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The Taming of Chance (Ideas in Context) (英語) ペーパーバック – 1990/11/1
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In this important study Ian Hacking continues the enquiry into the origins and development of certain characteristic modes of contemporary thought undertaken in such previous works as the best-selling The Emergence of Probability. Professor Hacking shows how by the late-nineteenth century it became possible to think of statistical patterns as explanatory in themselves, and to regard the world as not necessarily deterministic in character. In the same period the idea of human nature was displaced by a model of normal people with laws of dispersion. These two parallel transformations fed into each other, so that chance made the world seem less capricious: it was legitimated because it brought order out of chaos. Combining detailed scientific historical research with characteristic philosophic breadth and verve, The Taming of Chance brings out the relations between philosophy, the physical sciences, mathematics and the development of social institutions, and provides a unique and authoritative analysis of the 'probabilisation' of the western world.
"Hacking has an uncanny instinct for honing in upon some critical and novel feature of the past and showing how seemingly disparate facts fall into place once we grant him his central category. He does not pretend to make a complete survey of his topic. Again like an archaelogist, he respects the fragmentary record as one of the limitations of the trade. But what he digs up and deciphers never fails to engage and illuminate." Science
"My summary hardly does justice to the richness of Hacking's ideas or his many asides, like the striking comparison of Peirce and Friedrich Nietzsche....Hacking's meticulous scholarship, his comprehension of various areas of learning, and his commitment to linear exposition seem to me to exceed Foucault's." Bruce Kuklick, American Historical Review
"The Taming of Chance contains a wealth of information and is very pleasant reading. The various pursuits that impinge on the taming of chance and the development of statistical law are overwhelming. I recommend this book strongly to anyone interested in the development of statistical thought." Peter Guttorp, Journal of the American Statistical Association
Like many groundbreaking works, the book has the tendency to go off on tangents then meander back to the main narrative. Hacking was the first to tell the story of how chance, little understood or studied prior to the seventeenth century, came to be the dominant motif of science to where now many scientists hold we live in a genuinely stochastic universe.
If Hacking had been traveling down a well beaten path he probably would have organized the narrative more so that it does not leap from Prussian health statistics to the philosophic theories of Charles Pierce. But if you choose to open up a new line of thought, such as the evolution of ideas about stochasticity in modern times, you can be forgiven for not having a completely developed system.
Indeed, if you read Hacking's Introduction to Inductive Logic textbook you will see that he can write clear and simple sentences that are well organized.
I don't want to scare anybody off from The Taming of Chance. The style is lively, the subject fascinating and the author obviously has a masterful grasp of the material. But, it's a book to be read and then re-read several months later and then possibly re-read again to get all that the author wants to convey. Another option is to read the book as part of a course where someone who is similarly masterful on the history of modern concepts of chance can guide the reader.
One of the rare books that forever changes the scholarly world. Just not beach reading.
Hacking presents this change in world view as driven by a number of intersecting, complex, and unexpected phenomena. A major one was the expansion of the state and systematization of government, particularly associated with Napoleonic France. This leads to the generation of large demographic and social datasets that often reveal unexpected regularities, such as the persistent uneven male to female birth ratio. These datasets not only require new methods of analysis but led to the idea of the idea of statistical 'laws.' Hacking emphasizes that the collection and analysis of this kind of data was driven in part, and in turn fed, by a desire to achieve a higher level of social control. The emergence of social statistics combines with a number of other trends, such as the idea of organ pathology in medicine, the increasingly physiological orientation in biology, and a general emphasis on quanitification in the sciences, to generate a set of new attitudes towards data and ideas of causation. In several aspects, Hacking presents a series of apparently paradoxical or perhaps ironic events, such the desire for improved social control contributing to recognition of stochastic causation, which ultimately transform ideas of causation.
In many respects, this is a somewhat exploratory essay and Hacking's narrative is not laid out smoothly. This book presupposes some prior knowledge of 19th century science and philosophy. It is also dense in the sense that Hacking has compressed a great deal of analysis into a relatively short book. Nonetheless, its worth taking the effort to read it carefully because of Hacking's insightful analysis and knowledge of a broad range of 19th century intellectual history. His reconstruction of how we got from the Enlightenment to Peirce is really impressive.
This book is notable also for Hacking's interesting comments on a number of other features. He has an interesting discussion, for example, of the development of the concept of normality and its consequences. His brief comment about the relationship between Peirce's pragmatism and 19th century idealism is really illuminating.
You wouldn't know it from the strange headings, but each chapter deals with some particular field of inquiry where statistical methods and statistical thinking became prominent in the 19th century. That may sound interesting, but unfortunately the author just dumped a truckload of short biographies into every chapter. Person A studied this and that, worked here and there and was in regular contact with persons B and C. They in turn studied this and that and thought so and so about chance and statistics. It goes on like this for the entire book, detail after detail after detail. But these collected details aren't very interesting without a broader perspective. A good account of the history of ideas should include some generalizations too.
The author actually states on page 1 that his intention is to argue that two 19th century transformations are connected. The first transformation is the idea of a world which is regular without being causally determined. The second transformation is the emergence of a society governed by statistical information. So apparently his intention was to make a general argument, but he really fails miserably in putting it together. I just finished the book and I don't recall a single passage where he would have clearly argued the connection he claims on page 1. Whereas good books in the history of ideas contain a general analysis supported by selected examples, this one seems to contain only examples. There's no general argument so readers are forced to draw their own conclusions.
Maybe this book will have some appeal to people with biographical interests. But I like books that concentrate on broader developments which took place above and beyond any particular researcher. I was disappointed to find that this book did not offer anything on that front. So if you're looking to understand the growth of statistics as a general phenomenon, you'll have too look somewhere else.