Does Newcombs problem show free will is paradoxical by creating a thought experiment that uses free will and while using this, one's free choice one find's oneself in an impossible situation ? If so then one can not have a choice to make. That is Newcombs problem actually shows free will is paradoxical and therefore couldn't exist even within a possible thought experiment if it is a 'valid' dilemma. Is this true? {Newcombs problem being about an assumed very accurate predictor whom predicts what one of two choices one will make if the person being 'tested' in this problem follows the 'rules' of this thought experiment. Two boxes , one opaque (O), one transparent (T); the transparent one having a $1000 dollar bill in it, the opaque one possibly a million dollar check or nothing. If the predictor has predicted the person will open the O box and NOT the T box (during the course of the experiment) the O box has the million dollar check put in it. If the predictor predicts the person will open the T box at SOME time during the experiment the O box is left empty. These things the predictor does happen before the person makes his or her choice.}

  • 5
    You should probably elaborate by describing what Newcomb's paradox actually consists of. – Niel de Beaudrap Mar 16 '15 at 21:31
  • I must have been too analogous, sorry about that. I described the reason under. But I wonder if newcomb's problem itself is so difficult? Once you call upon the "Predictor", or Deity whatever, same old issue comes up, I think. – Kentaro Mar 16 '15 at 23:43
  • If Newcomb's problem shows free choice is leads to paradoxical situations and is 'impossible' then Newcombs's problem would be 'nullified'. ( forgive me for repeating myself) – 201044 Mar 17 '15 at 14:50
  • It doesn't matter whether the 'predictor' is supernatural or a super-computer with all relevant details of possible actions (say in the next 5 minutes) ; what matters is if 'some thing' could predict with great accuracy what someone might do in a very specific set of situations as with this Newcomb's thought experiment would this scenario show free choice is illusory making Newcomb's problem not 'work' at all? – 201044 Mar 19 '15 at 3:03
  • 1
    Perhaps you could define, or provide a link to what youunderstand Newcomb's problem to be ? – user2808054 Apr 1 '15 at 13:22

The status of Newcomb's scenario is a matter of controversy. However, it does seem that either (1) free will is illusory, or that (2) Newcomb's scenario is itself paradoxical.

Newcomb's scenario involves a "predictor" i.e. a kind of "prophet" who is (nearly) infallible in his predictions. If this ingredient is even coherent, if a "predictor" is even a possibility, it implies that the future is determined in advance. For the predictor could not tell the future, unless there was a (pre-determined) future to be told.

| improve this answer | |
  • Yes, exactly. That is the reason why I am on the materialistic position as much as possible. When Predictor, or Deity things are involved, how it may look like a science or philosophy, it is to me a "play of words". – Kentaro Mar 19 '15 at 1:15
  • Can one think of Newcomb's problem without thinking of anything supernatural? – 201044 Mar 20 '15 at 16:35
  • 2
    @201044 Yes, it seems possible. – Ram Tobolski Mar 20 '15 at 17:39
  • If free will is illusory then this implies when one 'does something' or 'chooses some alternative' one is really 'being compelled to 'do something' by some 'internal behavioral algorithms' and/or some external 'interference' ; and one just 'thinks' one is doing this 'something' of 'their own free will', like a delusion. Actually how can someone be compelled to do some 'task' like a robot carrying out a program and be 'aware' of what they themselves are doing yet not really have any 'personal' input into what is happening at each 'step' of the tasks being done? – 201044 Mar 25 '15 at 2:15
  • @2 I don't think there needs to be compulsion. You do or abstain as you want. It's what you want that is being determined by other factors. – Ram Tobolski Mar 25 '15 at 17:44

Newcomb's "Predictor" only has a reputation for being very good at predicting one specific action. That is far away from "the future is pre-determined". And for Newcomb's problem, it is quite irrelevant exactly how good the predictor is. For Newcomb's problem, it is enough to convince you that you are playing against such a being. The "Predictor" doesn't even need to exist, as long as you are made to believe that he/she/it exists.

So Newcomb's problem says nothing about free will. Instead of digging his problem up, you should go straight to the root and say "Would the existence of a being or machine which can 100% reliably predict my future actions say anything about existence or nonexistence of my free will"?

And in Newcomb's problem, your free will or not doesn't create any paradox. You have two choices, you pick one, based on free will or not, and there is an outcome. One choice gives you either $1,000,000 or the satisfaction that you proved the Predictor wrong. The other choice gives you either $1,000 or a $1,001,000 and the satisfaction that you proved the Predictor wrong. But there is nothing paradoxically in the outcome.

(Personally, I would assume the Predictor is a cheat who changes the contents of the boxes after you make your decision, and that's how he gets such a high success rate. So I'd pick only the box with the million, assuming that the Predictor will put the money in the box to avoid being proved wrong).

| improve this answer | |
  • If one follows the 'rules' of this thought experiment one only can get the 1 million dollars if one takes the opaque box and does not change one's mind . If the predictor predicted this, that you would only take the opaque box and not change your mind and take both boxes then 1 million dollars is already in the opaque box. That's what the predictor is really predicting , not that you will take only the opaque box with no info. on whether you change your mind; but that you will choose only the opaque box and not change your mind. If he is accurate you can not prove him wrong. – 201044 Apr 3 '15 at 3:03
  • it is extremely difficult for us to accept the hypothetical reality of such a predictor in our world, nevertheless in the scenario of the thought experiment you need to accept the predictor as real, and there is no point to doubt it or to assume it is a cheat as you wrote; that is, the thought experiment defines it as real so it is real. – nir May 27 '15 at 15:04
  • Hypothetically, if God appeared and temporarily made 2=3, would that disprove the analytic truth of mathematics? If I asked you that, the proper response would be to reject the scenario as inherently flawed. Same with Newcomb's "predictor", which is really just defined as a magic free-will-disproving-box. The question of whether such a thing can even exist can't be dismissed. If it can't, any argument based on its existence is meaningless. – Ask About Monica May 27 '15 at 18:05
  • @kbelder, the predictor is not a "magic free-will-disproving-box"; it is just good at what it does and is not defined as infallible; just out of my sleeve, if you like you can imagine it as a super-being that is able to deploy 1000 sentinels in 1000 possible many-worlds futures and somehow get their reports of what you chose to do in their reality, but even if they all report that you picked just the opaque box, it doesn't prevent you from picking up both. – nir May 27 '15 at 19:50
  • @201044: First, the predictor is assumed to be good, but not infallible, so he/she/it can be proved wrong occasionally. Second, the predictor predicts what you do, not what you decide to do, so making a decision and changing it at the last chance is irrelevant - what counts is what box or boxes you take. – gnasher729 Sep 13 '15 at 22:58

If you talk about something predicting by inferring from prior causes, in that case free will is incompatible with such predictions. If there exist such a cause such that there will be 1 and only 1 effect and the human will is effected by such causes then the human will is not free, because it is determined by prior causes. If instead there are reasons for acting but none of the causes is necessarily effective then such prediction is not possible with 100% accuracy. Therefore such a thing like la place's demon when applied to human behavior exclude free will.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    Valid general points, but doesn't addess Newcomb's Problem. Can you say a bit more? – James Kingsbery May 28 '15 at 15:56
  • I think so called paradoxes about free choice or free will are inherently problematic. Because if one describes a thought experiment, even if approximately 'described' and yet it effectively 'creates' a situation were using one's free-will causes a paradoxical event ; if the thought experiment is considered valid this implies free-will ,as it is 'imagined' in the thought experiment can't work or can't be realized. So if this is true ;that this free will can't be realized the whole thought experiment can't be 'set up' in the first place. – 201044 Sep 20 '15 at 15:44

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.