Publication 3314

Martin J. L. (2015) Peirce and Spencer-Brown on Probability, Chance, and Lawfulness. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 22(1): 9–33. Fulltext at
Before the pivotal work The Laws of Form, which made him influential among systems theorists, George Spencer-Brown had achieved wide publicity for work on statistics that seemed to explain away accumulated findings for extra-sensory perception. Interestingly, just as in his later work, there was a remarkable convergence here with the earlier writings of C. S. Peirce. Both emphasized the difference between the randomness of generating processes and the empirical distributions used for the production of generalizations. Both understood this as challenging theories of scientific inference. Yet Spencer-Brown’s conclusion – that science and magic were both eaten away by the tides of time through the accumulation of patterns through randomness – was not a necessary one for Peirce, for whom these patterns might have ontological significance, as they wore grooves of habit into the universe. Grappling with the puzzles at the heart of these questions may change how we incorporate the notion of information into our theories.


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