Probability: True but Not Real

My claim here, which many no doubt will contest, is that probability has no objective reality. First I distinguish between the terms true and real, as follows.

True (Latin vērus, -a, -um): right, just, according to truth; opposite of false.

Real (late Latin reālis, ‘actual’): appertaining to rēs, things, as opposed to ideas and imaginations; in actual existence as a thing. Thus Francisco Suárez: Tertia opinio affirmat essentiam et existentiam creaturae […] non distingui realiter, aut ex natura rei tanquam duo extrema realia, sed distingui tantum ratione; ‘the third view asserts that a creature’s essence and existence are not really different, as if they were two real opposites by the nature of things (rēs), but that they are only rationally (or conceptually) different.’

Probability is notionally true – that is, correct and faithful to the facts in aggregate – but not in actual existence as a thing in the world. No single event actually has probability bearing upon it, except notionally, or epistemologically: in any given case, there are only real, actual causes and things that could have been causes but are not causes in fact. According to Wikipedia,

Some (including Albert Einstein) argue that our inability to predict any more than probabilities is simply due to ignorance. The idea is that, beyond the conditions and laws we can observe or deduce, there are also hidden factors or ‘hidden variables’ that determine absolutely in which order photons reach the detector screen. They argue that the course of the universe is absolutely determined, but that humans are screened from knowledge of the determinative factors. So, they say, it only appears that things proceed in a merely probabilistically determinative way. In actuality, they proceed in an absolutely deterministic way. These matters continue to be subject to some dispute.

Outside of what Heisenberg discussed, I think it’s for lack of knowledge about the circumstances that we use the construct of probability, transferring statistical reality to individuated prediction. It is claimed, of course, that the uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics is concerned not with human ability but with the very wave nature of quantum particles; to which I say that ideas deduced from empirical observation (which is inductive) have not the absolute certainty of deduction that has no empirical premises. That any probability itself holds true, then, even when grounded upon true data and calculation, is no more than a probability. So the construct of probability, while useful, is not a thing in certain actual existence, nor is it the name of any actual cause, since by nature it considers potential causes only.

Therefore I say that probability, though often true as well as helpful, is not objectively real. Similarly the body of Christ can be said to be truly (not as an empty sign) present in the Lord’s Supper, but affirmation of its real presence must be specified against the claims of Trent: its real presence is not locally and substantially in the bread and wine, but relationally to him who takes it with faith. So while the presence of Christ’s body is unequivocally true, its reality takes some qualification. To return, then, to probability: To God, there is no probability, only reality; what is real is no longer probable only, uncertain as to its being, but fixed and sure, and actually in existence.


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