Page 2 of this book says

The joint probability distribution is central to probabilistic inference, because once we know the joint distribution we can answer every possible probabilistic question that can be asked about these variables. We can calculate conditional or joint probabilities over any subset of the variables, given their joint distribution. This is accomplished by operating on the probabilities for the relevant rows in the table.

What does central mean here?

  • $\begingroup$ It seems to be the standard meaning of "central" that you would find in any dictionary. Is there a particular concern that you have which makes you think that the common definition of "central" appearing in a dictionary is not the usage intended here? $\endgroup$ – Sycorax Nov 6 '19 at 1:41
  • $\begingroup$ Nothing to do with a “central” moment or being in the center of a group. Perhaps “critical” would have been a better word (not really a synonym), but even that has a technical meaning in statistics! $\endgroup$ – Dave Nov 6 '19 at 2:37

As Reinstate Monica (Sycorax) suggests in comments, it's one of the standard meanings of the word central

main or important part of something

-- https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/central

of primary importance

-- https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/central

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