Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Yet another weird SF fan

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Newcomb's Paradox and the Supposed Refutations of Free Will

Paul Almond has a comment at Less Wrong on using the supposed refutations of free will (earlier mentioned here) in an experimental test of Newcomb's Paradox:

A test subject sits at a desk. On the desk are two buttons. On button "O" corresponds to opening one box. The other button "B" corresponds to opening both boxes. There is a computer, with a display screen. The boxes are going to be computer simulated: A program in the computer has a variable for the amount of money in the each box.

This is how an experimental run proceeds.

The subject sits at the desk for some random amount of time, during which nothing happens.

A "Decision Imminent" message appears on the computer screen. This is to warn the subject that his/her decision is about to be demanded imminently.

A short time after (maybe a second or two, or a few seconds), the computer program decides how much money will go in each box, and it sets the variables accordingly, without showing the user. As soon as that is done, a "Select a box NOW" message appears on the computer screen. The subject now has a (very) limited amount of time to press either button "O" or "B" to select one or both boxes. The subject will have to press one of the buttons almost immediately before the offer is withdrawn.

The subject is then shown the amount of money that was in each box.

Now, here is the catch (and everyone here will have guessed it).

The subject is also wired up to brain monitoring equipment, which is connected to the computer. When the "Decision imminent" message appeared, the computer started to examine the subject's brainwaves, to try to see the decision to press being formed. Just before the "Select a box NOW" message appeared, it used this information to load the simulated boxes according to the rules of the Newcomb's paradox game being discussed here.

What if the decision made is to look at a randomizing device that takes less than seven seconds to work?

In that case, it may be that the machine will wait for a definite decision. What if there's a slight variation in which either the subject or the machine can demand a decision?


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