Newcomb’s paradox

I’ve just run across an interesting thought experiment known as Newcomb’s paradox. Suppose there is a being, called the Predictor, that presents you with a choice. There are two boxes. The first box may or may not contain $1,000,000. The second box always contains $1,000. You can choose to open either one box or both boxes. While you are making your choice, the Predictor does not touch the boxes in any way — whether or not the first box contains money is already determined.

Many people have encountered the Predictor before, and have discovered that he seems to always predict what you are going to do. Anyone who has ever chosen to open just the first box receives the $1,000,000. Any who has ever chosen to open both boxes finds the first box empty, and only receives $1,000.

Which would you choose?

4 thoughts on “Newcomb’s paradox

  1. I would choose the first box, for more metaphysical reasons than logical. Why should my case be any different from the other people who’ve gone up again the Predictor?

  2. That’s what I thought, too, but apparently lots of people argue the opposite: once the Predictor can’t change his prediction and the contents of the boxes, why not choose both boxes?

  3. The difficulty I have is that being in a room with two boxes seems like a very real, concrete thing. The existence of the Predictor introduces an element of magic. And I have a hard time reconciling the two.

    I change my mind over what I’d do depending on whether I’m thinking about the ability of the Predictor or imagining myself standing in a room with two boxes.

    It’s like the wave-particle duality :)

  4. People who see a paradox are those who believe in free will. Since I don’t believe at all in free will, I see no paradox. The predictor knows the velocity and position of all the atoms in your brain, which is enough to predict what you will choose, except that in fact you don’t really have any choice at all…

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