Dec 11, 2009
In Probability Space & Aumann Agreement, I wrote that probabilities can be thought of as weights that we assign to possible world-histories. But what are these weights supposed to mean? Here I’ll give a few interpretations that I've considered and held at one point or another, and their problems. (Note that in the previous post, I implicitly used the first interpretation in the following list, since that seems to be the mainstream view.)
As you can see, I think the main problem with all of these interpretations is arbitrariness. The unconditioned probability mass function is supposed to represent my beliefs before I have observed anything in the world, so it must represent a state of total ignorance. But there seems to be no way to specify such a function without introducing some information, which anyone could infer by looking at the function.
For example, suppose we use a universal distribution, where we believe that the world-history is the output of a universal Turing machine given a uniformly random input tape. But then the distribution contains the information of which UTM we used. Where did that information come from?
One could argue that we do have some information even before we observe anything, because we're products of evolution, which would have built some useful information into our genes. But to the extent that we can trust the prior specified by our genes, it must be that evolution approximates a Bayesian updating process, and our prior distribution approximates the posterior distribution of such a process. The "prior of evolution" still has to represent a state of total ignorance.
These considerations lead me to lean toward the last interpretation, which is the most tolerant of arbitrariness. This interpretation also fits well with the idea that expected utility maximization with Bayesian updating is just an approximation of UDT that works in most situations. I and others have already motivated UDT by considering situations where Bayesian updating doesn't work, but it seems to me that even if we set those aside, there is still reason to consider a UDT-like interpretation of probability where the weights on possible worlds represent how much we care about those worlds.