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To venture the truth is what gives human life and the human situation pith and meaning, to venture is the fountainhead of inspiration, whereas probability is the sworn enemy of enthusiasm, the mirage whereby the sensate person drags out time and keeps the eternal away, whereby he cheats God, himself, and his generation… ~ Søren Kierkegaard

Probability describes an attitude of mind towards some proposition of whose truth we are not certain. The proposition of interest is usually of the form "Will a specific event occur?"


It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in. ~ Lyndon Johnson, regarding J. Edgar Hoover
  • Probability is the very guide of life.
    • Cicero, De Natura, 5, 12; reported in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 634. Quoted by Bishop Butler. Also used by Richard Hooker, Ecclesiastical Polity, Book I, Chapter VIII., and, Book II, Chapter VII. Found in John Locke, Essays, Book IV, Chapter XV. Also in Hobbes' Leviathan.
  • My thesis, paradoxically, and a little provocatively, but nonetheless genuinely, is simply this :


    The abandonment of superstitious beliefs about the existence of Phlogiston, the Cosmic Ether, Absolute Space and Time, ... , or Fairies and Witches, was an essential step along the road to scientific thinking. Probability, too, if regarded as something endowed with some kind of objective existence, is no less a misleading misconception, an illusory attempt to exteriorize or materialize our true probabilistic beliefs.

  • Probability is too important to be left to the experts. [...] The experts, by their very expert training and practice, often miss the obvious and distort reality seriously. [...] The desire of the experts to publish and gain credit in the eyes of their peers has distorted the development of probability theory from the needs of the average user. The comparatively late rise of the theory of probability shows how hard it is to grasp, and the many paradoxes show clearly that we, as humans, lack a well grounded intuition in the matter. Neither the intuition of the man in the street, nor the sophisticated results of the experts provides a safe basis for important actions in the world we live in.
    • Richard Hamming, The Art of Probability for Scientists and Engineers (1991), p. 4 [emphasis in original]
  • How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?
  • They should have known better. The probability of a train derailment was infinitesimal. That meant it was only a matter of time.
  • No human being can give an eternal resolution to another or take it from him; If someone objects that then one might just as well be silent if there is no probability of winning others, he thereby has merely shown that although his life very likely thrived and prospered in probability and everyone of his undertakings in the service of probability went forward, he has never really ventured and consequently has never had or given himself the opportunity to consider that probability is an illusion, but to venture the truth is what gives human life and the human situation pith and meaning, to venture is the fountainhead of inspiration, whereas probability is the sworn enemy of enthusiasm, the mirage whereby the sensate person drags out time and keeps the eternal away, whereby he cheats God, himself, and his generation: cheats God of the honor, himself of liberating annihilation, and his generation of the equality of conditions.
    • Søren Kierkegaard, Four Upbuilding Discourses (31 August 1844) in Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses p. 382.
  • The epistemological value of probability theory is based on the fact that chance phenomena, considered collectively and on a grand scale, create non-random regularity.
    • Andrey Kolmogorov, Limit Distributions for Sums of Independent Random Variables (1954), as translated by K. L. Chung
  • As is known, the question of the objectivity or the subjectivity of probability has divided the world of science into two camps. Some maintain that there exist two types of probability, as above, others, that only the subjective exists, because regardless of what is supposed to take place, we cannot have full knowledge of it. Therefore, some lay the uncertainty of future events at the door of our knowledge of them, whereas others place it within the realm of the events themselves.
    • Stanisław Lem, "De Impossibilitate Vitae and De Impossibilitate Vitae Prognoscendi", in A Perfect Vacuum (1971), tr. Michael Kandel (1978).
  • In applying dynamical principles to the motion of immense numbers of atoms, the limitation of our faculties forces us to abandon the attempt to express the exact history of each atom, and to be content with estimating the average condition of a group of atoms large enough to be visible. This method... which I may call the statistical method, and which in the present state of our knowledge is the only available method of studying the properties of real bodies, involves an abandonment of strict dynamical principles, and an adoption of the mathematical methods belonging to the theory of probability. … If the actual history of Science had been different, and if the scientific doctrines most familiar to us had been those which must be expressed in this way, it is possible that we might have considered the existence of a certain kind of contingency a self evident truth, and treated the doctrine of philosophical necessity as a mere sophism.
  • Einstein's supreme greatness was in transforming physical thinking from that of the culmination of classical physics about 1900 to that of quantum mechanics starting about 1925. ...far more than anyone else, he caused physicists to think in terms of probabilities. He began to do this in his early work in thermodynamics, and he brought such thinking to its first great fruition in 1905 in his work on Brownian movement and in his first work on radiation, in which he introduced the concept of light quanta or photons. Its second, even greater fruition was in his famous paper on the quantum theory of radiation in 1917.
    That paper illustrated methods that have been in use almost without change ever since, even though the majority of the users have no knowledge that it was Einstein who propounded them. It was in this paper that Einstein postulated the various transition possibilities between two states of a quantized system. ...quantum theory has existed ever since precisely for the purpose of evaluating these probabilities. In this paper of 1917 Einstein postulated in particular the process known as stimulated emission, and inferred the properties of this process. This is the process employed in the... light maser or laser.

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