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A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities [Paperback]

Marquis de Laplace
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 18 1996 Dover Books on Mathematics

A classic of science, this famous essay by "the Newton of France" introduces lay readers to the concepts and uses of probability theory. It is of especial interest today as an application of mathematical techniques to problems in social and biological sciences.
Generally recognized as the founder of the modern phase of probability theory, Laplace here applies the principles and general results of his theory "to the most important questions of life, which are, in effect, for the most part, problems in probability." Thus, without the use of higher mathematics, he demonstrates the application of probability to games of chance, physics, reliability. of witnesses, astronomy, insurance, democratic government and many other areas.
General readers will find it an exhilarating experience to follow Laplace's nontechnical application of mathematical techniques to the appraisal, solution and/or prediction of the outcome of many types of problems. Skilled mathematicians, too, will enjoy and benefit from seeing how one of the immortals of science expressed so many complex ideas in such simple terms.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and different book Sept. 6 2002
This nontechnical writing is quite different from others. There are mathematical formulas, but they are expressed in words, without symbols. The interesting is that Laplace motivates the use of probability theory with exemples of all branches of human knowledge. More than this, he argue that the entire system of human knowledge is conected with that theory, because most important problems of human life are problems in probability. This book is an opportunity to read an original and historical "introduction" to Laplace's work on probability theory.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book, but not for everyone April 1 2000
By A Customer
I recommend this book to people with a science background that want a little light reading. This will probably not be very appealing to the layman.
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Probability theory is nothing but common sense reduced to calculation Aug. 13 2009
By Peter Norvig - Published on Amazon.com
This is an awesome book. It is hard to believe Laplace wrote this in 1816; it seems so modern. If you've ever worked on problems like "take two urns, A and B, the first containing four
white and two black balls ..." you'll be interested to know these problems all go back to this book. Laplace said "Probability theory is nothing but common sense reduced to calculation", and he shows it here. I like the discussion of how many judges should be assigned to a case, and what proportion of them should be required to vote guilty for a guilty verdict to be returned. Laplace shows how to minimize expected loss on this problem (although he, somewhat unrealistically, assumes that each judge's opinion is independent of the others).
By Steven H. Propp - Published on Amazon.com
Pierre-Simon, marquis de Laplace (1749-1827) was a French mathematician and astronomer whose work was pivotal to the development of mathematical astronomy and statistics. He wrote in the Introduction to this 1812 book, “This philosophical essay is the development of a lecture on probabilities which I delivered in 1795 to the normal schools whither I had been called… as professor of mathematics with Lagrange… I present here without the aid of analysis the principles and general results of this theory, applying them to the most important questions of life, which are indeed for the most part only problems of probability… nearly all our knowledge is problematical; and… even in the mathematical sciences themselves … are based on probabilities; so that the entire system of human knowledge is connected with the theory set forth in this essay… in considering, even in the eternal principles of reason, justice, and humanity, only the favorable changes which are constantly attached to them, there is a great advantage in following these principles and serious inconvenience in departing from them.” (Pg. 1-2)

He notes, “the transcendent results of calculus are, like all the abstractions of the understanding, general signs whose true meaning may be ascertained only by repassing by metaphysical analysis to the elementary ideas which have led to them; this often presents great difficulties, for the human mind tries still less to transport itself into the future than to retire within itself. The comparison of infinitely small differences with finite differences is able similarly to shed great light upon the metaphysics of infinitesimal calculus.” (Pg. 44)

He observes, “Amid the variable and unknown causes which we comprehend under the name ‘chance,’ and which render uncertain and irregular the march of events, we see appearing, in the measure that they multiply, a striking regularity which seems to hold to a design and which has been considered as a proof of Providence. But in reflecting upon this we soon recognize that this regularity is only the development of the respective possibilities of simple events which ought to present themselves more often when they are probable.” (Pg. 60)

Concerning jury trials, he points out, “In a jury of twelve members, if the plurality demanded for the condemnation is eight of twelve votes, the probability of the error to be feared is … a little more than one eighth, it is almost 1/22nd if this plurality consists of nine votes. In the case of unanimity the probability of the error to be feared is … more than a thousand times less than in our juries. This supposes that the unanimity results only from proofs favorable or contrary to the accused… the probability of the decision is too feeble in our juries, and I think that in order to give a sufficient guarantee to innocence, one ought to demand at least a plurality of nine votes in twelve.” (Pg. 139)

He comments, “[Leibnitz] imagined, since God can be represented by unity and nothing by zero, that the Supreme Being had drawn from nothing all beings, as unity with zero expresses all the numbers in this system of arithmetic. This idea was so pleasing to Leibnitz that he communicated it to the Jesuit Grimaldi… in the hope that this emblem of creation would convert to Christianity the emperor there who particularly loved the sciences. I report this incident only to show to what extent the prejudices of infancy can mislead the greatest men.” (Pg. 169)

He suggests, “Man, made for the temperature which he enjoys, and for the element which he breathes, would not be able, according to all appearance, to live upon the other planets. But ought there not to be an infinity of organization relative to the various constitutions of the globes of this universe? If the single difference of the elements and of the climates make so much variety in terrestrial productions, how much greater the difference ought to be among those of the various planets and of their satellites! The most active imagination can form no idea of it; but their existence is very probable.” (Pg. 181)

This book will be of interest not just to students of the history of science, but to students of probability and related areas.
5.0 out of 5 stars Always read The Classics Oct. 9 2013
By Frank Grange - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Popularly misidentified as a frequentist, Laplace was really the original "Bayesian" as we use the term today. Unlike Bayes, over-credited by anglophiles or francophobes, Laplace really defined the useful methods that created modern Bayesian inference and analysis. (Re)reading Laplace is worthwhile for any practicing or academic toiler in probability, statistics, modeling and simulation.

While I haven't French, the translation flows well, so I assume the translator and editor were knowledgeable and careful.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite satisfied but it is ok for the price Dec 22 2013
By julio a nunez pagan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The copy of pages of a book make it look like odd. But as a rescue effort for a test is ok. I rather choice the french original next time.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Place to start July 22 2013
By Ivars Fabriciuss - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This wok is so lucid that has to be read carefully. Information based Universe model developers will find all promts here.
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