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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)

Comments: ( Back to comment list | You must be logged in to post comments.)
 Some thoughts | Comment 38 of 84 |
This problem, stripped to the bone, is:

If I intend to do it at midnight, I don't need to do it after A to get the prize.
If I don't intend to do it at midnight, I don't get the prize.

Some interesting thoughts here:

1. What happens if my intention is not defined at midnight - say, I decide to drink the poison if I fail the test, and vice versa?

2. By stating that one does not need to do something to prove his prior willingness to do it, the problem says - your claim will not be tested in reality. So, the machine is a supernatural factor here. Machine knows what you know. And if you know you wouldn't do it if you don't really need to, you will fail. Fooling the machine means fooling yourself. Since what is judged is the intention and not the act, external enforcement plays no part in it.
 Posted by cxd on 2004-11-05 06:29:29

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