The Money Game I Won’t Play


From Vsauce2.

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A money game exists in which the potential payoff from being robbed makes perfect mathematical sense… but I won’t play it. Will you?

“Pascal’s Mugging” is derived from the classic philosophical scenario of Pascal’s Wager, which posits that it’s rational for humans to behave as though God exists. If they’re wrong, they don’t lose much; if they’re right, they have an infinite payoff in the afterlife.

The scenario of Pascal’s Mugging stems from Eliezer Yudkowsky’s unique twist on the original wager: what if a thief promised you a tremendous payoff tomorrow for stealing your wallet today? At what point would the near-infinitesimal odds of a criminal rewarding you tomorrow actually warrant you giving them a small amount of money right now?

If we process the situation by using expected value, we could very well be giving up our wallets to criminals who we know without a doubt will disappear forever, and the math would reinforce our decision. The consequences of that mathematical rationalism extend not only into everyday behavior, but also into areas like artificial intelligence. If math can lead us into bad decisions, how can we possibly program AI to act in our best interest?

The next time a creepy baby threatens to steal your wallet, consider the nuanced ramifications in decision theory, probability theory, and utilitarianism — and to what degree we’ve made progress on the problem over the last 400 years.

*** SOURCES ***

“Pascal’s Mugging,” Nick Bostrom:

“Pascal’s Mugging: Tiny Probabilities of Vast Utilities,” by Eliezer Yudkowsky:

“Pascal’s Muggle: Infinitesimal Priors and Strong Evidence,” by Eliezer Yudkowsky:

“Pascal’s Wager,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Benn, Alfred W. “Pascal’s Wager.” International Journal of Ethics, vol. 15, no. 3, 1905, pp. 305–323. JSTOR,

*** LINKS ***

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Research and Writing by Matthew Tabor

Editing by John Swan

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