Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn


This bit is just nabbed from another website.

Newcomb's Problem goes like this. There are two closed boxes on the table, Box A and Box B. Box A contains $1,000. Box B contains either $1 million or no money at all. You have a choice between two actions: 1) taking what is in both boxes; or 2) taking just what is in Box B.

Now here comes the interesting part. Imagine a Being that can predict your choices with high accuracy. You can think of this Being as a genie, or a superior intelligence from another planet, or a supercomputer that can scan your mind, or God. He has correctly predicted your choices in the past, and you have enormous confidence in his predictive powers. Yesterday, the Being made a prediction as to which choice you are about to make, and it is this prediction that determines the contents of Box B. If the Being predicted that you will take what is in both boxes, he put nothing in Box B. If he predicted that you will take only what is in Box B, he put $1 million in Box B. You know these facts, he knows you know them, etc. So, do you take both boxes, or only Box B?

Well, obviously you should take only Box B, right? For if this is your choice, the Being has almost certainly predicted it and put $1 million in Box B. If you were to take both boxes, the Being would almost certainly have anticipated this and left Box B empty. Therefore, with very high likelihood, you would get only the $1,000 in Box A. The wisdom of the one-box choice seems confirmed when you notice that of all your friends who have played this game, the one-boxers among them are overwhelmingly millionaires, and the two-boxers are overwhelmingly not.

But wait a minute. The Being made his prediction yesterday. He either put $1 million in Box B, or he didn't. If it's there, it's not going to vanish just because you choose to take both boxes; if it's not there, it's not going to materialize suddenly just because you choose only Box B. Whatever the Being's prediction, you are guaranteed to end up $1,000 richer if you choose both boxes. Choosing just Box B is like leaving a $1,000 bill lying on the sidewalk.

My thoughts:

  • Yesterday might as well be tomorrow when it comes to the prediction, provided that there's no way for information from your choice to get to the being
  • The interestingness of the question is in the interplay between your intelligence and the predictive being. If the predictive being really can be assumed to be that good at predictiveness, then you should assume it'll succeed at it and go with the conservative choice. There's no such thing as a choice, it's just a very practical illusion to have.
  • As the player's cleverness approaches that of the predictor, the question begins to unravel. This question is really more about the ego of people in their ability to do things that are unpredictable. It's more of a personal struggle than a philosophical one. People feel threatened by things that make them feel like automata. The entire notion of free will is, in my opinion, an ego thing.
  • If we're to accept the conditions of the question, we should be conservative, and just get box b. Any leanings we get towards getting A as well should be based on changes in the story regarding how well the predictor has been at its job, and given some amount of those failures, also changes in the benefits in getting both boxes.
Tags: philosophy

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