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Ian Hacking

(1936-)
Ian Hacking is a philosopher and historian of science who has documented the development ofprobabilit from the seventeenth centur to the late nineteenth in his ma!or works" #he $mergence of %robabilit (19&')" and #he #aming of (hance (199))* Hacking identifies probabilit with the mathematics of randomness and chance" which did not appear until the +enaissance* ,rom the beginning" he sa s" probabilit was dual* It has anepistemic element having to do with degrees of belief" and an ontological aspect" having to do with the performance of randomi-ing devices like dice and coins in the long run of large numbers of trials* #he first is epistemic or a priori probabilit " the latter is the ontological and a posteriori fre.uenc statistics that we get from e/periments* %robabilities are theories used to establish degrees of belief* 0tatistics are e/periments that ma validate some theories* In #he #aming of (hance" Hacking argues for a nineteenth-centur 1erosion of determinism"1 making room for genuine chance* (2ther historians" e*g*" 0tephen 3rush" made similar claims at about the same time*) #he most decisive conceptual event of twentieth centur ph sics has been the discover that the world is not deterministic* (ausalit " long the bastion of metaph sics" was toppled" or at least tilted4 the past does not determine e/actl what happens ne/t* #his event was preceded b a more gradual transformation* 5uring the nineteenth centur it became possible to see that the world might be regular and et not sub!ect to universal laws of nature* 6 space was cleared for chance* #his erosion of determinism made little immediate difference to an one* ,ew were aware of it* 0omething else was pervasive and ever bod came to know about it4 the enumeration of people and their habits* 0ociet became statistical* 6 new t pe of law came into being" analogous to the laws of nature" but pertaining to people* #hese new laws were e/pressed in terms of probabilit * #he carried with them the connotations of normalc and of deviations from the norm* #he cardinal concept of the ps cholog of the $nlightenment had been" simpl " human nature* 3 the end of the nineteenth centur " it was being replaced b something different4 normal people* I argue that these two transformations are connected* 7ost of the events to be described took place in the social arena" not that of the natural sciences" but the conse.uences were momentous for both* #hroughout the 6ge of +eason" chance had been called the superstition of the vulgar* (hance" superstition" vulgarit " unreason were of one piece* #he rational man" averting his e es from such things" could cover chaos with a veil of ine/orable laws* #he world" it was said" might often look hapha-ard" but onl because we do not know the inevitable workings of its inner springs* 6s for probabilities 8 whose mathematics was called the doctrine of chances 8 the were merel the defective but necessar tools of people who know too little* #here were plent of sceptics about determinism in those da s4 those who needed room for freedom of the will" or those who insisted on the individual character of determinism were the two-horns of a organic and living processes* 9one of these thought for a moment that dilemma in laws of chance would provide an alternative to strictl causal laws* :et b thestandard arguments 19)) that was a real possibilit " urged as fact b an adventurous few* #he against free will stage was set for ultimateindeterminism* (#he #aming of (hance" (ambridge" 199)" pp*1-;) 7ost of the mathematicians (6braham de 7oivre" %ierre-0imon <aplace" (arl ,riedrich =auss" and others) who developed the calculus of probabilities" and most nineteenth-centur ph sical scientists believed that randomness in chance events" including the atomic and molecular randomness that

ouill?e" who inspired %eirce and his colleague @illiam Aames* 3ut the kind of indeterminism we have as a result of .or e/ample" 6rthur 0tanle $ddington" who was intimatel familiar with the statistical mechanical basis of the second law of thermod namics" maintained that the determinism of classical ph sics" which presumabl included chance and probabilit " was gone forever* In #he 9ature of the %h sical @orld (19.uantum theor that ph sics is no longer pledged to a scheme of deterministic law"1 %rominent dissenters from .or %eirce and Hegel" ideas are living things with meanings that grow over time* %eirce was a 1realist1 in that he believed these ideas have a metaph sicall real e/istence* %eirce argued that the laws of nature themselves changed with time" at least that laws 1emerge1 at different epochs and that the laws of biolog are not reducible to the laws of chemistr and ph sics" and idea %eirce likel got from $mile 3outrou/* Hacking ends #he #aming of (hance with a paean to %eirce*** %eirce denied determinism* He also doubted that the world is a determinate given* He laboured in a communit seeking to establish the true values of 3abbage>s constants of natureD he said there aren>t an " over and above those numbers upon which we increasingl settle* He e/plained inductive learning and reasoning in terms of merel statistical stabilit * 6t the level of techni.succeeded in e/plaining irreversibilit and the second law of thermod namics" ma be the result of some unknown underl ing universal laws of nature" such as the 1law of large numbers1 and the 1normal distribution*1 <aplace e/plained the appearance of chance as the result of human ignorance* He said" 1#he word >chance"> then e/presses onl our ignorance of the causes of the phenomena that we observe to occur and to succeed one another in no apparent order*1 .uantum randomness* 7an philosophers" and a few scientists" still hold to this possibilit of a return to strictdeterminism and causalit * #he e/ample of (* 0* %eirce Hacking uses (harles 0anders %eirce as his model of a nineteenth-centur thinker who embraced ontological chance (%eirce called it tychism)* @hile %eirce is an e/cellent choice" he is not at all t pical* 6nd %eirce had his doubts about chance" for e/ample he critici-ed chance>s role in the 5arwinist version of evolution* %eirce actuall modeled his thinking on the work of (harles 5arwin" but he was not satisfied with 5arwin>s fortuitous variation and natural selection* He falsel associated it with the 0ocial 5arwinist thinking of his time and called it a 1greed philosoph *1 %eirce also re!ected the deterministic evolution scheme of Herbert 0pencer" and proposed his own grand scheme for the evolution of ever thing including the laws of 9atureC He called this third possibilit s nechism" a coined term for continuit " in clear contrast to the merel random events of his t chism* @ith his t pical triad of chance" determinism" and continuit " %ierce>s evolutionist thinking resembles that of Hegel* It was the basis for the evolutionar growth of variet " of irregular departures from an otherwise mechanical universe" including life and %eirce>s own original thoughts* .B)" $ddington dramaticall announced 1It is a conse.rench philosophers (harles +enouvier and 6lfred .uantum theor such as 7a/ %lanck" 6lbert $instein" <ouis de 3roglie" $rwin 0chodinger" and 5avid 3ohm" hoped that an underl ing deterministic e/planation would be found some da for .uence of the advent of the .uite different from t pical nineteenth centuries of probabilit and chance* .uestions and to elicit more informative answers* He provided .or most of them" the growing indeterminism described b Hacking was traceable to human ignorance of the detailed motion of atomic particles* #o be sure" there were some nineteenth-centur vociferous proponents of 1absolute1 chance" such as (harles 0anders %eirce and the .uantum mechanical indeterminac is .ue" he made the first selfconscious use of randomi-ation in the design of e/periments4 that is" he used the law-like character of artificial chances in order to pose sharper .

uantum scientists like 7a/ %lanck" 6lbert $instein" and especiall $rwin 0chrGdinger" who endorsed the 19th-centur view of probabilit and statistical mechanics developed b <udwig 3olt-mann" should b 1936 be more determinist than Hacking feels that %eirce and other thinkers of the late 19th-centur had become* .1E-') .one of the standard rationalia for statistical inference 8 one that" named after other and later workers" is still with us* He had an ob!ective" fre.uote from Fant on free will (from an essa "Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Intent.)" which shows Fant to believe that statistics ma appear to be random but are clearl governed b a universal law* @hatsoever difference there ma be in our notions of the freedom of willmetaph sicall considered" it is evident that the manifestations of this will" vi-* human actions" are as much under the control of universal laws of nature as an other ph sical phenomena* It is the province of Histor to narrate these manifestationsD and" let their causes be ever so secret" we know that Histor " simpl b taking its station at a distance and contemplating the agenc of the human will upon a large scale" aims at unfolding to our view a regular stream of tendenc in the great succession of events 8 so that the ver same course of incidents which" taken separatel and individuall " would have seemed perple/ed" incoherent" and lawless" et viewed in their connection and as the actions of the human species and not of independent beings" never fail to discover a stead and continuous" though slow" development of certain great predispositions in our nature* #hus" for instance" deaths" births" and marriages" considering how much the are separatel dependent on the freedom of the human will" should seem to be sub!ect to no law according to which an calculation could be made beforehand of their amount4 and et the earl registers of these events in great countries prove that the go on with as much conformit to the laws of nature as the oscillations of the weather*> (ibid" p*1') Hacking also looks briefl at twentieth-centur arguments for freedom and tries to understand wh the differ from a centur earlier* He e/plains wh probabilit seemed to create space for freedom in 1936" despite the fact that it had seemed to rule it out in 1B36* 3ut this hardl e/plains wh leading .))-1) I end with %eirce because he believed in absolute chance" but that is not m focus* His denial of the doctrine of necessit was incidental to a life permeated b statistics and probabilities* 0omebod had to make a first leap to indeterminism* 7a be it was %eirce" perhaps a predecessor* It does not matter* He >re!oiced to find> himself in the compan of others" including +enouvier* He did argue against the doctrine of necessit " but it was not an argument that convinced him that chance is an irreducible clement of realit * He opened his e es" and chance poured in 8 from a world which" in all its small details" he was seeing in a probabilistic wa * In this respect" although he was ver much a nineteenth-centur man" he was alread living in a twentieth-centur environment* His working da s of e/perimental routine" and his vo ages of the mind" took place in a new kind of world that his centur had been manufacturing4 a world made of probabilities* %eirce is the strongest possible indicator that certain things which could not be e/pressed at the end of the eighteenth centur were said at the end of the nineteenth* I do not use him here because he is the happ upshot of preceding chapters" the point at which groping events finall led to the truth as we now see it* 9ot at all4 some of what he wrote strikes me as false and much of it is obscure* I use him instead to e/emplif a new field of possibilities" the one that we still inhabit* (hance poured in at ever avenue of sense because he was living in a new probabilistic world* 2ne can>t grasp that !ust b reading him on the romantic sub!ect of absolute chance* :ou have to glimpse the almost innumerable wa s in which his world had become constructed out of probabilities" !ust like ours* (ibid" pp*.uentist approach to probabilit " but pioneered a measure of the sub!ective weight of evidence (the log odds)* In epistemolog and metaph sics" his pragmatic conception of realit made truth a matter of what we find out in the long run* 3ut above all" he conceived of a universe that is irreducibl stochastic* (ibid" pp*.ree @ill Hacking ends his opening argument with a famous .

#he second wave of .all itself* 3 1936 the described onl the probabilities of the future course of an individual particle* 6t most the collective behaviour of an enormous collection of entities or onlyadequately determined events was determined* Hence individuals within the ensemble might act freel * In the 1B3)s" in contrast" human behaviour was lumped under new probabilistic laws that were constantl compared to the law of gravit * %h sics was still ine/orable* <aws of societ were like laws of ph sics and hence could not be violated* #he 193)s pulled ph sics" and hence all law" awa from determinism* #he 1B3)s pulled laws of societ towards ph sics" and hence towards determinism* #hat>s wh probabilit seemed to create space for freedom in 1936" and seemed to rule it out in 1B36* (ibid" p*116) .uantum ph sics* 0ome ph sicists and man kibit-ers inferred that ph sics proves the realit of human freedom* $ven toda some sa this solves the problem of free will* #he contrast between the sensibilit of the 1B3)s and the 193)s seems parado/ical* In the 193)s" the conviction that the laws of nature are probabilistic was thought to make the world safe for freedom* #he incoherence went in the opposite direction in the 1B3)s4 if there were statistical laws of crime and suicide" then criminals could not help themselves* In 193)" probabilit made room for free willD in 1B3)" it precluded it* #his contrast onl seems parado/ical* In the 193)s the laws of ph sics" which had long been the model of impersonal and irrevocable necessit " were shorn of their magisterial power* #he had once ordained the slightest motion of the lightest atom and hence the fall of ever sparrow" perhaps the .uantum mechanics* which commenced in 19.6" established that the fundamental laws of microph sics are irreducibl probabilistic* the quantum debates to In 1936 Aohn von 9eumann proved the first >no hidden variables> the history of free will theorem4 no necessitarian" purel deterministic laws can underlie .