Suppose that:

  1. You want to live.
  2. The only way to live is to answer question Q1 correctly.
  3. Q1 is a binary question accepting only yes/no as answers.
  4. You don't know the correct answer of Q1.
  5. You have a finite amount of time to answer the question Q1, else you will be assumed to have answered incorrectly.
  6. Those who give wrong answers will cease to live.

My question to you is: how would you behave in the scenario above?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Frank Hubeny, Conifold, virmaior, Swami Vishwananda, Keelan May 17 '18 at 10:18

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I suspect this is more of a strategy question than a philosophical question. I am suggesting it be closed. My answer would be while time remains try to find the best answer to the question. At the end of the finite amount of time make a choice. – Frank Hubeny May 16 '18 at 18:12
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    Thank you for your time. I'd appreciate if you could point out where should I ask this to remain on-topic. – caveman May 16 '18 at 18:19
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    Perhaps Math SE if you are looking for a strategy different from the one I provided. There may be a game theory approach that provides a different answer. – Frank Hubeny May 16 '18 at 18:22
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    Or you could put this at Puzzle.SE. – rus9384 May 16 '18 at 19:15
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    One strategy is to refuse to answer the question, since this averts premise 6, betting that the questioner is really actually weak on premise 5 (finite time---assumed false). You might demand an explanation for why you're being questioned, demand a lawyer, claim your 5th Amendment right, simply stay silent, or pretend to pass out. Or really pass out by injuring yourself on the floor! – elliot svensson May 17 '18 at 15:38

I mean, the answer seems pretty straightforward: Go find some evidence about the answer!

You only said that you don't know the answer, not that it is somehow unknowable.

You could formalize this for something like maximizing expected utility. I don't know the right way to balance all those variables off hand, and that presumably requires some calculus, but basically you'd want to figure out some expected utilities and probabilities:

How much do you want to live? How long do you have to answer? How likely is it that you will find the answer in how much time? In other words, how much time does it take to get your chances to better than 50/50 odds. How much more would you enjoy your life if you just lived it to the deadline instead of spending the time researching and just guessed?

How much does have a chance to keep living close to 50/50 affect your current ability to enjoy your time not researching the answer to the question?

I'm pretty sure if you set all those values there's a function that can spit out exactly how much time you would want to spend researching the answer.


I assume you want to live. If you don't answer, you will certainly die. So you should answer. If you do answer (without knowledge in the time available) then you have no rational reason to prefer one binary answer over the other but have a 50% chance of giving the right answer whichever you choose. So choose one answer randomly.

If you gain the requisite knowledge in the time available, there is no problem.

If you survive, try to avoid such situations in future ;)-

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