Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Acid Test of Indifference

In recent posts, I've looked at the interpretation of the Shannon entropy, and the justification for the maximum entropy principle in inference under uncertainty. In the latter case, we looked at how mathematical investigation of the entropy function can help with establishing prior probability distributions from first principles. 

There are some prior distributions, however, that we know automatically, without having to give the slightest thought to entropy. If the maximum entropy principle is really going to work, the first thing it has got to be able to do is to reproduce those distributions that we can deduce already, using other methods. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Monkeys and Multiplicity

Monkeys love to make a mess. Monkeys like to throw stones. Give a monkey a bucket of small pebbles, and before too long, those pebbles will be scattered indiscriminately in all directions. These are true facts about monkeys, facts we can exploit for the construction of a random number generator.

Set up a room full of empty buckets. Add one bucket full of pebbles and one mischievous monkey. Once the pebbles have been scattered, the number of little stones in each bucket is a random variable. We're going to use this random number generator for an unusual purpose, though. In fact, we could call it a 'calculus of probability,' because we're going to use this exotic apparatus for figuring out probability distributions from first principles1.