Re: virus: reverberant doubt

Eva-Lise Carlstrom (
Mon, 2 Dec 1996 21:27:43 -0800 (PST)

On Mon, 2 Dec 1996, David McFadzean wrote:

> This seems to suggest that the "amiable slowpokes" would not push
> the button and therefore get the $1000 each whereas the "razor-sharp
> logicians" will all push the button and get $100. I think it would
> be hard to round up a real group of people that would act like the
> slowpokes. They would have to be *really* slow, to the point where
> they didn't understand the exercise.
> I think it comes down to how you model your peers. Most people don't trust
> their peers to act with enough intelligence and foresight to avoid hitting
> the button. If I was given the opportunity, even I would hit the button
> unless a) I had a chance to discuss this exact situation with the other
> players beforehand, or b) the higher intellectual ground was worth more
> the $100 to me.

Well, I wouldn't press the button. Only now that I've said that, if we're
ever in that situation, David, you'll know that and take advantage of me,
so maybe I'd better.....;) Honestly, like Hofstadter, I'd rather not push
the button, and hope everyone's as sensible as I.

In Chapters 30 and 31 of _Metamagical Themas_, in which Hofstadter
discusses Wolf's Dilemma and the 'reverberant doubt' it produces, he also
discusses a similar experiment/contest which was actually performed. In
Ch. 30 (his June 1983 column) he opens a lottery to readers (and
nonreaders as well); the prize is a million dollars, divided by the number
of entries submitted. Thus, if one person enters, e wins a million; if
two enter, one of them will win a half million, and so on. He allowed
multiple entries, even to the point of allowing an entrant to send in a
postcard with a positive integer on it, and counting that number as the
person's number of entries.
The disappointing, but perhaps predictable, outcome was over 2000
postcards, several of which contained such numbers as Avogadro's number, a
googol, a googolplex....At any rate, of course, no one won, because there
was nothing left to win.
A possibly humorous, but at the same time depressing,
demonstration of the determination of humans to buck the curve, rather
than cooperating for greatest good.