[FoRK] The Traveler's Dilemma

Stephen D. Williams <sdw at lig.net> on Wed May 23 15:20:15 PDT 2007

I really need to talk to this guy to either figure out his deficiencies 
or mine.  "In the years since I devised the game... this rejection of 
formal rationality and logic has a kind of meta-rationality attached to 
it."  Indeed, these guys have decided that only certain logical 
constructs apply to the game while not actually excluding all others.  
They then call the result irrational?  And don't buy any argument 
provided by participants?  Pretty weak, from a first reading anyway.

Their "logic" that $2 is the rational choice is broken on several 
counts.  The goal is to maximize payoff, not to guarantee that you do 
better than the opponent.  It is posed as a real life situation.  In 
real life, the probability that the other person would place a minimum 
value on an art object is low.  This means that $2 is close to a worst 
case, less likely scenario.  The real choices, at that magnitude of 
penalty, are between 50% and 100% (or 95%) of the range.  Even if $2 is 
somewhat likely, over a series of instances of this kind of 
circumstance, a common and very rational way to reason about real life 
choices, even a somewhat unlikely payoff at 50-100% pays for many 
instances of near $2 minus a penalty.

The logic expected seems to be naive logic.  Teenager (i.e. immature, 
innumerate) logic works like this: The police probably won't catch me 
when I do X.  (90% unnoticed or escape)  [Apparent mental model: 90% is 
about all the time, so I'll just round up and assume that they'll never 
catch me.]  "So if there is a 10% chance you will get caught, and you do 
something 20 times, how likely is it that you will be caught?"  It is 
unlikely because I'll get away.  "Uh huh.  Good luck with that." 

Wife-who-watches-Oprah-etc. innumerate logic works like this: I am aware 
of bad scenario a, b, c, d, e, f, g, etc. that have occurred in the 
past, or are in an urban legend to have occurred.  The consequences are 
infinitely bad as far as I am concerned.  The existence of this 
knowledge means that a real threat exists.  Therefore all affordable 
countermeasures must be employed for every known scenario.  (Never mind 
how fantastically unlikely most of the scenarios are, or that a 
practically infinite number of similar scenarios could be envisioned.)

I'm a little peeved at the number of instances of the latter innumeracy 
and weak logic that make it into laws and legal interpretations.  A 
woman in the DC area let a couple of her children play in the car by 
allowing them to put down the back seat which allowed them to crawl in 
and out of the trunk area, while she drove a couple miles on residential 
streets to home.  Risky if she got into an accident, but a relatively 
minor increase in risk, well below the risk level of many other things 
that she can legally allow them to do.  A policeman happened to notice 
and arrested her.  I think she ended up with a jail term.  Meanwhile, in 
many areas, children and others can ride unprotected in the bed of a 
pickup...  Even in the passenger seat with a seatbelt they are 
relatively unprotected since trucks have such low safety requirements.  
Don't even start on motorcycles.  Or riding a bicycle.  Or crossing the 
street.  (Several people, in different instances, have been killed by DC 
buses recently within weeks of each other.)  The recent case of the 
child kidnapped from a resort while the parents were eating and/or 
drinking within view of the suite door.  People on talk / news shows, 
including the often irritating CNN legal hawk (Greta?), whined endlessly 
about how negligent the parents were.

I would seriously like an innumeracy PAC to ridicule every law and 
action that is clearly uninformed.  No one should be put in jail for 
choosing to increase risk for themselves or their dependents if the 
resulting actuarial risk is arguably less than legally allowed decisions.


Jeff Bone wrote:
> (I'll circle back to the discussion from last week about what kinds of 
> world-bettering things FoRKies could collaborate on at some point...  
> in the meantime...)
> SciAm has an interesting article on game theory and rationality:
> http://www.sciam.com/print_version.cfm?articleID=7750A576-E7F2-99DF-3824E0B1C2540D47 
> Enjoy!
> jb
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