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 Poisonous Dilemma (Posted on 2004-04-19)
Suppose you get the following proposal from a weird billionaire:

"Toxin X is a substance that will make you violently ill for a few hours. However, it has no long term effects of any kind. As an experiment in psychology, I'm offering you a million dollars if tonight at midnight you fully intend to drink toxin X by tomorrow at noon. You don't actually have to drink the toxin; all you have to do is to intend to drink it. Your intention will be tested by a device similar to a polygraph which my people have developed and which has been shown to be 100% accurate. If at midnight you have the intention, a million will be wired to your bank account. The only other conditions are that you are to make no bets, do anything that will cause you to become irrational, or arrange for any way to avoid the effects of the toxin."

Suppose you decide that being ill for one day is a reasonable price to pay for a million dollars. Your first thought is to therefore agree to the proposal. It then occurs to you that you won't even have to become sick in order to win the money. All you have to do is to intend to drink the toxin. You don't actually have to carry out your intention.

But now if you know ahead of time that you don't actually have to drink the toxin, then you can't really intend to drink it. So you tell yourself you really do have to drink it. But then if at midnight you really did intend to drink the toxin, and you got the million, then come the next day you would no longer have any reason to drink it: you've already been paid and drinking the toxin would make you unnecessarily sick.

Is there any way for you to win the money?

 No Solution Yet Submitted by Victor Zapana Rating: 3.8519 (27 votes)

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 Song of the Sirens (Solution) | Comment 7 of 82 |

The tricky part of this puzzle is: How do you pass the lie detector test, saying that you intend (in the future) to drink the toxin, if you know that as soon as you pass the test, you no longer have to drink the toxin ? I believe this puzzle may have been inspired by an incident in Homer's Odyssey. Odysseus was curious about what the voices of the Sirens sounded like. He knew that their voices bewitched sailors to their deaths on the rocks. So, before his ship passed near the Sirens, Odysseus instructed his sailors to fill their ears with wax, and then to tie him to the mast; then he told his men that no matter how he screamed or gestured while the Sirens were singing, they were not to untie him. So maybe old Homer provides the solution to this puzzle. To win the money, you hire ten strong men, and instruct them to make you take the toxin in the morning. You put it in writing, a signed document, that they are to ignore any change of mind on your part, including any attempt to fire them.  You tell them that no matter how you protest and struggle, they are to make you drink it, even if they have to force it down your throat. [Note that the billionaire's conditions do not forbid this course of action]. Then, having done that, you take the lie detector test, pass it easily, and walk away with the money. The following morning, with the "encouragement" of the ten strong men, you swallow the toxin.

Edited on April 19, 2004, 8:01 pm
 Posted by Penny on 2004-04-19 13:51:24

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