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Probabilistic Arguments in Mathematics

Berry, DM; (2015) Probabilistic Arguments in Mathematics. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis addresses a question that emerges naturally from some observations about contemporary mathematical practice. Firstly, mathematicians always demand proof for the acceptance of new results. Secondly, the ability of mathematicians to tell if a discourse gives expression to a proof is less than perfect, and the computers they use are subject to a variety of hardware and software failures. So false results are sometimes accepted, despite insistence on proof. Thirdly, over the past few decades, researchers have also developed a variety of methods that are probabilistic in nature. Even if carried out perfectly, these procedures only yield a conclusion that is very likely to be true. In some cases, these chances of error are precisely specifiable and can be made as small as desired. The likelihood of an error arising from the inherently uncertain nature of these probabilistic algorithms can therefore be made vanishingly small in comparison to the chances of an error arising when implementing an equivalent deductive algorithm. Moreover, the structure of probabilistic algorithms tends to minimise these Implementation Errors too. So overall, probabilistic methods are sometimes more reliable than deductive ones. This invites the question: ‘Are mathematicians rational in continuing to reject these probabilistic methods as a means of establishing mathematical claims?’

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Probabilistic Arguments in Mathematics
Event: University College London
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Keywords: philosophy, Aristotle, Mathematics, Virtue Ethics, Epistemology, Probability, Probabilistic Algorithms
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1473683
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