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Alex Stein: Behaviorial Probability (Rutgers, Foundations of Probability Series)

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Published on Feb 18, 2017

Alex Stein (Brooklyn Law School) lecture at Rutgers Foundations of Probability Seminar on January 30, 2017.

http://www.harrycrane.com/seminar.html

Abstract: Throughout their long history, humans have worked hard to tame chance. They adapted to their uncertain physical and social environments by using the method of trial and error. This evolutionary process made humans reason about uncertain facts the way they do. Behavioral economists argue that humans’ natural selection of their prevalent mode of reasoning wasn’t wise. They censure this mode of reasoning for violating the canons of mathematical probability that a rational person must obey.

Based on the insights from probability theory and the philosophy of induction, I argue that a rational person need not apply mathematical probability in making decisions about individual causes and effects. Instead, she should be free to use common sense reasoning that generally aligns with causative probability. I also show that behavioral experiments uniformly miss their target when they ask reasoners to extract probability from information that combines causal evidence with statistical data. Because it is perfectly rational for a person focusing on a specific event to prefer causal evidence to general statistics, those experiments establish no deviations from rational reasoning. Those experiments are also flawed in that they do not separate the reasoners’ unreflective beliefs from rule-driven acceptances. The behavioral economists’ claim that people are probabilistically challenged consequently remains unproven.

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