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Newcomb's problem:

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  • Howard G.

    Newcomb's Problem: Which side won?-

    In Newcomb's Problem the probability that you will win $1K if you chose both box A and B is 100%. What is the probability that you will win $1M if you chose just box B? Is it 50%? The way the problem is presented the answer to that question is not provided. There's a lot of mumble jumble about a Super-Intelligent Being, who has already made a prediction about which choice you will make, and as far as you know She's never been wrong, but that doesn't answer the question about your odds of winning $1M if you chose box B only.

    I think that the fact that there are only two options; to take only box B or to take both boxes has duped many readers taking the poll into believing that if they take box B only they have a 50% chance of winning $1M and they more or less ignored the rest of the set up, and that's why it turned out the majority of the readers voted for that option. But to be truthful, I voted for that option too.

    December 1

    • James H. Z.

      I think this business about a Super-Intelligent Being skews the problem. There is no such being, and if there were, the assumption that She could know one's choice in advance is very questionable. But it involves assumptions which are interesting to consider.

      December 1

    • Howard G.

      James, I think we agree that Newcomb's problem isn't presented in a very coherent fashion, but it does involve assumptions which are interesting to consider. To me most of those assumptions deal with the idea of free will and determinism, which can more or less be expressed by more precise scientific paradoxes. Good examples of this are Laplace's Demon, Schrodinger's cat, parallel universes, and the Grandfather paradox. It is interesting to note that while these paradoxes can be described in scientific terms it seems likely that science may never be able to answer them. A good reference for those who like to ponder these types of questions is the book Paradox by the physicist Jim Al-Khalili.

      5 days ago

  • Howard G.

    Newcomb's Problem.-

    After the poll was taken on which choice the readers would make, and they favored Dr. Ahmed's position that it was better to select just the box with the larger reward, his reply was "setting aside the vexed question of whether or not determinism rules out free choice (or how randomness somehow supports it), the problem in no way presupposes determinism. After all, the predictor need not be infallible. As long as She is *likely* to be right, the same problem arises (and the same solution applies)." But the given premise was that the predictor had never been known to make a bad prediction, which induces one to believe that the so-called future is somehow predetermined. Therefore I don't see how it is possible to set aside the question of whether or not determinism rules out free choice when making your decision to the problem, given the way it was presented.

    I happen to believe in determinism, though I have no way to prove it, and I've never won $1M.

    November 30

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