Probability Spaces as reality

In Dynamics in Action, Alicia Juarrero describes human action as a selection, a sample, from probability space. Everything we could do, and the likelihood of each, is a function of our situation, our habits, and our intentions. From this we select some action in each moment.

Karl Popper calls these possible actions propensities, and he asserts that they are as real as electromagnetic fields.

You can’t see fields, but they’re real. You can measure their effects. What if the probability space of human action is just as real as fields?

It’s harder to measure this probability space; we get one sample. (There’s more we can do, but that’s another topic.) But if we take this probability space of action as real, what possibilities would that open for our thinking?

Treat “what happened” as a collapse, an oversimplification, of a higher-dimensional reality of everything that could happen.

How is this useful? Well, we can see our work as shaping that probability space. When I create software for other people to use, I’m shaping the probability space of their actions. When I ask questions, I’m opening (or narrowing) possibilities in the set of their possible actions. When I push “like” on Facebook or twitter, I’m bumping the probability of a person repeating that sentiment. We can start imagining the effects of our choices on probability spaces, instead of on concrete behavior (in a way more concrete, more mathematically modelable, than “influence”).

I can ask my child, not “why did you do that?”, but “what other actions also made sense to you, that you didn’t happen to go with?” and “what factors in the situation made this particular action feel more cromulent than sometimes?” We are not only what we do; we are everything we could do.

It’s like this example from Wardley’s book: if you could only see a projection of the chess game — what piece moved, but not from where or two where, if you didn’t know the board existed — then you can’t have as much strategy. Maybe if we accept probability spaces as part of reality, we can work toward illuminating them and influencing them, instead of projecting reality down into only what happened.

Look for this in yourself and others. Tell me if you find anything interesting!