Friday, March 22, 2013

Coincidophobia

3.14 = pie
Recently, it has come to my attention that if the first three values of pi are written out and reversed, it appears to be "pie".

My reaction amounted to "huh, neat."

Then, because I'm apparently always arguing with a theist in my mind, I immediately could hear a creationist arguing that this was proof of God. It's not unprecedented - do a search for mathematical proofs for God, and you'll find a plethora of bizarre arguments that typically suffer from the same cognitive and reasoning errors typical apologetics do.


Cooking the Books

One of the reasons that I don't find this terribly compelling is due to "cooking the books" to make it appear legitimate.

Keep in mind that we're basically powerful pattern-recognition engines with arms and legs. We'll see something like this and make a mental connection, and even go so far as to infer a pattern within reality itself - that a naturally occurring numeric value appears to have an almost anthropogenic quality - but it'd have to be on the level of universe-creating itself.

The key is to realize that it's all in our heads.

A lot of phenomenon like this are actually very contrived. They're often a sequence of modifications and equivocations. If you take the value of Pi, and make enough modifications to it, you could translate it into a poem about a lonely invisible potato... but that doesn't mean that Pi actually contains a poem about a lonely invisible potato.

Let's look at this "3.14 = PIE" more closely.
  • Note that we chose the version of "4" with a closed top, instead of an open top. We've already modified it by choosing a symbol that looks more like a "P"
  • Keep in mind that our numeric symbols are very similar in basic structure to our alphabetical symbols. It's going to be likely that some, with enough squinting of the eyes, appear to be letters. So we start off with a letter-like sequence of symbols from the get-go. Think of every time someone punches in "80085" on his or her calculator.
  • Why aren't we equating "PI" to the digits instead of "PIE"? At this point, we've equivocated from "PI" to "PIE" based on a homophone - they sound similar. However, if we only took the first two digits "3.1", that would no longer work. He had to add in another letter, that is essentially silent, to make it match.

Why are you afraid of Coincidence?

"What, you think this is just coincidence?" - is an objection I hear a lot, as though they're presupposing that coincidences can't happen.

Something my late CS professor said stuck with me:
There are so many potential coincidences that can happen on any particular day, that it becomes very likely that some will happen.
The problem is that we're unaware of what coincides might happen until they do... so we're not aware of the full statistics. It becomes a cognitive error to then assess that coincidences that occur, must have been for a reason.

For instance, we're not thinking about the sheer number of mathematical and physical constants... the more there are, the more likely it is that one of them may have an interesting quirk of naming, such as this - but we are usually only aware of those that do have bizarre aspects, not all the ones that don't.

We've known about the phenomenon of the concept of pi for a long time, but I'm not familiar with the history of assigning the Greek letter Pi to the value. It's possible that some guy saw a reflection of the first bunch of digits on the blackboard behind him and saw "pie", and was familiar with the Greek letters (which would be common for math teachers), and thus started that convention.

I don't know - but we don't even have to go down that road.

It's quite possible is it just a coincidence. What's wrong with that? At this point, I might get an argument that "it's so unlikely to have just been a coincidence."

How do you figure? What are you calculations? It's a common reasoning error used on other arguments as well, where it's more of an uninformed intuitive assessment than something established through evidence.

The concept of a God is in violation of most fundamental understandings of reality. That makes those God definitions, by definition, assessed to be impossible under those rules. That makes the god explanation for this phenomenon less likely than coincidence, because coincidences are common. Logical absolutes-violating invisible sky wizards are not common.

Null Hypothesis

This isn't a bad application of the null hypothesis.

The null hypothesis, in this case, would be the hypothesis that there's no relationship between "3.14" and "PIE".. something that cannot be proved (because you can't prove a negative), but it can be falsified.

How would they falsify it? Demonstrate that the cause comes from something else, such as a god.

Until then, there's no rational reason to accept that it's not a coincidence - though, that's not to say that it's rational to accept that it is a coincidence.

The default state for any claim is non-acceptance until sufficient evidence is supplied, after all.


Overall, it's neat it worked out like that, but I don't find such things make for compelling cases for cloaked sky mages.


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