Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: June 2012

2 - Probability



The theory of random processes is a branch of probability theory and probability theory is a special case of the branch of mathematics known as measure theory. Probability theory and measure theory both concentrate on functions that assign real numbers to certain sets in an abstract space according to certain rules. These set functions can be viewed as measures of the size or weight of the sets. For example, the precise notion of area in two-dimensional Euclidean space and volume in three-dimensional space are both examples of measures on sets. Other measures on sets in three dimensions are mass and weight. Observe that from elementary calculus we can find volume by integrating a constant over the set. From physics we can find mass by integrating a mass density or summing point masses over a set. In both cases the set is a region of three-dimensional space. In a similar manner, probabilities will be computed by integrals of densities of probability or sums of “point masses” of probability.

Both probability theory and measure theory consider only nonnegative real-valued set functions. The value assigned by the function to a set is called the probability or the measure of the set, respectively. The basic difference between probability theory and measure theory is that the former considers only set functions that are normalized in the sense of assigning the value of 1 to the entire abstract space, corresponding to the intuition that the abstract space contains every possible outcome of an experiment and hence should happen with certainty or probability 1.