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Showing posts from August 2, 2015

On Coincidence 2

The ever resourceful, ever peculiar Arthur Koestler devoted two books to a minor figure in the history of science: Paul Kammerer. One book, The case of the Midwife Toad, detailed Kammerer’s search for proof that Lamarkian evolution – the inheritance of acquired traits – actually exists. The other book, The Roots of Coincidence, explored Kammerer’s fascination with what he called seriality, which found its way into Kammerer’s 1919, Das Gesetz der Serie. As I pointed out, if we take Cournot’s reasoning to be correct, there shouldn’t be a “law” of coincidence, since coincidence is, by definition, a byproduct of the fact that the laws of physics are both plural and independent one from the other. Thus, a law of coincidence would simply create another kind of coincidence that it couldn’t encompass, and thus would not be a law of all coincidences at all – eliminating it from consideration as a law of physics. Nevertheless, while 20 th century physicists did follow, reluctantly, the proba

on coincidence: 1

In Mill’s Logic, that grand old lumber room, in Chapter 18 of Book three,  a principle is spelled out that, in our day, has been shorthanded into the sometimes tendentious phrase,  correlation does not prove causation: “Although two or more cases in which the phenomenon a has been met with may have no common antecedent except A, this does not prove that there is any connection between a and A, since a may have many causes, and may have been produced, in these different instances, not by any thing which the instances had in common, but by some of those elements in them which were different.” Mill, in keeping with his practical bent, distills from this a question: “After how many and what sort of instances may it be concluded that an observed coincidence between two phenomena is not the effect of chance?” Another way of putting this question is: when is a coincidence really a coincidence? As Francois Mentre has pointed out, the French mathematician and scientist, Cournot, was