Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Kavka's toxin, Newcombe's problem- meta-intention and credible threat

Re. Kavka's toxin and the problem of meta-intention and credible threat- G.E. Moore's paradox- 'can I believe x and simultaneously KNOW that x is untrue'- is relevant. Moore's position was- No you can't believe x. However, Loyalty and Identity politics- Nationalism, Family and other affectionate relationships- all depend on our  Believing x with all our heart while knowing  x is nonsense. Introduce even a small amount  of epistemological uncertainty and our idea of  Knowledge soon turns into some sort of  'Justified True Belief' where True Belief has an increasingly theological feel. Kavka and Newcomb derive part of their ability to  grip because of the notion that the billionaire  might be a very shrewd judge of character. He has Ashby requisite variety. He verges on omnescience. If only we could 'think like a billionaire' we too might get rich. Thus, it becomes important to fall in with his  world view. Here, our preferences change  during the game BUT can we be sure we will not relapse into our comfortable old ways as  the minutes tick on? When we consider the  Hegelian Struggle for Recognition- where the one more ready to risk death  wins- or Abraham's intention to sacrifice  his son- where essentially the guy sees a goat  and reckons that God is saying 'kill the goat already- what are you a cannibal?"  we see the advantage of subjecting our  intentions to an external governor. But, perhaps, it would be enough to  make that governor stochastic- i.e. hooking yourself to a poison machine with some probability of delivering  the lethal dose. This explains, in the  epic age- or in tribal societies- the importance given to oracles and prophets who introduce that vital stochastic element. Ultimately, Newcomb,Kavka, Axelrod etc- are posing dilemmas which reveal  a problematic for decision theory-  viz. the mind's need to see deep symmetries across agents such that  (Noether's theorem) conservation laws  operate. After all, Identity, too, is something conserved rather than  given. The fact that the actual  environment might be dissipative  means however that such conservation is ironic.

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