Death Trap (Game Theory)

Thinking about any scenario that places your loves one(s) in danger is rather morbid but for the sake of exploration we’ll overlook that, still, being in any bad situation one you immediately see the worst result and not the best solution. There are a variety of ways to look at this problem, some really in-depth analyses require some sturdy maths skill others merely ethical or moral stances. The collective name for the understanding this and similar problems is called Game Theory, and it is not, as the name implies, a soft subject.

The problem illustrated above is one I learnt at around 12 y/o, but there is a similar depiction made quite recently. In the recent Batman film, The Dark Knight, The Joker places bombs on 2 ships and gives the detonators to the opposing ship saying either one of you dies or you all die. There are other moments in that film that have an economy behind them and we’ll go into them later.

Mathematical Overview

(No sums or equations here, honest)

All end results can be shown in a table, or matrix, clearly showing a Live/Die for each party/boat in each situation.

Party A
Acts Passive
Party B Acts Die, Die Die, Live
Passive Live, Die Die , Die

This Normal form works for both my problem and the Jokers Ultimatum, there doesn’t seem to be a best action. In a perfect relationship you would both want each other to live and want to save each other but attempting to do so would kill them. If the civilians kill the guilty they become the guilty, the Joker wins but a ferry survives. Which takes us onto an…

Ethical Overview

As with Newtons Third law, “To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”, by pushing the button you are willingly setting yourself up to kill someone, by not acting the responsibility of the outcome is the perpetrator of the situation. So if both parties do nothing they may loose their lives but they can happily know that they didn’t kill each other. This however does not work with a boat load of people, as they don’t have a button each so there a social ramifications such as being on a surviving boat but not wanting to have pushed the button. And of course they know there is a Batman out there so they can wait for him to save them, whereas in the prison cell they do not have that hope.

Philosophical Overview

Either scenario is preposterous, nobody would actually go to these lengths to commit this crime, if you were to actually find yourself in this situation it is most likely fictitious and as such humming a sticking your fingers in your ears is a viable solution until you wake up. As Homer (J. Simpson) would say, if I don’t see it its not happening!

This is just a talk out of the Joker’s Ferry game, there are 2 other obvious ones (at least to me) the 3 second clip were the bank robber asks the Joker if the shotgun is empty, saying yes/no and being wrong/right has some interesting results. And the robbery itself seems like a variant of the Pirate Booty Game

I’ve just explored 3 ways of looking at that situation I’m sure there are a variety of others, feel free to drop a comment below. Lastly I don’t expect that if you were in as dire situation as this you would consider the problem as rationally but I suppose that is the advantage of practising and theoretical discussions.

Remembering the Future

At a young age you imagine what it’ll be like when you grow up, whether you’re going to be an actor(ess), Fireman or Space Cowboy. You create an entire life in the blink of an eye, you’ve streamlined out all the boring preparations to the fun bit at the end, the goal. Unfortunately not all of these daydreams can come true, for whatever reason you get detoured and things change, for some people its major, others’ practically unnoticeable.

To believe that you could’ve achieved your dream if it weren’t for certain obstacles is easy, optimists would say that if you really apply yourself you can do anything, but some obstacles truly are unavoidable, not in the sense of fate or destiny but simply uncontrollable random events.

For those that didn’t get exactly what they dreamt, nor are happy with the outcome there is a quote that you’ll appreciate:

The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly one you can never have.

Søren Kierkegaard

I never had a dream of becoming anything particular, I had one of those aptitude tests and I remember the top two results to this day 1) Actor, 2) Naval Architect. I suppose a graphic designer is a good blend between them, the structure and function of architecture with the character and creativity of a Thespian. I’m fairly happy with what I do, my only regret, the future that I remember is knowing when I was younger what I would enjoy design and geared myself towards it sooner rather than playing catchup essentially being further along with my life than I am. However the slow road has its advantages…..

So even though your future never happened the fact that it could is a great source of melancholy, but still trying for it is a great source of hope. And any source of hope is a good thing, even if it comes from sadness.

What futures do you remember?

Why you should ignore Cosmetic Problems

So I’m watching the first season of The West Wing and the White House staff are interviewing a young African-American teenager for the position of Personal Aid to the President. Josh Lyman, the Deputy Chief of Staff, is concerned that it will look poor for a ‘young black kid’ to ‘wait’ on the President. Leo McGary, the Chief of Staff says that he has held doors open for the President and considers it an honour, Josh retorts that it’s not the same holding The Presidents overnight bag. They, despite the cosmetic implications realise that it’s not casting (the irony considering it is a television show) and they simply get the right person for the job.

Leo then asks Admiral Percy Fitzwallace (also African-American) if he has a problem with a young black man waiting on The President. He says “are you going to pay him a decent wage?”, “are you going to treat him with respect in the workplace?” Leo replies yes to both and Fitzwallace responds with; “Why the hell should I care? I have some real honest to God battles to fight and I don’t have time for the cosmetic ones.

I don’t normally post without my own conclusion on something but I think the point is demonstrated beautifully and hopefully is self evident.

Freak or Idiot?

Given the choice which would you prefer to be, Freak or Idiot?

Firstly what type of freak? The word means something that is a strange deviation from nature. So freak would be a ball falling upwards which is a deviation from the natural phenomenon known as gravity. The question doesn’t poise a definition of the type of freak we would be so we don’t know and presumably upon making the choice between the options we would find out.

Choosing to be an idiot would mean loosing ones sense of the world and the ability to comprehend reasoning. So using a remote control would be out of the question as you couldn’t understand how it would affect the television. So the simple pleasure of sitting back and watching a television would be out of the question.

For some freakish things, if you so choose, they can be adjusted, they don’t necessarily have to be but if it can then you have that option available to you. As with everything in life a karma must be maintained; “there is no such thing as a free lunch” so it might not be easy.

If you’re an idiot then unfortunately you can’t change that, you can’t learn so whatever you did know or were allowed to remember as an idiot would be the majority of what you would know for the rest of your life. Idiocy is always a permanent thing.

The root consequence is a choice between permanent idiocy with an uncertainty about how much you would remember and freakdom with a complete random chance of anything happening, it could be something as little as 12 fingers or as big as fur all over your body, no eyes, ears and nose or the lack of lungs and thus death.

So it’s a choice between a fixed and random fate. Of course both could be fixed fates if you believe in destiny put for simplicities sake on this particular choice I choose not to believe in it.

With all this in mind which would you rather be, Freak or Idiot?

You’ve already made the choice

Pre-determination implies there is a plan for the Universe, a fixed route to get from the past to the future. In this type of Universe no accidents occur because they were all suposed to happen and although we think we are making choices we’re not, we’re just conforming to the plan.

In The Matrix amongst all the protagonist’s abilities he had the ability of foresight, this gift was only for events within the matrix and its machinery but not the real world. How does this apply to us?

In an enclosed environment if you know everything that effects an object and you know all the objects in an environment then you can predict the outcome. In an imaginary frictionless box you place a ball and give it a nudge the ball will bounce around and keep doing so. You can predict the bounces if you know what angle the ball was nudged at and thus route the path before it happens. Adding another ball just means that it’s more complicated, both paths have to be plot to the same duration and when they bounce the directions calculated. Its harder work but it is possible with enough time and thought.

The Matrix was a realtime occurring environment, so more events were occurring every second, but agents and thus the Matrix itself have limits so if you’ve got a faster processor (such as your brain) then you can run the same events faster and find the outcome sooner. However there are limitations in the Matrix and in the real world.

No-one can see beyond a choice they don’t understand, and I mean no-one.

The Oracle

What The Oracle is saying that you can only have foresight if you know what choices you (and the rest of the matrix) are going to make, if you don’t know then when running the ‘foresight version’ of the Matrix then you’ll reach an impasse and not know anything further. So for someone contending with the person that has the foresight the phrase “you’ve already made the choice, now you have to understand why you’ve made it” is quite scary because they know what you are going to do and why you did before you’ve had the choice present itself and searched all your past experiences for the answer.

Having a plan for the Universe means that it is possible to know what choices people will make before they make them so it is possible for us mortals to see into the future.

Universe and You

There are 2 types of Universe we can exist in, one where we only think we are making choices and one were we are actually making choices. The one where choice is an illusion means that there could be a map or plan to the Universe, the other anything that could happen might. If the Universe has a plan then we are obviously not privy to it, if anything can happen then what are the consequences?

A Plain Past, Present, Future Timeline
A simple timeline with us in the middle in the present.

From our perspective every action or choice will spawn a different universe, over the space of a few seconds the changes will be negligible, but over say 100 years they could be huge, for instance if a regiment of WWII soldiers went left instead of right perhaps we might have lost the war and be in German occupied Britain.

This would mean from this second onwards the timeline would look like this:

A Timeline with the line splitting infinitely from present to future
The choices be make mean that the future is no set, "There is no fate but what we make for ourselves

However if someone looks back from the future then the present looks just like our past. The reason is only 1 of the paths diverging from our present ends in the future when the observer is from. So ‘if’ time travel is possible then the future boy in the present could only get back to the future where he came from if everything happens just as it did for his past.

A Timeline with a route of possibilities from present to future
With there being so many possible futures it can be hard to get back to the one you originated from.

In a pre-determined Universe no matter when you go you can always get back when you came from. Thus it is a much simpler Universe to live in however since when has the Universe been simple?

We’ll be exploring a variety of problems based on these premises in some upcoming blog posts.