Re: virus: reverberant doubt

Duane Hewitt (
Wed, 27 Nov 1996 07:00:38 -0700 (MST)

Reverberant doubt comes from a passage in Darwin's Dangerous Idea that is
quoted from Hofstadter. He refers to it as "Wolf's Dilemma" in which a
nondilemma is turned into a serious dilemma by nothing but the passage of
time and the possibility of reverberant doubt.

The quoted passage follows:

Imagine that twenty people are selected from your high school graduation
class, you among them. You don't know which others have been selected ...
All you know is that they are all connected to a central computer. Each of
you is in a little cubicle, seated on a chair and facing one button on an
otherwise blank wall. You are given ten minutes to decide whether or not
to push your button. At the end of that time, a light will go on for ten
seconds, and while it is on, you may either push or refrain from pushing.

All the responses will then go to the central computer and one minute
later they will result in consequences. Fortunately, the consequences can
only be good. If you pushed your button you will get $100, no strings
attached ... If NOBODY pushed their button then EVERYBODY will get $1000.
But if there was even a single button pusher, the refrainers will get
nothing at all. [Hofstadter 1985, 752-53]{quoted from Dennett 1995,

Now this is a situation which at first glance the solution seems obvious.
But there is room for doubt regarding the rationality of your fellow
classmates. It is suggested that "A bunch of amiable slowpokes" would
arrive at a better outcome than "razor-sharp logicians who all think
perversely recursively reverberantly".

Any comments?