Newcomb’s Paradox

(Something I wrote more than 2 years ago.)’s_paradox

The real issue is simply whether we assume that the predictor has real predictive power. It seems many people get caught up with discussing the possibility of such a predictor, leading to questions of determinism, reverse causality, etc., all of which are really irrelevant to the problem of whether the best decision is to “one-box” or “two-box”.

This is what appears to be the fatal flaw of the two-boxer’s argument:

(1) Newcomb’s problem already assumes that the predictor has real predictive power.

(2) As a necessary consequence to (1), box contents are dependent (regardless of mechanism!) on the choice between one-boxing or two-boxing, because the prediction is dependent on that choice.

(3) Effectively, the two-boxer assumes that since the contents have already been decided, choosing one-box or two-box would not affect the contents, and concludes that two-boxing is optimal.

Unbeknownst to the two-boxer, the assumption in (3) actually violates (2) & (1), and therefore the two-boxer’s argument is unsound.

Simply put, the only thing paradoxical about Newcomb’s paradox is the assumption (1) that the predictor has real predictive power. If we simply accept that assumption (and stop distracting ourselves by questioning that assumption), then one-boxing is the obvious, incontrovertible solution!

PS. To be a logically consistent two-boxer, one simply needs to deny assumption (1), which then implies a denial of (2). Perhaps the predictor’s incredible record of correct past predictions were just lucky guesses after all.

What does it mean to follow / worship God? What motivates us to do so?

To follow / worship God means to follow / obey God’s laws.
Therefore, to know God means to know / understand God’s laws.

(A believer who does not act on his beliefs is no believer at all.
Therefore to believe in God means both to know God’s laws and to obey them.)

Why would we want to obey God’s laws? Because we have understood them to be good.

What if God didn’t exist? Would we still follow those laws that we have understood to be good? Does God’s existence need to be proved to be true, before we want to follow God’s laws?

Is understanding the goodness of God’s laws enough for us to obey them?

For me, the answer is yes.

Therefore, it makes no sense to worry about whether God even exists. What really matters is for us to understand what is good, and just do it.

People who worry about whether their favourite all-powerful God truly exists, do not really worship God. They merely worship Power, and the selfish benefits that it confers. (“Believe” God, because he is all-powerful and will give you a nice place in heaven, and bless you with all kinds of riches? Yes please! Also, hell is a terrible place …)

It is perhaps no wonder that such people enjoy serving another god whose power and existence is beyond dispute: its name is Money.

Matthew 6:24-34 New English Translation (NET Bible)

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Do Not Worry
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? 26 Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? 27 And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? 28 Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! 30 And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? 31 So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.

Rationality (a definition of)

Rationality just means using logic to arrive at truth. Rather than using emotions / cognitive biases.

Logic simply involves correctly interpreting available information. What does it mean to be correct / incorrect? Correct interpretations cannot be disproved by existing information, while incorrect ones can be disproved by simply examining available evidence.

And because new information can potentially disprove old interpretations, correctness is always relative to existing information.

Rationality is about making the most out of available information. It does not guarantee truth, because as long as our information is limited (i.e. as long as we’re human), there is always the likelihood that new information will radically change our previous interpretations.

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”—Confucius

Decision theory: if knowledge affords better decisions, perhaps it also effects salvation

In response to this article:

<quote>First Kings 18:21 describes a crucial moment of decision. It’s the final showdown between the God of Israel and a false god called Baal. Elijah calls God’s people to choose once and for all between the living God who delivered them, and this false god who has captured their affections: “‘How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.’ But the people said nothing.”

They seem unable, or unwilling, to make a choice. They want to hedge their bets, sit on the fence, and keep their options open.

The article’s author’s interpretation of 1 Kings 18:21 fails terribly if you examine the verses that follow. The problem is not that the people were indecisive. It was simply that they lacked the knowledge to make a decision.

The logic is very simple: (1) If YHWH is God, follow him. (2) If Baal is God, follow him. There are two mutually exclusive options, and we can only choose one. One option has zero payoff (false God), while the other has infinite payoff (true God), but we lack knowledge of which is which.

The principle of indifference ( tells us that, given zero knowledge / evidence, we assign option (1) a probability of 50%, and option (2) a probability of 50%. Essentially, because we lack knowledge, we are indifferent between the two choices, i.e. it’s a fifty-fifty. This is what it means to waver.

In the subsequent verses, Elijah proceeds to use an elaborate experiment to prove that option (1), YHWH, has 100% probability of being true, while option (2), Baal, has 0% probability of being true. In light of this new knowledge, the people now understand that option (1), YHWH, is clearly the better choice, and need not waver any longer.

Isaiah 5:13 King James Version (KJV)
13 Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.

It’s just simple decision theory. We waver between several mutually exclusive choices because we lack knowledge of the expected payoff associated with each choice. The more knowledge we have, the less we waver, and the better the decisions / choices that we make in life.

Given the fact that they had zero knowledge of which choice was better, there was nothing inherently wrong with the people’s wavering. When presented with clear evidence, they easily made the right choice.

What prevents us from committing to a choice? Lack of knowledge. How do we improve the situation? Gain knowledge. How do we gain knowledge? By continually reflecting on God’s laws …

Psalm 119:97-105 Common English Bible (CEB)
מ mem
97 I love your Instruction!
I think about it constantly.
98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies
because it is always with me.
99 I have greater insight than all my teachers
because I contemplate your laws.
100 I have more understanding than the elders
because I guard your precepts.
101 I haven’t set my feet on any evil path
so I can make sure to keep your word.
102 I haven’t deviated from any of your rules
because you are the one who has taught me.
103 Your word is so pleasing to my taste buds—
it’s sweeter than honey in my mouth!
104 I’m studying your precepts—
that’s why I hate every false path.
נ nun
105 Your word is a lamp before my feet
and a light for my journey.

2 Timothy 3:13-17 Common English Bible (CEB)
13 But evil people and swindlers will grow even worse, as they deceive others while being deceived themselves.
14 But you must continue with the things you have learned and found convincing. You know who taught you. 15 Since childhood you have known the holy scriptures that help you to be wise in a way that leads to salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. 16 Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, 17 so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.

Theological knowledge (from scripture) helps us to choose / follow the right God. Real-world knowledge helps us to make better decisions in the real world. It’s meant to be that simple.

The problem faced by the people in 1 Kings 18, and the problem we all face, is not indecision; it is a severe lack of knowledge.

Investors fail when they make their choices based on limited / faulty information. Religious people fail when they choose / follow the wrong god based on limited / faulty theology.

(The kind of shoddy interpretation exemplified by the article is rampant throughout that website. I’ve seen enough examples to know how these “preachers” function: hey, I just got a random thought that feels inspiring / sounds good -> let me go dig up some scripture to justify my point -> what? study the passage more carefully to see if I’ve really understood it correctly? nonsense, us important “preachers” have no time for that … we’re too busy coming up with new cool-sounding stuff to make ourselves look good. Besides, my interpretation is automatically correct because bible interpretation is a piece of cake and I always get it right the first time.)

In case anyone is not convinced that the article’s interpretation of the passage is way off:

<quote>Maybe you’re keeping your options open with God himself, not allowing yourself to become too committed. Elijah is speaking to you in 1 Kings, and he is saying, “Make a choice.” You have all the information about God you need. Enough of this noncommittal, risk-averse, weak-willed, God-forgetting immaturity. Or, as it probably says in some of the more modern translations, “Grow up.”

As mentioned above, simply reading the subsequent verses will reveal that, rather than blaming the people for their wavering, Elijah in fact proceeds to prove to the people that YHWH is God, thereby giving them the information that they didn’t have. The article’s author, however, claims that Elijah is saying that <quote>you have all the information about God you need</quote>. If that were really true, Elijah wouldn’t have gone on to give the people the very information that they supposedly already had. There was nothing “noncommittal, risk-averse, [or] weak-willed” about the people’s wavering. They were simply being rational.

The article’s “god of open options” only succeeds in distracting us from the real problem of ignorance / foolishness / lack of knowledge.

Bonus: in fact, a bull was sacrificed as part of the experiment / miracle that proved to the people that YHWH was the real God. It parallels Christ’s own sacrifice on the cross, the purpose of which was to reveal God to us and reconcile us to God.

The people wavered and failed to follow YHWH as God because of their own ignorance. Knowledge was needed, and that knowledge somehow necessitated a sacrifice. If merely telling the people to “grow up” would’ve worked, as the article’s author implies, then Christ would not have had to sacrifice himself for us.