On Enlightenment — David Stove

Everything I had heard, and probably everything you had heard, too, about Thomas Malthus is false. Malthus’s name is the one touted continuously by “environmentalists” as the sage who predicted that the world would eat itself to death by overpopulation. Malthus’s name was more current in the 1970s when Paul “Population Bomb” Erlich was crying that the sky had already fallen, and that if people didn’t vote for democrats and didn’t stop having babies doom would soon follow. Erlich, of course, was wildly wrong (not that his absurdities stop him from having a devoted following still).

Malthus’s true theory, as neatly explained by Stove, is a steady-state one that says a population—human or elsewise—will increase to the limit of the food supply and then hover around this equilibrium. If the food supply increases, so does the population; if it decreases, again, so does the population. Malthus says nothing about how increasing population will cause food supplies to disappear. What are the implications of this? Well, read Stove. He’ll tell you.

One section in this book is entitled, “So, You think you are an egalitarin?” And, yes, I did think so. Until I read what this means. A favorite essay, later in the book, is “The Columbus Argument”, which is the strategy used by “innovators” to foist unwanted reforms onto an unwilling public (it’s also the argument used by nut jobs who have claimed to build, among other things, “zero-point” limitless energy machines). A must read.

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The Algebra of Probable Inference — Richard T. Cox

This is a lovely, lovely book and I can’t believe it has taken me this long to find and read it (November 2005: I was lead to this book via Jaynes, who was the author that also recommended Stove). Cox, a physicist, builds the foundations of logical probability using Boolean algebra and just two axioms, which are so concise and intuitive that I repeat them here:

1. “The probability of an inference on given evidence determines the probability of its contradictory on the same evidence.”

2. “The probability on given evidence that both of two inferences are true is determined by their separate probabilities, one on the given evidence, the other on this evidence with the additional assumption that the first inference is true.”

Cox then begins to build. He shows that logic can be and is represented by probability, the type of function probability is, the relation of uncertainty and entropy, and what expectation is. He ends with deriving Lapace’s rule of succession, and argues when this rule is valid and when it is invalid. And he does it all in 96 pages!. This is one of the rare books that I also recommend you read each footnote. If you have any interest in probability or statistics, you have a moral obligation to read this book.


The Rationality of Induction — David Stove

Is deductive logic empirical? (No) Is inductive logic also empirical? (No) Is induction justified and, if so, is it just an extension of logic? (Yes)

Stove takes Hume (and his nuttier current-day followers such as Popper) to task and shows that, yes, induction is rational. He also shows that the common belief that ordinary is formal is a myth. Knowledge of the validness of certain arguements must come from intution, as Carnap argued, and Stove proves. He shows that certain forms of logical arguments do not always give valid conclusions, and that all arguments must be judged individually. In his words, “Cases Rule”.

This is another in a series of books that I think are largely unknown by most statisticians and probabilists, especially those who tend toward so-called pure mathematics. But this book, like Jaynes and Cox, argue the case for logical, as opposed to subjective, probability forcefully and conclusively. They deserve to be more widely read because, I believe, they have a great deal to say on the foundations of our field.


Cricket versus Republicanism — David Stove

Another collection of essays, most of which are included in his other books (“The Columbus Argument” is in here, for example).  Other essays can, such as the eponymous one, can be found online (Google: “David Stove” and click on the first link).  The most interesting independent essay is a review of Julian Jaynes’s “The Origin of Consciouness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” (Google that one too: there is a Julian Jaynes society). This book is extremely hard to find.


Truth, Knowledge, or Just Plain Bull — B.M. Patten

Plain (synthetic) vanilla account of being a skeptic. An excerpt: “Principle: Black-and-white thinking is an error because it simplifies a complex idea or situation…Lesson: Avoid black-and-white thinking.” And so on.