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|Right or wrong, we do form expectations
Written by Tracy W
(4/12/2008 9:15 a.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Expectations,, penned by nan duval
The formation of expectations by scientists designing an experiment or by any individual human being wondering who is going to marry who, and the philosophy of statistics, are absolutely fascinating topics and I am happy to discuss on Ramble or via email. I do have trouble relating them to the novel _Emma_ so I won't discuss them here on this Group Read.
However, on the individual level, one way or another we form opinions about what is ordinary, what we expect. We may be biased by emotions, as Emma was in determinedly interpreting Mr Elton as being in love with Harriet, when in fact he was after Emma, but right or wrong we do form them. People commonly say things like "I was so surprised..." "it was extraordinary" "they really exceeded my expectations..." "you're not going to believe this". Furthermore, in real life, in certain situations reality requires us to eventually bring our expectations in line with data, whatever our biases. Children eventually learn that they cannot fly by jumping off a high place while flapping their arms. Emma eventually realises that Mr Elton is after her, not Harriet. Charity workers who expect the recipients of their charity to display extraordinary virtue are going to eventually discover that the reason things are called extraordinary is that they are not ordinary.
What was happening in the debate between Robbin and I is that I read the word "expectations" to refer to Emma's beliefs about what will happen in the ordinary way of things, while Robbin, if I understand it right, is reading the word as referring to Emma's beliefs about the entire probability space. Both Robbin and I share a belief that the majority of poor people in Regency England did not display extraordinary virtue.
I referred to statistics because the definition of "expected value" that I am used to is the sum of each possible outcome weighted by the probability of that outcome, which is a definition I learnt in my stats classes. Expected value is not a measure of the whole of the probability space, there are an infinity of probability spaces with the same expected values but very different standard deviations or ranges. Of course in day-to-day life we generally do not have the data to calculate the probability of all possible outcomes in the first place. With this definition in the back of my mind, I read the passage in dispute as that Emma's "no expectations" meant she did not believe that in the ordinary way of things poor people would display extraordinary virtue - like I do not believe that in the ordinary way of things I will win lotto. In other words I have no expectations of winning lotto.
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