February 21, 2022

Newcomb’s Paradox

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newcomb%27s_paradox

There are an infallible predictor, a player, and two boxes designated A and B. The player is given a choice between taking only box B, or taking both boxes A and B. The player knows the following:

  • Box A is clear, and always contains a visible $1,000.
  • Box B is opaque, and its content has already been set by the predictor:
  • If the predictor has predicted the player will take both boxes A and B, then box B contains nothing.
  • If the predictor has predicted that the player will take only box B, then box B contains $1,000,000. The player does not know what the predictor predicted or what box B contains while making his/her choice. In his 1969 article, Nozick noted that To almost everyone, it is perfectly clear and obvious what should be done. The difficulty is that these people seem to divide almost evenly on the problem, with large numbers thinking that the opposing half is just being silly.”


  • Newcomb’s paradox is about the importance of setting precedents, being predictable, being legible
  • Is there a political divide in answers? Would love to do a study on this

Real life examples:

  • If you set a precedent of never negotiating with a kidnapper, you will have fewer kidnappings (this is like one-boxing). If you don’t stick to the policy and sometimes negotiate, you might win the case (this is like the $1000) but you lose the overall war on kidnapping as now more people are incentivized to do it.