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DanielLC comments on Pascal's Mugging: Tiny Probabilities of Vast Utilities - Less Wrong

39 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 19 October 2007 11:37PM

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Comment author: DanielLC 20 August 2011 03:46:43AM 3 points [-]

In your example, only you die. In Pascal's mugging, it's unimaginably worse.

Do you accept that, in the circumstance you gave, you are more likely to be shot by a sniper if you only pay one mugger? Not significantly more likely, but still more likely? If so, that's analogous to accepting that Pascal's mugger will be more likely to make good on his threat if you don't pay.

Comment author: Strange7 20 August 2011 10:02:17AM 1 point [-]

In my example, the person making the decision was specified to be a sociopath, for whom there is no conceivable worse outcome than the total loss of personal identity and agency associated with death.

The two muggers are indifferent to each other's success. You could pay off the unarmed mugger to eliminate the risk of being sniped (by that particular mugger's friend, at least, if she exists; there may well be other snipers elsewhere in town with unrelated agendas, about whom you have even less information) and accept the risk of being shot with the zip gun, in order to afford the quicker, safer bus ride home. In that case you would only be paying one mugger, and still have the lowest possible sniper-related risk.

The three possible expenses were meant as metaphors for existential risk mitigation (imaginary sniper), infrastructure development (bus), and military/security development (zip gun), the latter two forming the classic guns-or-butter economic dilemma. Historically speaking, societies that put too much emphasis, too many resources, toward preventing low-probability high-impact disasters, such as divine wrath, ended up succumbing to comparatively banal things like famine, or pillaging by shorter-sighted neighbors. What use is a mathematical model of utility that would steer us into those same mistakes?

Comment author: DanielLC 22 August 2011 11:08:43PM 1 point [-]

Is your problem that we'd have to keep the five dollars in case of another mugger? I'd hardly consider the idea of steering our life around pascal's mugging to be disagreeing with it. For what it's worth, if you look for hypothetical pascal's muggings, expected utility doesn't converge and decision theory breaks down.