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The Newcomb Problem: An Unqualified Resolution

Simon Burgess
Synthese
Vol. 138, No. 2 (Jan., 2004), pp. 261-287
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20118389
Page Count: 27
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The Newcomb Problem: An Unqualified Resolution
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Abstract

The Newcomb problem is analysed here as a type of common cause problem. In relation to such problems, if you take the dominated option your expected outcome will be good and if you take the dominant option your expected outcome will be not so good. As is explained, however, these are not conventional conditional expected outcomes but 'conditional evidence expected outcomes' and while in the deliberation process, the evidence on which they are based is only hypothetical evidence. Conventional conditional expected outcomes are more sensitive to your current epistemic state in that they are based purely on actual evidence which is available to you during the deliberation process. So although they are conditional on a certain act being performed, they are not based on evidence that you would have only if that act is performed. Moreover, for any given epistemic state during the deliberation process, your conventional conditional expected outcome for the dominant option will be better than that for the dominated option. The principle of dominance is thus in perfect harmony with the conventional conditional expected outcomes. In relation to the Newcomb problem then, the evidence unequivocally supports two-boxing as the rational option. Yet what is advanced here is not simply a two-boxing strategy. To see why, two stages to the problem need to be recognised. The first stage is that which occurs before the information used by the predictor in making his predictions has been gained. The second stage is after this point. Provided that you are still in the first stage, you have an opportunity to influence whether or not the predictor places the $1m in the opaque box. To maximise the probability that it is, you need to commit yourself to one-boxing.

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