Uncertainty and collective science

22 mai 2011

There are some things that you, the reader of this preface, know to be true, and others that you know to be false; yet, despite this extensive knowledge that you have, there remain many things whose truth or falsity is not known to you. We say that you are uncertain about them. You are uncertain, to varying degrees, about everything in the future; much of the past is hidden from you; and there is a lot of the present about which you do not have full information. Uncertainty is everywhere and you cannot escape from it. Truth and falsity are the subjects of logic, which has a long history going back at least to classical Greece. The object of this book is to tell you about work that has been done in the twentieth century about uncertainty.


Research is carried out by individuals and often the best research is the product of one person thinking deeply on their own. For example, relativity is essentially the result of Einstein’s thoughts. Yet, in a sense, the person is irrelevant, for most scientists feel that if he had not discovered relativity, then someone else would; that relativity is somehow ‘‘out there’’ waiting to be revealed, the revelation necessarily being made by human beings but not necessarily by that human being. This may not be true in the arts so that, for example, if Shakespeare had not written his plays it would not follow that someone else would have produced equivalent writing. Science is a collective activity, much more so than art, and although some scientists stand out from the rest, the character of science depends to only a very small extent on individuals and what little effect they have disappears over time as their work is absorbed into the work of others.

Dennis Lindley, Understanding uncertainty

Je ne sais pas pour vous, mais moi, quand je lis ça, j’ai envie de m’installer dans un fauteuil et lire toute la journée.


14 novembre 2010

Doug Zongker (University of Washington), presenting this paper.

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