When somebody, human or not, performs an observation, this action itself implies that there be an actor: the observer. Moreover, such observation is carried out from the particular vantage point of the observer, i.e. the observer’s unique spacetime location. The standpoint of the viewer and indeed her mere existence result in observational biases which may be relevant in the appraisal of the gained data. These effects are called observation selection effects (OSE). In his Anthropic Bias: Observation Selection Effects in Science and Philosophy, Nick Bostrom attempts to analyze these effects both in scientific contexts as well as in philosophical debates and to construct a theory of these selection effects. His aim is to first develop a methodology of how to deal with OSE and second, to apply the theory to scientific and philosophical problems where such effects are pertinent. Among others, observation selection biases have applications to the fine-tuning problem in modern cosmology, the issue of time’s arrow in thermodynamics, the debate on the likelihood of the evolution of intelligent life on Earth in evolutionary biology, and why you tend to end up in the slowest lane when driving home. Bostrom illustrates beautifully why, how, and to what extent OSE have implications for all these and many more problems. In his ingenious analysis of extant arguments pertaining to these issues or to the infamous Doomsday argument, he operates within a strictly Bayesian framework of belief revision.
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