Plato’s weekend readings, episode 56

readingsHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend

A brief history of the term “liberalism.

‪The weird history of the concept of empathy, and a question: is it really that useful?

How stable are democracies? Possibly not as much as we’d like.

Fish have feelings. Maybe. And they recognize human faces. Possibly.

Passive aggressiveness: not a good idea.

A critique of the concept of “post-truth” that quickly goes nowhere.

Boredom: the elucidation of the obvious.‬

‪Newcomb’s problem divides philosophers: which box(es) would you take?

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Categories: Plato's Suggestions

203 replies

  1. So SG: What is the newComb paradox rule. Is the predictor infallible or just purporting to be infallibly?

    In the latter case the question which box would you chose makes no sense. It is a Koan. While B would be the best possible choice, you would find your self inexplicaly saying A+B.

    Wiki seems to say purport, but else where it uses the word infallible.

    If it is infalible you do best when it picks B. The combination (A,A+B) never occurs. You should hope the predictor predicts A+B, but you have no choice. Asking what you would chose is non-nonsensical.

    If predictor believes you believe it is infallible, then it might reason that you would always pick B as you would think (A,A+B) would never occur. and thus you would pick B the best of the two possible choices.

    .

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  2. Let’s say you are 30 years old, currently childless, and live in the US or similar “developed” nation. You are considering having a child. I tell you that, due to the resource burden of Western children, you can save 5 African lives, and/or 3 South Asian lives, by not having the child. Do you do it?

    Presumably, these lives saved are only on the average. You don’t know whether you child will have an effect on other children or not. If you have a child, the effect is very small, it’s only if lot’s of people have that extra kid will have an effect on Africa or Asia.

    Consider a doctor who thinks prophylactic treatment with the last drug certain bacteria are sensitve to would benefit his patient. The odds of it helping are high, the odds of the docs patient spawning a resisten version of the bug are tiny. But if lot of docs do this the odds of resistance developing are high.

    If many docs use the treatment many lives will be saved, but in the long run many more a likely to die. Nothing is certain (unlike the Trolley problem).

    What should the doc do?

    Should we via regulation forbid the practice?

    My old cat is being treated prophylacticly with Ampicillin Should the vet refuse or the FDA forbid it?

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  3. Isn’t this more about faith in attributing to various logical approaches a foundation for rational choice? There is no correct answer to problem as constructed. I

    Exactly. Unalterable, a.k.a., ill-posed. The sound of one hand clapping. Mu.

    Unless you consider the weaker version in which the predictor could be lying about it’s powers. I find the Wikipedia entry is ambiguous on this point.

    I believe the version originally described here is the stronger, infallible version, but I could have misread it. It took me awhile to notice the “purports ” in the Wikipedia entry, “.a game between two players, one of whom purports to be able to predict the future”

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  4. Send ‘news letters’ to 100K people.1/2 say the market will go up, ½ down. Toss the ½ that are wrong. Repeat with the remaining suckers. Repeat say 8 times all toghether. Send every one who got all winners a letter offering them a subscription.

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  5. I agree with Robin, and no need for retro-causation or determinism.

    If one minute before you choose what box(es) to take you think … but the predictor has already filled the box(es) therefore I should take both, and so you do take both boxes … then that is what the predictor predicted you would do, so there was always only $1000 dollars in your boxes.

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  6. Just a question for those who are telling me that the correct approach to any problem of logic is to repeat the word ‘mu’ – do you also recommend chewing the cud? Or is that optional?

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  7. Or perhaps someone can tell me exactly what the repetition of nonsense words contributes to the discussion. Is there any difference between saying ‘mu’ and saying ‘needle-nardle-noo’?

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  8. Hi Thomas,

    Isn’t this more about faith in attributing to various logical approaches a foundation for rational choice? There is no correct answer to problem as constructed.

    I thought so at first too. But I was wrong. There is a very straightforward correct answer to the problem, and no one has shown me the problem with it.

    You should always choose B to maximise your money if you expect the predictors choices to continue to be accurate.

    That part is logically inescapable.

    You have plenty of evidence that the predictor has made correct predictions every time in the past, including in the type of choice you are about to make. If this is well beyond chance then the reasonable interpretation is that the predictor has a way of telling the future, so without any other information we should expect that this will continue and choose B each time.

    Note that, according to the terms of the problem, if the advice ‘pick both’ had been issued a year ago then everyone who followed this advice would have received $1,000 and everyone who followed logic and picked B would have received $1,000,000.

    So if ‘pick both’ has failed to maximise the money so far and no one is even prepared to explain why they think that anything would change, then how is ‘pick both’ even a contender for a solution?

    I don’t get it. It is a straightforward problem of logic with a straightforward answer entailed by the logic.

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  9. All right, there seems to be a couple of people who are implying that there might be quintillions of predictors and in your due-diligence you have only checked out the versions of the game run by the one predictor who by chance got the predictions right even though the proportion of these would be vanishingly small. Your due diligence was not diligent enough.

    I thought that the premises implied that in your due diligence you had satisfied yourself that there was no sort of trickery involved.

    I think that you are pretty much clutching at straws there.

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  10. I think that it is my turn to say ‘moo’ to those kinds of suggestions.

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  11. Or is it pronounced ‘muh’? To which I say ‘meh’.

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  12. Or is it pronounced ‘mew’? To which I say ‘woof’.

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  13. RH; You’re getting pretty nasty…

    Ask a silly question get a silly answer, no?

    a

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  14. Or perhaps someone can tell me exactly what the repetition of nonsense words contributes to the discussion. Is there any difference between saying ‘mu’ and saying ‘needle-nardle-noo’?

    You’re just showing off your ignorance…

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  15. Personally I find the ‘mu’ thing unbelievably nasty and I am heartily sick of it.

    If there is something wrong with what I say, explain what it is. Don’t just say ‘mu’. It adds nothing whatsoever.

    You’re just showing off your ignorance…

    That is right – I am showing that I have no idea what anyone means when they say it.

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  16. Don’t expect to throw out a condescending, non-specific put down and for me to smile in admiration. Not going to happen.

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  17. Robin, by way of acknowledging your comment, I’ll just say there’s been enough said on this topic to suit me. Otherwise, I’m looking forward to Monday’s post from Massimo.

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  18. Yes, Robin, our friend David Hume is going to explain EXACTLY the problem:

    You should always choose B to maximise your money if you expect the predictors choices to continue to be accurate.

    (My added emphasis)

    It’s called the problem of induction. I’m sure you know that too, Massimo.

    So sue me for using “mu” as a response, as a one-word shorthand for cutting the Gordian knot.

    Whether my response is condescending or not, it IS specific.

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  19. And yes, I’ll admit that I, like Hume, go to bed every night without worrying about the sun coming up, re the problem of induction. I also, like Hume, go to bed every night without believing in an omniscient Predictor.

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  20. Wait, wait. Let’s ask a fish if it has feelings for the Newcomb box game. Let’s ask an arugula if it remembers playing it before. Per Thomas, that’s probably a good summary of my thought on it.

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  21. A relation of Newcomb, without the supernatural: “the famous case of the Smoking Gene, for example, in which an agent believes that there is a gene which predisposes both to smoking and cancer [a la Sir Ronald Fisher]…In general, the fact that someone is a smoker thus indicates that she is more likely than otherwise to have the gene, and hence more likely than otherwise to develop cancer”. Should she make an effort to avoid taking up smoking?

    http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/8983/4/CCRSSE-Jan2012.pdf

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  22. If the predictor knows you are a sceptic of predictors, it will correctly predict you will choose both boxes.

    If the predictor knows you are not a sceptic of predictors with a perfect track record, it will correctly predict you will choose box B.

    Apologies if that has been said already. I haven’t read all 200+ comments.

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  23. Socratic said “You should always choose B to maximise your money if you expect the predictors choices to continue to be accurate”

    And according to the following link even if the predictor drops to just over 50% correct predictions you should still go with B.

    http://lesswrong.com/lw/nc/newcombs_problem_and_regret_of_rationality/2bqx

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