A fun mental experiment called Newcomb's paradox:

The player of the game is presented with two opaque boxes, labeled A and B. The player is permitted to take the contents of both boxes, or just of box B. (The option of taking only box A is ignored, for reasons soon to be obvious.) Box A contains $1,000. The contents of box B, however, are determined as follows: At some point before the start of the game, the [infallible] Predictor makes a prediction as to whether the player of the game will take just box B, or both boxes. If the Predictor predicts that both boxes will be taken, then box B will contain nothing. If the Predictor predicts that only box B will be taken, then box B will contain $1,000,000.

By the time the game begins, and the player is called upon to choose which boxes to take, the prediction has already been made, and the contents of box B have already been determined. That is, box B contains either $0 or $1,000,000 before the game begins, and once the game begins even the Predictor is powerless to change the contents of the boxes. Before the game begins, the player is aware of all the rules of the game, including the two possible contents of box B, the fact that its contents are based on the Predictor's prediction, and knowledge of the Predictor's infallibility. The only information withheld from the player is what prediction the Predictor made, and thus what the contents of box B are.

The problem is called a paradox because two strategies that both sound intuitively logical give conflicting answers to the question of what choice maximizes the player's payout. The first strategy argues that, regardless of what prediction the Predictor has made, taking both boxes yields more money. That is, if the prediction is for both A and B to be taken, then the player's decision becomes a matter of choosing between $1,000 (by taking A and B) and $0 (by taking just B), in which case taking both boxes is obviously preferable. But, even if the prediction is for the player to take only B, then taking both boxes yields $1,001,000, and taking only B yields only $1,000,000—the difference is comparatively slight in the latter case, but taking both boxes is still better, regardless of which prediction has been made.

The second strategy suggests taking only B. By this strategy, we can ignore the possibilities that return $0 and $1,001,000, as they both require that the Predictor has made an incorrect prediction, and the problem states that the Predictor cannot be wrong. Thus, the choice becomes whether to receive $1,000 (both boxes) or to receive $1,000,000 (only box B)—so taking only box B is better.

In his 1969 article, Nozick noted that "To almost everyone, it is perfectly clear and obvious what should be done. The difficulty is that these people seem to divide almost evenly on the problem, with large numbers thinking that the opposing half is just being silly."

So which half are you in?

0 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Newcomb's Paradox.

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.mwilliams.info/mt5/tb-confess.cgi/4815

Comments

Supporters

Email blogmasterofnoneATgmailDOTcom for text link and key word rates.

Site Info

Support