Tychomancy: Inferring Probability from Causal Structure

Tychomancy: Inferring Probability from Causal Structure

by Michael Strevens
Tychomancy: Inferring Probability from Causal Structure

Tychomancy: Inferring Probability from Causal Structure

by Michael Strevens


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Tychomancy—meaning “the divination of chances”—presents a set of rules for inferring the physical probabilities of outcomes from the causal or dynamic properties of the systems that produce them. Probabilities revealed by the rules are wide-ranging: they include the probability of getting a 5 on a die roll, the probability distributions found in statistical physics, and the probabilities that underlie many prima facie judgments about fitness in evolutionary biology.

Michael Strevens makes three claims about the rules. First, they are reliable. Second, they are known, though not fully consciously, to all human beings: they constitute a key part of the physical intuition that allows us to navigate around the world safely in the absence of formal scientific knowledge. Third, they have played a crucial but unrecognized role in several major scientific innovations.

A large part of Tychomancy is devoted to this historical role for probability inference rules. Strevens first analyzes James Clerk Maxwell’s extraordinary, apparently a priori, deduction of the molecular velocity distribution in gases, which launched statistical physics. Maxwell did not derive his distribution from logic alone, Strevens proposes, but rather from probabilistic knowledge common to all human beings, even infants as young as six months old. Strevens then turns to Darwin’s theory of natural selection, the statistics of measurement, and the creation of models of complex systems, contending in each case that these elements of science could not have emerged when or how they did without the ability to “eyeball” the values of physical probabilities.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674073111
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publication date: 06/03/2013
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Michael Strevens is Professor of Philosophy at New York University. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2017.

Table of Contents

Author's Note xi

Physical Intuition 1

I 1859

1 The Apriorist 7

2 The Historical Way 13

3 The Logical Way 26

4 The Cognitive Way 38

II Equidynamics

5 Stirring 53

6 Shaking 71

7 Bouncing 93

8 Unifying 113

III Beyond Physics

9 1859 Again 127

10 Applied Bioequidynamics 149

11 Inaccuracy, Error, etc. 160

IV Before and After

12 The Exogenous Zone 185

13 The Elements of Equidynamics 205

14 Prehistory and Meta-History 217

Notes 229

Glossary 245

References 249

Index 257

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