment, where the victory condition is not to feel bad about the shortfall (if you lose), or feel bad about investing too much time on a trivial win.

About Aeoli Pera

Maybe do this later?
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4 Responses to Plausible explanations and decision theory (briefly)

  1. SirHamster says:

    My engineering prof gave me the best concept for dealing with this: Approximate.

    Close enough is good enough. We don’t need 100% certainty for many aspects of life. Sometimes we can get by with 80%, 60%, even 51% certainty. Sometimes, even less – anti-fragile is being able to capture the jackpots. Just don’t confuse Not Wrong with Exclusively Right.

    Occam’s Razor is another helpful tool here. Multiple plausible explanations, pick the simplest one to work with as the default. But don’t forget that you chose a particular map and new data may necessitate a different one.

    • bicebicebice says:

      “you need to go back”

      I find this very funny for some reason.

    • Pellegri says:

      This is probably why I (the Lurker) got into both statistics and engineering, since they do give me permission to be approximate in how I’m dealing with the world.

      But it hasn’t killed the itch in my brain to be Absolutely Right and have picked the Correct Explanation for what the hell is going on around me.

      A part of it that Aeoli’s explanation helped me realize is that a lot of the stuff I’m worrying about getting 1000% right (GOREBALL WARMENING, transgenderism, what the hell is happening in Syria) is not, and will not ever be, in the set of things I need to make life-and-death decisions about, so it doesn’t matter.

      We’ll see if this reframing helps.

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