Newcomb's problem

Ted Davis (
Wed, 10 Dec 1997 11:36:23 -0500

Dan Berger mentioned this problem, from Chuck Noren:

"Suppose you have before you two closed boxes that you cannot se
inside of:

Box A -- This box holds $10,000.
Box B -- This box either holds $20,000 or nothing.

You are given the following options. You may choose box B
or you may pick both boxes (A and B). In addition, you are told
that God had placed the $10,000 in box A and had placed the
$20,000 in box B depending on what He thought you would do:
nothing would be in box B if God thinks you would choose the
two boxes, or $20,000 would be in box B if God thinks you would
only choose box B.

Question: what would you do? Does God have the ability to
predict with complete accuracy what you would do? Gardner
then posed the question if God is able to always accurately
predict what your action is here, then do you have free will?"

This is (astronomer Simon) Newcomb's problem/paradox. I wrote about this
very problem and its implications for foreknowledge/predestination/free will
at length in PSCF, back when it was called ASA Journal, in March 1984.
Unfortunately I cannnot append any part of the article to this post, since
it was written in the days when real men -- and real women -- did not have
PCs. It survives only in typescript and published copy.

Ted Davis