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The Implications of the No-Free-Lunch Theorems for Meta-induction

The important recent book by Schurz (2019) appreciates that the no-free-lunch theorems (NFL) have major implications for the problem of (meta) induction.

Here I review the NFL theorems, emphasizing that they do not only concern the case where there is a uniform prior—they prove that there are “as many priors” (loosely speaking) for which any induction algorithm A out-generalizes some induction algorithm B as vice-versa. Importantly though, in addition to the NFL theorems, there are many free lunch theorems.

In particular, the NFL theorems can only be used to compare the expected performance of an induction algorithm A, considered in isolation, with the expected performance of an induction algorithm B, considered in isolation. There is a rich set of free lunches which instead concern the statistical correlations among the generalization errors of induction algorithms.

As I describe, the meta-induction algorithms that Schurz advocates as a “solution to Hume’s problem” are simply examples of such a free lunch based on correlations among the generalization errors of induction algorithms.

I end by pointing out that the prior that Schurz advocates, which is uniform over bit frequencies rather than bit patterns, is contradicted by thousands of experiments in statistical physics and by the great success of the maximum entropy procedure in inductive inference.

D. H. Wolpert, The Implications of the No-Free-Lunch Theorems for Meta-induction, Journal for General Philosophy of Science (2023) https://doi.org/10.1007/s10838-022-09609-2.

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