A Problem You'll Never Solve

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  • Published on:  Monday, February 25, 2019
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    Newcomb’s Paradox has confounded philosophers, mathematicians, and game players for over 50 years. The problem is simple: You can take Box A, which contains $1,000, *and* Box B, which contains either $0 or $1,000,000, or you can just take Box B. The right choice seems obvious -- but there’s a catch.

    Before you play, an omniscient being has predicted whether you’d take both Box A and Box B or *only* Box B. If he’s predicted that you’ll take both, he’s put $0 in Box B. If he predicts that you’ll only take Box B, he’s put $1,000,000 inside. So… what do you do?

    I explore the two approaches to this problem, one based on the math of expected utility and the other based on a logical dominance principle. Newcomb’s Paradox raises questions about free will and determinism as it explores whether a problem with no solution might be easier than a problem with two perfectly valid contradictory solutions.

    *** SOURCES ***

    “Newcomb's Problem And Two Principles Of Choice,” by Robert Nozick
    http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/rjohns/noz...

    Newcomb’s Paradox poll results from The Guardian:

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/a...

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    Hosted, Produced, And Edited by Kevin Lieber
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    Research And Writing by Matthew Tabor
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