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A Problem You’ll Never Solve

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/nozick_newcomb.pdf

Newcomb’s Paradox poll results from The Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/science/alexs-adventures-in-numberland/2016/nov/30/newcombs-problem-which-side-won-the-guardians-philosophy-poll

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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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