On the computability and complexity of bayesian reasoning
If we consider the claim made by some cognitive scientists that the mind performs Bayesian reasoning, and if we simultaneously accept the Physical Church-Turing thesis and thus believe that the computational power of the mind is no more than that of a Turing machine, then what limitations are there to the reasoning abilities of the mind? I give an overview of joint work with Nathanael Ackerman (Harvard, Mathematics) and Cameron Freer (MIT, CSAIL) that bears on the computability and complexity of Bayesian reasoning. In particular, we prove that conditional probability is in general not computable in the presence of continuous random variables. However, in light of additional structure in the prior distribution, such as the presence of certain types of noise, or of exchangeability, conditioning is possible. These results cover most of statistical practice. At the workshop on Logic and Computational Complexity, we presented results on the computational complexity of conditioning, embedding sharp-P-complete problems in the task of computing conditional probabilities for diffuse continuous random variables. This work complements older work. For example, under cryptographic assumptions, the computational complexity of producing samples and computing probabilities was separated by Ben-David, Chor, Goldreich and Luby. In recent work, we also make use of cryptographic assumptions to show that different representations of exchangeable sequences may have vastly different complexity. However, when faced with an adversary that is computational bounded, these different representations have the same complexity, highlighting the fact that knowledge representation and approximation play a fundamental role in the possibility and plausibility of Bayesian reasoning.