# Daniel Ellsberg has died

by on June 17, 2023

Daniel Ellsberg has died, aged 92. I don’t have anything to add to the standard account of his heroic career, except to observe that Edward Snowden (whose cause Ellsberg championed) would probably have done better to take his chances with the US legal system, as Ellsberg did.

In decision theory, the subsection of the economics profession in which I move Ellsberg is known for a contribution made a decade before the release of the Pentagon papers. In his PhD dissertation, Ellsberg offered thought experiments undermining the idea that rational people can assign probabilities to any event relevant to their decisions. This idea has given rise to a large theoretical literature on the idea of ‘ambiguity’. Although my own work has been adjacent to this literature for many decades, it’s only recently that I have actually written on this.

A long explanation is over the fold. But for those not inclined to delve into decision theory, it might be interesting to consider other people who have been prominent in radically different ways. One example is Hedy Lamarr, a film star who also patented a radio guidance system for torpedoes (the significance of which remains in dispute). A less happy example is that of Maurice Allais, a leading figure in decision theory and Economics Nobel winner, who also advocated some fringe theories in physics. I thought a bit about Ronald Reagan, but his entry into politics was really built on his prominence as an actor, rather than being a separate accomplishment.

The simplest of Ellsberg’s experiments is the “two-urn” problem. You are presented with two urns. One contains 50 red balls and 50 black balls. The other contains 100 black or red balls, but you aren’t told how many of each. Now you are offered two even money bet, which pay off if a red ball is drawn from one of the runs. You get to choose which urn to bet on. Intuition suggests choosing the urn with known proportions. Now suppose instead of a bet on red, you are offered the same choice but with a bet on black. Again, it seems that the first urn would be better.

Now, on the information given, the probability of a red ball being drawn from the first urn is 0.5. But what about the second urn. Strictly preferring the first urn for the red ball bet implies that the probability of a red ball being drawn from the second must be less than 0.5. But preferring the first urn for the black ball bet implies that the probability of a red ball being drawn from the second must be more than 0.5. So, there is no probability number that rationalises these decisions.

The title of Ellsberg’s paper was “Risk, Ambiguity and the Savage Axioms”. As a result, the term “ambiguity” has been applied, in contradistinction to risk, to the case when there are no well-defined probabilities. But this was not the way Ellsberg himself used the term. Rather he referred to

the nature of ones information concerning the relative likelihood of events. What is at issue might be called the ambiguity of this information, a quality depending on the amount, type, reliability and unanimity of information, andg iving rise to one’s degree of confidence in an estimate of relative

I’ve developed this point in a paper whose title Seven Types of Ambiguity is one of numerous homages to William Empson’s classic work of literary criticism. Among these homages, I’d recommend the novel of the same name by Australian writer Elliot Perlman (later a TV series).

The central claim in my paper is that all forms of ambiguity in decision theory may
be traced to bounded and differential awareness. If that sounds interesting, you can read the paper here. If you’re super-interested, I’ll be presenting the paper in a couple of conferences in Europe in July – email me at j.quiggin@uq.edu.au for details.

1

LFC 06.17.23 at 12:41 pm

You say that Ellsberg was prominent in two radically different ways.

I haven’t read the obits (yet), but surely there was a connection between the different parts of his career, no? His work on decision theory must have had something to do with his being at Rand, which in turn must have had something to do with his being at the Pentagon, which in turn gave him access to the Pentagon Papers. (At one pt before that he was in the Marines, iirc.)

Of course not every intellectual who served in the government turned against the Vietnam War in the decisive way that Ellsberg did; the polar opposite example probably would be Walt Rostow, who succeeded Bundy as natl security advisor and whose hawkish views persisted until his death. Interestingly perhaps, their backgrounds were in some respects quite different. Rostow was older, and his service in WW2 was in picking Allied bombing targets, an experience that informed, and not in a good way, his views on bombing in Vietnam.

2

D. Childers 06.17.23 at 1:33 pm

Having cited Ellsberg 61 in the past month, the longevity of these ideas and the variety of interpretations really speaks to the value of setting up a way to ask new questions.

Regarding your paper, and the formalism for semantic vs syntactic representations in it, by the equivalence proposition you present, could some of the concepts of ambiguity you describe there be represented instead in terms of a pair of sigma algebras (or, I guess symmetrically, a pair of languages) instead of a language and a sigma algebra? I suppose that some of the operations proposed are asymmetric, but it’s not clear whether that couldn’t be resolved by just labeling the sigma algebras (languages, respectively).

I ask, because, apropos of another figure somehow prominent in both decision theory and national security, Donald Rumsfeld, it might be a way of interpreting the idea of “known unknowns,” “unknown knowns,” etc, which is often thought to be expressing ambiguity in some sense. Moreover the symmetric representation seems to admit a hierarchy, where we can talk about unknown known unknown knowns, etc to arbitrary powers.

Forgive me if (I did not know that) this is well-known; as only a dabbler in decision theory I’ve worked mainly with multiple-priors models of ambiguity, but given less thought to the history of work on representations behind them.

3

caleb 06.17.23 at 2:47 pm

Why would intuition suggest choosing the urn with known properties? Surely the other urn has a 50% chance of having more red than black and likewise 50% of more black than red. In other words, it doesn’t matter which urn you choose, your odds are always going to be 50/50.

4

Aardvark Cheeselog 06.17.23 at 3:04 pm

I must be slow. It seems so obvious that you’d pick the bet where you know the odds that it requires no explanation.

5

steven t johnson 06.17.23 at 3:05 pm

Steven Pinker and every field outside linguistics?
Or, Linus Pauling and vitamin C?
Or, William Shockley and eugenics?

But if you want examples of people being successful in different fields, perhaps Benjamin Franklin, printer? But then, he had a labor theory of value apparently, which makes him just another crackpot I suppose.

I will say that the claim Snowden should have trusted in the US legal system of today, devolves into the claim the New York Times or Washington Post of today could have published Snowden and provided the weight to possibly win in court. Or the claim that Snowden’s vindication was strictly a matter of moral right with all due respect for the Constitution etc.

6

anon/portly 06.17.23 at 4:12 pm

The simplest of Ellsberg’s experiments is the “two-urn” problem. You are presented with two urns. One contains 50 red balls and 50 black balls. The other contains 100 black or red balls, but you aren’t told how many of each. Now you are offered two even money bet, which pay off if a red ball is drawn from one of the runs. You get to choose which urn to bet on. Intuition suggests choosing the urn with known proportions. Now suppose instead of a bet on red, you are offered the same choice but with a bet on black. Again, it seems that the first urn would be better.

Are you sure you’re describing this precisely? The change from red to black, as described, isn’t a change at all – it’s still “you can bet on this color but not the other color.” It’s not the probability of red ball or a black ball being drawn that’s important, it’s the probability of a ball with the same color as the bet you were offered.

If you were told that you could bet on either color, then your intuition should tell you there’s no difference, it’s the same odds (50-50) of winning money from both urns, whether you bet on red or black, no matter how many black or red balls are in the second urn.

“Intuition” here seems to be suspicion – “why am I being offered this color and not the other color?” (I’m probably just being thick or missing something, and anyway I’m sure it got more interesting with the less simple experiments).

7

Ebenezer Scrooge 06.17.23 at 9:29 pm

I’d suggest Philip Noel-Baker, who won an Olympic silver medal in rowing and a Nobel Peace Prize. Neils and Harald Bohr were both very accomplished athletes, as well. And of course, there is the unbelievably gifted Paul Robeson.

8

Ray Vinmad 06.17.23 at 9:41 pm

US government various kinds of physical and psychological torture on prisoners whose crimes involved national security, mostly Muslims but not always. The psychological torture on Chelsea Manning may have given him pause.

You don’t know if you will for sure survive. Ellsberg was one of them–foreign policy elite–and better connected. Also, things changed with respect to our rights as citizens after 9/11.

9

John Q 06.18.23 at 3:11 am

D. Childers The standard definition of ambiguity entails being fully aware of all possible states of the world, but being unable to assign probabilities to some or all states. Unknown unknowns (the idea goes back a long way further than Rumsfeld) are the starting point for the literature on bounded and differential awareness, which I’ve been working on for about 20 years. Reversing your claim, ambiguity (technical sense) is a product of bounded awareness, not vice versa.

10

J-D 06.19.23 at 1:00 am

Now you are offered two even money bets, which pay off if a red ball is drawn from one of the urns.

‘Son’, the old guy says, ‘no matter how far you travel, or how smart you get, always remember this: Someday, somewhere’, he says, ‘a guy is going to come to you and show you a nice brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is never broken, and this guy is going to offer to bet you that the jack of spades will jump out of this deck and squirt cider in your ear. But, son’, the old guy says, ‘do not bet him, for as sure as you do you are going to get an ear full of cider.’

Damon Runyon, ‘The Idyll Of Miss Sarah Brown’

11

Tim Dymond 06.19.23 at 1:06 am

There’s an interesting lecture from 2019 in which Ellsberg links his thought experiments to his political ideas and history. Essentially: politicians will likely always act on an short term certain negative outcome (e.g. I will lose the upcoming election if I pull troops out of Indochina and lose it to the Communists), rather than act to prevent a long term negative outcome (e.g. keep bombing Indochina because even though thousands of people will die we still might win the war eventually). https://youtu.be/YmmN8AiXVL0

12

Bob 06.19.23 at 2:42 am

John, I would appreciate it if you could confirm this. But isn’t the problem with Caleb’s comment @3 that what he is saying would only be correct if, for the urn where the proportion of red and black is unknown, the proportion was assigned randomly? In that case, yes, half of the time there would be more red than black, and half the time more black than red. But in the case as I understand it, the proportion is not assigned randomly–or, to be more precise, it MAY be assigned randomly, but we don’t know.

13

Dave W. 06.19.23 at 5:25 am

5: Ellsberg himself argued that Snowden would not be allowed to present arguments at trial about why he released documents, just as Ellsberg had been prohibited from arguing that in his own defense. Ellsberg was quite lucky that evidence of the government’s burglary of his psychiatrist’s office came out at his trial and ultimately led the judge to toss the case. Snowden could not count on a similar break.

14

TM 06.19.23 at 7:24 am

The definition of this urn experiment has in my view the same problem as the original formulation of the Monty Hall problem: the definition leaves too much room for ambiguity. “The other contains 100 black or red balls, but you aren’t told how many of each.” Does this mean that the actual proportion is strictly chance? How do I know that the bank hasn’t rigged the experiment in its favor? In this situation, it is totally rational to bet on the urn with the known proportion rather than trusting the guy who offered you to bet on a device with undefined properties.

“Ellsberg offered thought experiments undermining the idea that rational people can assign probabilities to any event relevant to their decisions. This idea has given rise to a large theoretical literature on the idea of ‘ambiguity’.”

Sure, if the experiment is defined to include ambiguity from the start, there is no way to come to assign unambiguous probabilities. But that is circular reasoning. What am ! missing?

15

TM 06.19.23 at 7:45 am

We have to mention Bertrand Russell. He was a Mathematician who has made essential contributions to pure logic and foundational Mathematics, and was a philosopher, education reformer, socialist, peace activist, was awarded the 1950 Nobel Prize in Literature, and co-organizer of the Russell Tribunal. He went to jail in 1918 in protest of Wolrd War I and in 1961 (at the age of 89) for organizing a protest against nuclear arms.

16

Matt 06.19.23 at 12:57 pm

Arguing that Snowden would have been better off taking his chances with the US legal system in a post on decision theory is not what I would have expected.

Besides the extreme qualitative differences in network positions between Ellsberg and Snowden briefly noted by Ray @8, the Obama administration’s particularly two-tiered (see e.g., https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/16/whistleblowers-double-standard-obama-david-petraeus-chelsea-manning) and severe (see e.g., https://www.aclu.org/news/free-speech/leak-prosecutions-obama-takes-it-11-or-should-we) approach to those who leaked/divulged/etc. classified information prior to Snowden’s disclosures seem to suggest a different optimal strategy.

This is independent of one’s opinion on whether what Snowden did was appropriately motivated, targeted, etc. There was never any reason for him to believe that he would have had the same outcome as Ellsberg.

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Peter Hovde 06.19.23 at 3:57 pm

Does Chomsky’s political advocacy somehow arise naturally out of his linguistics? Maybe a bit, but not that much.

18

Gar Lipow 06.19.23 at 4:31 pm

Adding to what Ray Vinmad said. Even with his connections, Ellsberg did not go free only because he was a former elite, though I am sure that is part of it. The Whitehouse approved invasion of his therapist’s office meant a lot of the evidence against him would be thrown out. And the case against him was brought under the most liberal court in the history of the US judiciary. Today, I am not even sure such a burglary would get a national security case thrown out. There is a whole separate legal standard for national security cases, including the use of 2nd hand testimony, the admission of evidence obtained under torture if you can get it from a 2nd source (no fruit of poisoned tree standard). Also, national security trials are always under the jurisdiction of the most right-wing Federal court in the USA. In general both the law and courts are very different. I doubt Snowden would have a chance in hell under our current court system. I think he did make one big mistake. He should have waited until he got to Iceland or wherever he wanted to head before revealing his identity. He was already suspected, but law enforcement was a few days away from being sure when he came out of the closet as the leaker. He may have thought they were already sure, or that a few days would not make a difference. But that proved to be wrong.

19

Peter Hovde 06.19.23 at 8:24 pm

Gar Lipow-I think that’s absolutely right about Snowden, with the addition that he appeared to naively believe Hong Kong authorities would entertain a request for asylum at least somewhat independently of orders from Beijing (which were presumably “Drop this hot potato.” This belief about HK may have in part derived from the general libertarian enthusiasm for HK. Also, to the extent that Wikileaks folks were already Kremlin stooges or allies, any reliance on them may have helped put him in the “nowhere to go but Moscow” box.

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J-D 06.20.23 at 1:25 am

Following up on my earlier comment:

“Intuition” here seems to be suspicion – “why am I being offered this color and not the other color?”

The advice which The Sky receives from his father in the Damon Runyon story points to the fact that when somebody offers you a bet, the motives behind the offer are always a factor. It’s not rational to treat them as irrelevant. Why would anybody offer me any of these bets? ‘For the purposes of the exercise, we just assume that the case is as stated and there are no other hidden factors’ is effectively equivalent to the kind of thinking that leads to people being swindled by three-card-monte dealers.

It’s worth pointing out, for those who don’t know, that sometimes the answer to the question ‘Why is the three-card-monte dealer offering me this bet?’ is ‘To distract my attention while another member of the crew picks my pocket’.

But in the case as I understand it, the proportion is not assigned randomly–or, to be more precise, it MAY be assigned randomly, but we don’t know.

Again, it’s rational to suspect that the set-up has been arranged to the advantage of the person doing the setting up, which in turn means to the disadvantage of the person invited to bet.

Even in the case of the urn which is supposed to have known contents, how is that supposed to be known? Is that something we were told by the person offering the bet, and if so why do we trust them? Do they also deal three-card monte on the side, or don’t we know the answer to that question? I live in a world where three-card-monte dealers exist and it’s not rational to behave as if that’s not the case.

The definition of this urn experiment has in my view the same problem as the original formulation of the Monty Hall problem: the definition leaves too much room for ambiguity. “The other contains 100 black or red balls, but you aren’t told how many of each.” Does this mean that the actual proportion is strictly chance? How do I know that the bank hasn’t rigged the experiment in its favor? In this situation, it is totally rational to bet on the urn with the known proportion rather than trusting the guy who offered you to bet on a device with undefined properties.

A rationally suspicious response, but perhaps not sufficiently so!

21

John Q 06.20.23 at 6:38 am

J-D and TM Great Minds etc

I proposed this same explanation in my 1993 book Generalized Expected Utility Theory. I don’t have it to hand, but I discussed it a bit further in this paper https://www.jstor.org/stable/27822487

And I use the Sky Masterson quote in this paper with Simon Grant https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fi/esydueo0brahdszyu5owz/UnawarenessDTEA1006.pdf?dl=0&rlkey=qdbtm8fzz3mqndleq0r3daeap

22

Rob Chametzky 06.20.23 at 4:08 pm

Fom a vantage point situated in theoretical linguistics (viz., mine), It is quite striking to see an apparently non-tiny discussion space devoted to “ambiguity” that is seemingly entirely innocent of the large and intensive analytic and theoretical work on this topic in, you guessed it, linguistics.

Life is short, of course, and trying to come to any sort of terms with technical literature in another field is time-consuming and holds no guarantees of turning out to be time well-spent, given one’s goals. Still, seeing reference to, and use made of, literary criticism (Empson, New Criticism) does give one just a smidgen of pause.

There is even a subarea of research in linguistics called “game-theoretic pragmatics”, for those from rational-choicish territories wondering about a possible entry-point.

–Rob Chametzky

23

John Q 06.20.23 at 7:05 pm

Rob @22 I’d be very interested in some links giving an entry point to this literature. The theme of the conference I’m presenting at is “Language and Representation”, but this approach is in its infancy in decision theory.

24

John Q 06.20.23 at 7:10 pm

In response to lots of comments, I agree that Ellsberg was lucky, both because the government screwed up in multiple ways and because the political and legal atmosphere was more open. Snowden would have faced much longer odds of avoiding jail. OTOH, it’s notable that Ellsberg himself, at 90, sought a prosecution that would have enabled him to challenge the constitutionality of the Espionage Act, as applied to suppress domestic dissent.
https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/18/us/politics/daniel-ellsberg-espionage-act-pentagon-papers.html

25

Rob Chametzky 06.20.23 at 8:02 pm

John Q @23

A fair enough request. There is, though, one wrinkle: the overview papers I have read and link to below are aimed at those more conversant with linguistic pragmatics than with GT, so what gets more vs. less explanation is flipped wrt usefulness for you and me, I imagine. With that said, here are links to a couple such overviews

https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-linguistics-011817-045641

Here’s a link to a more current annotated bibliography that I’ve only recently come across:

https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/display/document/obo-9780199772810/obo-9780199772810-0277.xml

A more recent still, and more focused piece that nonetheless has a pretty extensive reference list, is linked to here:

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/implicature-optimality-games/

Perhaps inevitably, my own reading has gone more toward the treatments of “classic” linguistic pragmatic phenomena/problems than anything else, so I’m not sure that more specific papers that I’ve read are of more general interest.

–RC

26

Gar Lipow 06.21.23 at 7:07 am

John Q. Yes did seek that case. But note that he sought it in the role of recipient, not in the role of whistleblower, the role that Snowden would be prosecuted under. Not sure it was a great gamble for Ellsberg, even so, give our current courts. But a very different legal argument than Snowden would have to make. Ellsberg was very clear that he was making to case to protect journalists such as the NY Times and Julian Assange (whom he specifically mentioned in seeking the case). Not that he did not support whistleblowers of course, but his hope for the particular case he sought was protection of journalists, not of whistleblowers. I have a further thought that stems from this, but it is extremely off-topic, so I will post in one of the open or semi-open threads CT periodically opens.

27

Kenny Easwaran 06.21.23 at 11:04 am

I usually see the Ellsberg paradox presented slightly differently:

There is an urn with 90 balls, 30 of which are yellow, and the rest are red or black. The first choice is, would you prefer a bet on red or a bet on yellow? Most people prefer yellow, because it has a known probability. The second choice is, would you prefer a bet on red or black, or a bet on yellow or black? Most people prefer red or black, because it has a known probability. The paradox is that in the first choice, yellow is preferred to red, while in the second choice, red is preferred to yellow, and so the preferences can’t be represented by any strict ordering of the different colors – this sort of ambiguity aversion must be a more global property.

And on the topic of people known for multiple relatively independent things, I would add Fridtjof Nansen, famous both for voyages towards the North Pole, and for his work arranging for visas for stateless persons after the disruptions of the Great War, for which he won a Nobel Peace Prize. (Again, there was some connection, because I believe in his polar voyages he got to know many researchers and adventurers from many of the countries whose alterations after the Great War left many of them stateless.)

28

engels 06.21.23 at 12:25 pm

Daniel Ellsberg is lauded in death by the same media that lets Assange rot in jail

In recent months, Ellsberg had become an increasingly voluble critic of US conduct in the Ukraine war. He drew parallels with the lies told by four administrations – Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson – to hide the extent of Washington’s involvement in Vietnam before the US went public with its ground war.

Ellsberg warned that the US was waging a similarly undeclared war in Ukraine – a proxy one, using Ukrainians as cannon fodder – to “weaken the Russians”. As in Vietnam, the White House was gradually and secretly escalating US involvement.

29

oldster 06.21.23 at 5:13 pm

Kenny E. @ 27 —

That’s an interesting presentation. For the most part, it raises all and only the same issues raised by JQ’s presentation, and does not constitute a separate paradox.
But in one regard it does raise a new issue.
Some people might believe that when I do not know the composition of the {red or black} portion of the urn, then reason dictates that I should treat it as evenly divided between the red and black.
(E.g., caleb and anon/portly above seemed to be attracted to a principle like this.
caleb: “… it doesn’t matter which urn you choose, your odds are always going to be 50/50.”
anon/portly: “then your intuition should tell you there’s no difference, it’s the same odds (50-50) of winning money from both urns”).
But if the reasonable thing is to proceed as though the unknown portion is evenly split, then in the first of your bets I should definitely choose red over yellow — after all, I know that there are only 30 yellow balls, and my principle dictates that I should act as though the remaining 7o are divided into 35 red and 35 black.
I wonder whether people attracted to the caleb/portly principle are inclined to choose red over yellow in your first bet, or still inclined to choose yellow over red (i.e. known over unknown)? Perhaps they will feel conflicted attractions to both principles?
JQ’s original presentation does not pose this additional puzzle, because adopting the principle that ambiguous partitions should be treated as even partitions leaves one indifferent between JQ’s two urns (see again caleb’s and anon/portly’s intuitions), but does not directly conflict with the principle to choose the known over the unknown.

30

John Q 06.21.23 at 6:28 pm

Kenny: Ellsberg presented both versions, but I thought the two-urn case was easier to explain for a general audience

Rob: Thanks for the links. They will help me improve the paper. If you are interested in how this question is being approached in decision theory, the papers here might be helpful
https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/A-Matter-of-Interpretation%3A-Bargaining-over-Grant-Kline/e7fb90df102e0744d3fdce2e01ea641791d0cdf6

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anon/portly 06.22.23 at 6:41 am

Not that it’s too important, but the characterization of my point by Oldster in 29 isn’t right, my point wasn’t about expecting the same number of each color but about the colors at each instance being the “allowed to bet on” color and the “not allowed to bet on” color. (Or in 27 you have two “allowed to bet on” colors or color pairs and one “not allowed to bet on” color or color pair).

32

TM 06.22.23 at 7:09 am

Kenny 27: This presentation makes more sense to me but I don’t see how it reveals any deeper truth about ambiguity and decision making.

engels 28: “Ellsberg warned that the US was waging a similarly undeclared war in Ukraine – a proxy one, using Ukrainians as cannon fodder – to “weaken the Russians”. As in Vietnam, the White House was gradually and secretly escalating US involvement.”

The quote only confirms that Ellsberg being right 50 years ago doesn’t preclude his being wrong about the present. “US waging an undeclared war in Ukraine”, “secretly escalating US involvement”, these claims are practically self-refuting and require a high degree of self-delusion to believe. Which is sad but it’s also not really unheard of that once politically astute individuals become cranky over time.

33

Z 06.22.23 at 7:40 am

Certainly the ultimate contemporary example of someone prominent in two unrelated fields is Noam Chomsky, who is the by far the most famous linguist alive and probably the most famous critic of capitalism and American foreign policy alive, with no connection between the two activities (he himself repeatedly declared that any connection can be drawn between his work on linguistics and his anarchist convictions is very thin at beast). In addition, he is a fairly well-known philosopher and made important contributions to theoretical computer science – though both are more closely related to his work on linguistics (in two opposite directions).

34

steven t johnson 06.22.23 at 6:09 pm

Going back to the OP, it was confusing at first to know whether to read the second urn as containing 100 balls, either red or black in unknown proportions. Or as 100 red balls, or 100 black. If the first reading, you simply can’t assign any probability at all, so far as I can see. It’s not clear how this is ambiguity rather than simply an incalculable. The conclusion that you can’t arrange the probabilities of both red and black for the second urn in a logically consistent way seems false, because you don’t have any numbers for the second urn. You’ve got unknown variables you could call R and B and you know they must total 1.0 (probabilities >1.0 I don’t understand.) For both urns, P=0.5+R+B, for both colors. I don’t remember how to solve just one equation for two unkowns.

In the second reading, the probability of either red or black before sampling is the same as the first, fifty percent. After drawing one of course you would know there is no probability, you would know, as certainly as the premises are known to be true, there’s only the one color. The thing is, in this reading, I don’t understand how there is any intuition that the supposedly known probability of the first urn (for either bet) is somehow more reliable than the equal probability before sampling of red or black. Even worse, I do not understand how preferring the first urn, regardless of which color, assigns any numerical probability to the second urn.

Also, I’m so ignorant of gambling the term “two even money bet” actually mean. But so far as making a decision goes, it seems to me you should multiply the 0.50 probability given for the first urn, for whichever color you choose times the expected payout, then you decide whether you can afford to lose the bet. So far as making a decision goes, the second urn is just confusing.

The real probability of course is that I simply haven’t understood the question. But where did I go wrong?

35

LFC 06.22.23 at 9:40 pm

engels @28

Since Ellsberg no longer had access to official secrets, it’s hard to see how he was in a position to know whether the U.S. was or is “secretly” escalating its involvement in Ukraine.

36

engels 06.23.23 at 9:51 am

Since Ellsberg no longer had access to official secrets, it’s hard to see how he was in a position to know whether the U.S. was or is “secretly” escalating its involvement in Ukraine.

I don’t think TM has access to official secrets and he seems to be pretty sure it isn’t.

37

Fake Dave 06.23.23 at 11:20 am

Rene Descarte would be another example of someone being an icon in two fields. I certainly can’t see any connection between Cartesian coordinates and Cartesian dualism. It’s an old tradition of the “Rennaissance man” or the “natural philosopher” from before the sciences and humanities were professionalized and siloed off from each other that can be perhaps attributed to the tendency of very well-read people to also be very widely-read and for intelectual authority to follow people even when their focus shifts, especially in the higher echelons of intelectual discourse. Already being known as a great thinker can give people the confidence to pursue their hobby horses without self-doubt and with the security that they’ll get a fair (or more than fair) hearing from their peers. This is definitely a double-edged sword. Truly marvelous things can happen when bright and creative people refuse to be pigeon-holed, but every era has its blowhard “public intellectuals” as well (not that we all agree on who they are), and the myth of the polymath can become the perfect cover and justification for what we might otherwise recognize as the very human tendency to spout off about things we only somewhat understand.

38

J-D 06.24.23 at 7:22 am

There is so much contrast between the works that Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger contributed to philosophy and the works that he contributed to the theatre that for centuries they were regarded as the products of two different authors.

I can think of other examples who made substantial contributions to two different fields, but that seems a particularly striking example.

39

LFC 06.24.23 at 3:53 pm

Along the lines of Fake Dave @37: Leonardo da Vinci.

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TM 06.26.23 at 8:11 am

engels 36: The claim “the White House was gradually and secretly escalating US involvement” is self-refuting when made by somebody who doesn’t have any access to secret information because either he is stating something that is publicly known, hence it isn’t secret, or we can be sure that he just made up.

What makes this false claim especially galling is the fact that contrary to US involvement in Vietnam, the Biden administration has been perfectly open about its Ukraine policy. He has made it absolutely clear that he is willing to support Ukraine materially to the extent necessary to win the war, and that there will be no direct involvement by US troops. This policy has been open in the public from the beginning, Congress has approved of mutliple aid packages, and there has been extensive news reporting of every kind of support Ukraine receives.

You can of course say that we don’t know whether there is anything secret going on in addition to the above. There simply isn’t any good reason for believing this. Otoh, shall we talk about all the clever tankies who in February 2022 ridiculed the warning of an impending Russian invasion despite all the not-even-secret evidence of a massive military buildup and despite Putin’s many not-at-all-secret public proclamations about Ukraine belonging to Russia? Amazingly, these same people don’t feel the least bit embarrassed.

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TM 06.26.23 at 8:30 am

37: The idea of a scientist being a specialist in only one field was practically unknown before the 19th century. In Descartes’ time, there wasn’t really a separation between science (“natural philosophy”) and philosophy. One almost couldn’t just just do science or mathematics and not also do philosophy.

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engels 06.26.23 at 11:02 pm

BAE: You’re secretly seeing someone else.
Me: You must be making that up. If you knew, it wouldn’t be secret; if it was secret you wouldn’t know.

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engels 06.28.23 at 10:28 am

Perhaps they won’t be viewed as “radically different” but Frank Ramsay made seminal contributions to philosophy, maths and economics before his death at the age of 26.

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engels 06.28.23 at 11:13 am

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