In the search of something new to read, I’m re-reading Martin Gardner’s Knotted Doughnuts and Other Mathematical Entertainments, and I stumbled upon a chapter that I glanced at breifly, but now re-reading.

Ever heard of Newcomb’s Paradox?

Basically, it goes like so:

You have two boxes in front of you, B1 and B2. You don’t know which one is which. However, B1 contains a thousand dollars and B2 contains either a million dollars or nothing at all. You have two choices in this, either one cannot be taken back once chosen: Take what is in both boxes or take only what is in B2.

Now, before this a superior Being (either god or computer or plainswalker or etc…) makes a prediction about what you’ll decide. Now, let us say, that this Being’s prediction are “almost certainly” correct, saying that, say, every prediction out of a thousand (or million) is wrong. Get me so far?

If he expects you to take both boxes, he leaves B2 empty. However, if he expects you to take B2, he puts in the million. Any cases of you randomly selecting the box, like flipping a coin, he leaves B2 empty.

In all cases, B1 contains the thousand. You understand the situation fully, Mr. Being knows you understand. What should you do?


The thrust of this paradox is that both sides of the decision (take both or only B2) make perfect, absolute sense no matter how you slice it:

A) If you take both boxes, Mr. Being, knowing that move, leaves B2 empty, leaving you with only the thousand. However, only take B2, you get the million. Therefore it is your advantage to take only B2.

B) Let’s say the Being made his prediction a week (or a month) ago, then moving onto more interesting matters, leaves. Either he put the million in B2 or not. If so, it will stay, no matter what you choose. No ‘backwards causality’ is operating, in other words, your actions of now can’t influence what Mr. Being did last week. So why not get both both boxes? If B2 is filled, you’ll get the million+thousand. If you choose B2, you can’t get more than the million, and there is the slight chance of you getting nothing (due to the error of his prediction). Therefore you should get both boxes.

I shall leave it off here, for I basically covered all the basics. Talk to you later.


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