Friday, May 09, 2008

Occam's Razor

Following is a photograph above George Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.

My questions are: Do you believe this is a coincidence or an intentional re-enactment of the painting? Why do you believe this? How confident are you? What sort of bet would you be willing to make at what odds?
Even if I didn't know better, I'd go with intentional re-enactment. The reasoning behind this belief is nicely explained in Chapter 28 of David MacKay's Information Theory, Inference and Learning Algorithms, which is available in its entirety online here.
It might seem like a no-brainer, but it's an interesting epistemological question, and it's not easy to formally explain a rational basis for having a high degree confidence one way or another.
Recently, I was reading a statistician expressing his doubts regarding Occam's Razor, so I guess my point here is to provide an example that I believe clearly shows when Occam's Razor works well. Perhaps I misunderstood his point in the context in which it was made.


Blogger Just a peasant said...

$1000 that’s its an intentional re-enactment. The umbrellas. They’re a reverse anachronism. These days a person using an open umbrella on a sunny day would be very extraordinary even in a tropical country. Yet there are at least four in the modern photograph.

8:58 AM  
Blogger metamerist said...

All good points. In general, I think one component of what we call common sense amounts to unconsciously generating decent ball park estimates of probabilities and sensibly combining them.

10:54 PM  

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