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?
Decide to drink the poison regardless of the polygraph results. Honor that decision by taking the toxin at noon the next day despite having the million dollars in your bank account. Problem solved, abeit some sickness must be endured.
Now, if one is simply unable to keep promises to oneself and knows that such a decision would be jettisoned as soon as the twelfth bell is rung on midnight, I suggest a slightly less strong armed solutoin than Penny's of the ten giants. Rather, I suggest that the person presented with the proposal make a written and signed legal agreement with a second party (a witness to the event), that should the person fail to drink all the poison at 12 noon, all monies would then transfer to the second party's bank account. That person would then be faced with either the decision to drink the poison and take the money or not to drink and forfeit the million regardless of either the polygraph results or the money being transferred to their account at midnight.
Here's the real question: can anyone solve this problem with the man taking the million and not enduring the toxins? I don't believe there is anyway to solve this problem without drinking the poison. Intention, it seems to me, is a state of mind whereby one's actions present and future are carried out in accordance with a desired outcome. Although variables may be introduced that may affect and even alter this desired outcome, the polygraph cannot be so considered because its causal effects on the ultimate outcome are known from the outset. Or to say it more succinctly, one can only arrive at an intention to drink the poison after having dismissed the possibility of not drinking it that arises from having tested positive. As we are told that the polygraph is 100% accurate, if there is the least doubt that one's will in the matter were waivering, the matter would be closed and the person would profit nothing from the venture.
Well, what then if a person then purposes to drink the poison regardless of these results and then tests positive at midnight? Are they then faced with the decision to drink or not to drink? Now this question may or may not in itself be one of the variables that affects one's intention and provides the requisite seed of rebellious thought that will ultimately lead to a downfall in one's already disinclined resolve to take the poison. For those of us more scrupulous to our own personal convictions, we may well drink the poison and honor our promise--even if made to ourselves. Fine. But for those of us who aren't, I largely suspect we would thankfully opt out of taking the poison after we've had ample opportunity to consider the pain of the illness and the fact that the money's in the bank and everyone can all go home. It's debatable whether such people who cannot keep personal promises would pass the lie detector, but supposing they do--they really aren't worth a rat's hind parts in combat. Nevertheless, if one knows one suffers from this weakness, a solution not unlike Penny's would be the natural course of action to take to guarantee that one ends up drinking the poison.
Edited on April 20, 2004, 2:16 pm