Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Professor Chris Smeenk


Cosmology raises novel philosophical questions regarding the use of probabilities in inference. This work aims at identifying and assessing lines of arguments and problematic principles in probabilistic reasoning in cosmology.

The first, second, and third papers deal with the intersection of two distinct problems: accounting for selection effects, and representing ignorance or indifference in probabilistic inferences. These two problems meet in the cosmology literature when anthropic considerations are used to predict cosmological parameters by conditionalizing the distribution of, e.g., the cosmological constant on the number of observers it allows for. However, uniform probability distributions usually appealed to in such arguments are an inadequate representation of indifference, and lead to unfounded predictions. It has been argued that this inability to represent ignorance is a fundamental flaw of any inductive framework using additive measures. In the first paper, I examine how imprecise probabilities fare as an inductive framework and avoid such unwarranted inferences. In the second paper, I detail how this framework allows us to successfully avoid the conclusions of Doomsday arguments in a way no Bayesian approach that represents credal states by single credence functions could.

There are in the cosmology literature several kinds of arguments referring to self- locating uncertainty. In the multiverse framework, different "pocket-universes" may have different fundamental physical parameters. We don’t know if we are typical observers and if we can safely assume that the physical laws we draw from our observations hold elsewhere. The third paper examines the validity of the appeal to the "Sleeping Beauty problem" and assesses the nature and role of typicality assumptions often endorsed to handle such questions.

A more general issue for the use of probabilities in cosmology concerns the inadequacy of Bayesian and statistical model selection criteria in the absence of well-motivated measures for different cosmological models. The criteria for model selection commonly used tend to focus on optimizing the number of free parameters, but they can select physically implausible models. The fourth paper examines the possibility for Bayesian model selection to circumvent the lack of well-motivated priors.