kurt's nightmare

Generally, I post once a week. Topics are randomly selected and depend mostly upon whether it's baseball season or not. Other topics will include sex, politics, old girlfriends, music, and whatever else pops into my little brain. If you'd like to read, or ignore, my blog about China: http://meidabizi.blogspot.com/

Name:
Location: Dayton, OH, Heard & McDonald Islands

I'm an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dayton. I represent no one but myself, and barely do that. I'm here mostly by accident.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Inductive Logic

This story is frequently attributed to Bertrand Russell.

A young turkey was brought into a farm and was fed regularly every morning at the same time with a fresh supply of grass. Like any other being interested in the future, he wanted to convincingly predict the future and not use the first few days of his life as an indicator of things to come. Having an erudite lineage, he figured he should not commit the fallacy of jumping the gun to reach a conclusion and instead would gather a large data set for his observation.

After 364 days, drawing from the specific instances, he concluded the obvious generalization - he would be well fed every morning until he grew old and died. Unfortunately, the very next day was Thanksgiving and the turkey was slaughtered and became the star meal of the day at the farmer's house.


While the comparison between the Chicago Cubs and a turkey is appropriate for many reasons, let us examine the argument that the Cubs will win the World Series in 2008. Inductively, we have the following 99 premises. I'll leave it to you to determine if the conclusion is strongly supported, or not:


The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 2007.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 2006.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 2005.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 2004.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 2003.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 2002.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 2001.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 2000.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1999.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1998.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1997.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1996.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1995.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1994.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1993.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1992.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1991.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1990.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1989.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1988.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1987.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1986.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1985.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1984.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1983.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1982.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1981.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1980.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1979.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1978.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1977.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1976.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1975.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1974.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1973.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1972.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1971.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1970.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1969.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1968.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1967.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1966.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1965.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1964.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1963.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1962.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1961.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1960.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1959.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1958.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1957.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1956.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1955.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1954.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1953.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1952.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1951.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1950.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1949.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1948.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1947.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1946.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1945.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1944.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1943.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1942.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1941.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1940
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1939.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1938.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1937.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1936.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1935.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1934.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1933.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1932.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1931.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1930.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1929.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1928.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1927.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1926.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1929.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1925.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1924.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1923.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1922.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1921.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1920.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1919.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1918.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1917.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1916.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1915.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1914.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1913.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1912.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1911.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1910.
The Cubs didn’t win the World Series in 1909.

Ergo . . .

14 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You commit a fallacy yourself: that somehow what happened 100 years ago really affects what is happening on the field today. You might have had a point if the cubs kept the 1909 team intact for 100 years. As it is, though, on April 1 every team has just about the same chance of winning the WS.

In fact, now that I think of it, the Bertand Russel story is right on point: what has happened exactly the same way 100 times (or 364 times) in the past is no indicator of what is going to happen the very next time. You night even say that the sun has risen every day for the las 700 billion days, and that therefore in all probability it will rise again tomorrow. The fact remains, though, that some day the sun will actually NOT rise.

10:17 PM  
Blogger kmosser said...

well, i didn't say the 1908 team had anything to do with the 2008 team; rather, i wondered if 99 consecutive failures would support the 100th occurring.

clearly, it depends on the event involved. and, in many cases, what has happened in the past has a great deal to do with the confidence of our expectations of the future. we do expect the sun to rise tomorrow, in spite of the fact that some day it will not.

then again, as the Cubs' own announcer Jack Brickhouse once noted, "any team can have a bad century."

10:13 AM  
Blogger Bazarov said...

I hope you had an excel sheet to help with this post, otherwise making that list would be as tedious as watching baseball.

Aren't fallacies reserved for deductive logic? I should know this and I'm almost afraid to ask given the blogger, but I thought fallacies were reserved for deductive reasoning.

If there is nothing else to go on, no other data set, then history of past occurrences isn't a bad way to go, in my opinion.

Anonymous, how do you know it's a fact that the sun will not rise some day? Aren't you just basing that on observations that previous stars have died out, the law of conservation of energy, and the law of entropy? All that could end tomorrow, because previous observations are no indicators of what will happen in the future, right? Who is to say the laws of nature have to hold in the future just because they've held for the last few billion years?

I'm no sports fan, but does every team have a truly equal chance of winning the World Series on April 1st? The previous year's performance has nothing to do with it? So a piss poor team (I'm not saying the team in question is, I'm just making a point) attracts good talent like a great team does? Knowledge of the prior year's performance doesn't affect enthusiasm? Ticket sales? Salaries?

1:14 PM  
Blogger kmosser said...

There are plenty of fallacies with inductive logic, including the famous "fallacy of hasty induction."

And, no, not all teams have an equal chance on April 1, which is why Vegas gives slightly different odds on the Red Sox winning the Series vs., say, the Royals.

4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"what has happened in the past has a great deal to do with the confidence of our expectations of the future. we do expect the sun to rise tomorrow, in spite of the fact that some day it will not."

The confidence of our expectations are irrelevant to the actual event. The expectation of 50,000 fans in the stands will not affect the outcome of the season; the expectation of the turkeys will not abolish Thanksgiving, and the hope of 6 Billion people that the sun will rise tomorrow will not affect whether it actually does.

Baseball teams don't all have an equal chance, but the differences have nothing to do with what happened 100 years ago, and (baseball being what it is) ALMOST nothing to do with what happened even last year.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"i wondered if 99 consecutive failures would support the 100th occurring. "

Ummmm....no.

11:58 AM  
Blogger kmosser said...

I have confidence that gravity, within close proximity of the earth, will affect objects of a given mass with a predictable force. My confidence doesn't cause that attraction, but the confidence in that expectation is the result of having seen a strong inductive argument, based on gravity's effects in the past.

The Cubs thing is sort of a joke. I didn't say the 1909 or 1969 teams had much to do with the chances of the 2008 Cubs. I would suggest the relative success of the 2007 Cubs has a great deal to do with what the Cubs will do this year, and why we evaluate them in terms of what we know (and expect). Then again, they are the Cubs, who have pretty much always sucked.

Given that, there are reasons why the Cubs are doing so well, largely because of last year's team and subsequent additions. Thus bookies put the odds on the Cubs winning the division as higher than they did for the Astros, but I don't know too many bookies who think the odds caused the result.

12:06 PM  
Blogger kmosser said...

"i wondered if 99 consecutive failures would support the 100th occurring. "

Ummmm....no."

Depends. If there is something about the failures that is relevant, it would; if not, not.

Obviously, one commits the gambler's fallacy by thinking 99 consecutive tails means anything about the 100th (fair) toss.

But if I failed to swim the English Channel 99 times in a row, would you factor that in in terms of your prediction about my success the 100th time?

12:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A young turkey was brought into a farm and was fed regularly every morning at the same time with a fresh supply of grass. "

Hello? Turkey's don't eat grass!

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok they smoked it.

Cajun dude.

11:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And stop comparing the Royals to the Cubs or it might stick. Hey now, we still have 3/4 of a century to go before we reach that level of consistency.

Cajun dude

11:40 PM  
Anonymous bmackintosh said...

Having lived through so many disappointing Cubs seasons, I make it a policy to never talking trash (baseball), but I will day this:

The Cubs might win in 2008.
That's more than you can say for the St. Louis Cardinals, who are 8 games out.

5:12 PM  
Blogger kmosser said...

How quickly we forget (for the Cubs) 1969, or (for the Cards) 1964.

Tsk, tsk.

1:14 PM  
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