# Understanding Bayes’ Theorem

Disclaimer: I am writing this because I finally understood how Bayes’ Theorem works. Therefore, this is much more a reference note to myself than anything else, but I am publishing the information here because I think it might be useful for other people. I am no math expert (as can be deduced from the fact that I only understood the theorem now, after having seen it many times), so please let me know if you find any mistakes in my explanation.

Bayes’ Theorem states that

where P(B|A) is the probability of event B occurring, given event A occurred; P(A|B) is the probability of event A occurring, given event B occurred; P(B) is the probability of only event B occurring; and P(A) is the probability of only event A occurring.

I have seen, and even used, this formula a number of times in my life, but I had never really understood what it was saying. But before I explain it, I will introduce a few basic concepts.

Relative frequency

Given an experiment with two, non-mutually exclusive possible outcomes, A and B, and n repetitions of that experiment, and let n1 be the number of occurrences of event A alone, n2 the number of occurrences of event B alone and n3 the number of occurrences of events A and B simultaneosly, the relative frequency of the occurrence of event A, or probability P(A) of event A, is given by

where nA is the number of times event A occurred. Likewise, the relative frequency of the occurrence of event B, or probability P(B) of event B, is given by

where nB is the number of times event B occurred. Finally, the relative frequency of the occurrence of both events, or probability P(AB) of events A and B, is given by

Conditional probability

The relative frequency of event A occurring, given event B occurred, is given by

Notice that in the denominator, we account for the occurrences of event B alone and of event B alongside with event A. The lower the value of nB (recall nB is the relative frequency of event B occurring alone), the higher the ratio of the equation above will be (yelding 1 when nB is zero, i.e., event B occurs only when event A occurs). If B occurs more often alongside with A than alone, then the probability of A occurring when B occurs will be higher.

Likewise,

nA|B and nB|A may also be denoted P(A|B) and P(B|A), respectively. P(A|B) is read as “the probability of event A, given B”.

Given the above equations, we observe that

or

Now we’re ready to understand Bayes’ Theorem

Bayes’ Theorem

As mentioned in the beggining of this post, Bayes’ Theorem states that:

Now, here’s how you should interpret it. A better way to visualize it is to write it as

given the last equation from the previous section. The explanation is similar to the one given for the equation for nA|B in the previous section. If P(A) is close to P(AB) (recall P(A) is the probability of event A alone or alongside with event B), that means most occurrences of event A happen when event B also occurs. From that, we can intuitively conclude that event B will very likely occur given event A occured, since the occurrence of event A is strongly related to the occurrence of both A and B.

The explanation above can be expressed in terms of very informal (but I believe reasonable) logical statements:

1. A and B may occur
2. A tends to occur only when B also occurs
3. A occurred
4. It’s likely B will also occur

Note: this explanation is strongly based on the online tutorials for Digital Image Processing, by Gonzales & Woods. I used the same notation and terms. However, my objective here was to add the clarifying (at least for me!) explanations.