Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/730

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We now feel pretty sure that, if we were to make a large number of bets upon the color of single beans drawn from the bag, we could approximately insure ourselves in the long run by betting each time upon the white, a confidence which would be entirely wanting if, instead of sampling the bag by 1,000 drawings, we had done so by only two. Now, as the whole utility of probability is to insure us in the long run, and as that assurance depends, not merely on the value of the chance, but also on the accuracy of the evaluation, it follows that we ought not to have the same feeling of belief in reference to all events of which the chance is even. In short, to express the proper state of our belief, not one number but two are requisite, the first depending on the inferred probability, the second on the amount of knowledge on which that probability is based.[1] It is true that when our knowledge is very precise, when we have made many drawings from the bag, or, as in most of the examples in the books, when the total contents of the bag are absolutely known, the number which expresses the uncertainty of the assumed probability and its liability to be changed by further experience may become insignificant, or utterly vanish. But, when our knowledge is very slight, this number may be even more important than the probability itself; and when we have no knowledge at all this completely overwhelms the other, so that there is no sense in saying that the chance of the totally unknown event is even (for what expresses absolutely no fact has absolutely no meaning), and what ought to be said is that the chance is entirely indefinite. We thus perceive that the conceptualistic view, though answering well enough in some cases, is quite inadequate.

Suppose that the first bean which we drew from our bag were black. That would constitute an argument, no matter how slender, that the bean under the thimble was also black. If the second bean were also to turn out black, that would be a second independent argument reenforcing the first. If the whole of the first twenty beans drawn should prove black, our confidence that the hidden bean was black would justly attain considerable strength. But suppose the twenty-first bean were to be white and that we were to go on drawing until we found that we had drawn 1,010 black beans and 990 white ones. We should conclude that our first twenty beans being black was simply an extraordinary accident, and that in fact the proportion of white beans to black was sensibly equal, and that it was an even chance that the hidden bean was black. Yet according to the rule of balancing reasons, since all the drawings of black beans are so many independent arguments in favor of the one under the thimble being black, and all the white drawings so many against it, an excess of twenty black beans ought to produce the same degree of belief that the hidden bean was black, whatever the total number drawn.

  1. Strictly we should need an infinite series of numbers each depending on the probable error of the last.