Saturday, July 24, 2010

King and Country Debate

I was researching the general field of debate when I came across "world's most prestigious debating society" and its famous debate.

My prior position is that debating societies reliably disappoint me. However, of the set of all things which at one point disappointed me, I have come to find value in many of them after more thoroughly investigation. Nevertheless, I was confident that Oxford Union would disappoint me.

Soon, I was reading that,
"It is no mere coincidence that the only country fighting for the cause of peace, Soviet Russia, is the country that has rid itself of the war-mongering clique."
Communism: for when you just aren't prestigious enough! Though the resemblance to anarchist rhetoric should not be denied,[1] one should also not deny the how hilariously wrong the dove side already is. Fighting for peace? No war-mongering clique? I can guess that Kenelm Digby had no shame and wasn't the least embarrassed by that little thing we called the Cold War. I wonder how he felt about the Gulags; they weren't dying in war, per se...

It was looking good for my preconceptions. There's of course more amusing absurdities that follow that line, but the real clincher has nothing much to do with Digby.

"What is generally forgotten (but arguably more significant as an example of the Union's commitment to freedom of speech) is that an attempt was made by several prominent Union members (including Randolph Churchill) to expunge this motion and the result of the debate from the Union's minute book. This attempt was roundly defeated — in a meeting far better attended than the original debate. Sir Edward Heath records in his memoirs that Randolph Churchill was then chased around Oxford by undergraduates who intended to debag him (i.e. humiliate him by removing his trousers), and was then fined by the police for being illegally parked."

"We're for peace! And we'll beat up anyone who disagrees with us!"

Just in case you think this is insufficient evidence for hypocrisy, I found more. Focus especially on the last two sentences.

"Speaking after the debate, Digby said: "I believe that the motion was representative neither of the majority of the undergraduates of Oxford nor of the youth of this country. I am certain if war broke out tomorrow the students of the university would flock to the recruiting office as their fathers and uncles did."[3] He was proved right. [...] McCallum recalled at the outbreak of war two students, "men of light and leading in their college and with a good academic record", visited him to say goodbye before leaving to join their units. Both of them had separately said that if they had to vote on the "King and Country" resolution then and there, they would do so. One of them said: "I am not going to fight for King and Country, and you will notice that no one, not Chamberlain, not Halifax, has asked us to".[12]"

Yes, the anarchists in the audience can relax. The Oxford Union stands for Stalin, not non-violence, pretences to the contrary notwithstanding.

Oh, and by the way, Oxford Union can go ahead and 'free speech' my ass.

[1] Anarchists; peace is always better than aggressive war and war is the result of a minority with the ability to externalize the costs of war. No coercive minority, no war. (War to defend property within one's borders is not by this definition aggressive.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bayesian Regress

I was fascinated to discover that the Bayesian reasoner's probability of Bayes' formula being true calculates to zero.

I should start by mentioning that my probability estimate for Bayes' formula being useful is 100%. At least I hope so, since I often use it.

To calculate the probability using Bayesian analysis requires assuming the Bayes formula - in classical terms, begging the question. But, I thought, perhaps the series can converge? Every run-through changes the probability assigned to the Bayes' formula step of the calculation, so it needs to be run until it settles down. However, any sub-unity number multiplied by itself enough times converges to zero. It's an article of Bayesian reasoning that no priors can be unity. Oops.

Bayes' formula was discovered and proved within the context of classical logic, and indeed even the Bayesian reasoner must use one prior step of classical logic before they go on their statistical voyage. They must assume that Bayes' formula is unconditionally true.

There's a similar problem estimating the odds of yourself being mistaken. If you run the calculation once, perhaps you get a reasonable number, like 2%. But this calculation is reflexive - the odds that you're mistaken about being that mistaken is 2%. Works out to a 3.96% chance of being mistaken. But it's reflexive, so...a Bayesian calculation shows I have a 100% chance of being mistaken on every subject. Therefore, I'm wrong that you can understand the individual words I'm now typing.

Though clearly nonsense, I enjoy this result because I've often suspected that self-doubt in the usual sense can't be logically upheld. Especially if I'm not evaluating evidence, but taking action, the correct course is insensitive to doubt. If I'm faced with a black box with several buttons, one of which will serve my goals if pushed, whether I assume I have a 30% chance of being wrong or a 0% chance, I push the same button. It only changes if I have a higher estimate of being right for some other button - but it changes instantly and entirely, so again my action indistinguishable from one with utter certainty.