My last few blog posts have reviewed Cheryl Misak’s intellectual autobiography of Frank Ramsey. Because of my own scholarly interests in Bayesian methods, my review has been devoted mostly to Ramsey’s contributions to probability theory. I now want to conclude my review with a confession and a conjecture. My confession is as follows: When I first read Misak’s beautiful biography, something in me was sadly disappointed in two aspects of Ramsey’s short life: his six-month sojourn in Vienna, and the open nature of his marriage. Let me explain.
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, i.e. knowing that Ramsey would have such a short time to live, I was personally upset by Ramsey’s decision to squander no less than six months (!) of his short life to undergo psychoanalysis in Vienna. (For the record, I hereby disclose my utter contempt for and disdain of psychoanalysis. I agree 100% with the great Karl Popper that psychoanalysis is unfalsifiable bullshit.) Furthermore, I was also literally disheartened by the open nature of Ramsey’s marriage to Lettice Baker because of my own normative or idealized view of romantic love (and my conflation of romantic love with marriage). Like a good Catholic, I believe marriage is a holy sacrament, or put in more secular terms, love should not be a matter of degree; true love requires sacrifice in order to signify what game theorists refer to as “credible commitment”.
But now, having finished reading Misak’s biography, I want to make a conjecture and perhaps even (like a good Bayesian!) update my priors regarding these two aspects of Ramsey’s life. Although true love might be all or nothing, what if love in the real world is a matter of degree? (Or as an economist might put it, What is the “optimal” level of love?) Also, what if far from being a fruitless waste of time, what if it was Ramsey’s extended exposure to psychoanalysis during his six-month sojourn in Vienna that somehow inspired him to develop his subjective approach to probability? After all, beliefs and desires–the raw materials, so to speak, of psychoanalysis–all play a critical role in Ramsey’s subjective theory of probability. If so, his sojourn in Vienna was not a waste of time; it was a necessary precondition of his contributions to the world of probability theory!
Thank you, Cheryl Misak, for sharing your Frank Ramsey with us …